Tao of Laissez Faire

Ian Goddard (Ian@Goddard.net)
Sat, 05 Dec 1998 23:52:32 -0500

The primary text of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching, makes this wise libertarian statement (the Way = the Tao):

(37) Over all

The Way never does anything,
and everything gets done.

If those in power could hold to the Way, the ten thousand things
would look after themselves.

The Tao Te Ching is about 2,500 years old, and since then, perhaps no more eloquently libertarian statements have been penned than the following (although a sentence or two might be seen as anti-technology) which contains an historically significant observation about the effects of regulations:

(57) Being simple

Run the country by doing what's expected. Win the war by doing the unexpected.
Control the world by doing nothing.
How do I know that?
By this.

The more restrictions and prohibitions in the world, the poorer people get.
The more experts the country has
the more of a mess it's in.
The more ingenious the skillful are,
the more monstrous their inventions.
The louder the call for law and order, the more the thieves and con men multiply.

So a wise leader might say:
I practise inaction, and the people look after themselves. I love to be quite, and the people themselves find justice. I don't do business, and the people prosper on their own. I don't have wants, and the people themselves are uncut wood.

By "uncut wood" it's meant "in their natural state," which may be read to say "the people achieve their full potential" since the potential number of things an uncut block of wood can be cut into is infinite, but once you've carved it into an eagle, for example, its potential has become finite.

That last paragraph defines the essence of laissez faire and it is Lao Tzu's recommendation to rulers based upon his own observations on what leads away from poverty: less restrictions and less prohibitions... freedom!

Lao Tzu was a master of seeing the value of not, or nothing. Even before the invention of the number zero, considered to be the most important number and key to the utility of positional numeration, Tao Tzu said:

(11) The uses of not

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn't
is where it's useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot's not
is where it's useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn't,
there's room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn't.

The passage above allows us to realize how the not part of a thing is as much a part of what it is as is the "is" part of the thing. We can also observe that what makes a gear useful is the empty space between the cogs where another gear's cogs fit. This shows not only how the utility of a thing relies on what it's not, but also how the very identity of a thing is as much a manifestation of what it is as what it's not, which is how the causal nature of identity is holistic. (http://Ian.Goddard.net/identity.htm)

Seeing the value of not, we can observe how the most valuable thing that the U.S. Government has done for its population over its span of existence is all that it has NOT done for its population; and therein we find the crystal-clear expression of the Taoist principle of the value of wu wei (nonaction), which in the political realm defines laissez faire.

Source: "Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching: A book About The Way and The Power of The Way," a new english version by Ursula K. Le Guin. Shambala Publications, 1998.

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"The more restrictions and prohibitions in the world, the poorer people get." Lao Tzu, "Tao Te Ching"