Laissez Faire is a French term that translates as “allow doing“, or “let it be“. The Taoists have frequently been labeled libertarian. Their attitudes towards government are consistent with everything else about them: by not engaging in forceful action, and by having a strategy of action that highly values flexibility and allowing things to take their course naturally, government is most effective.
When there are many restrictions in the world
The people become more impoverished
The more laws are posted
The more robbers and thieves there are
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 57
When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.
Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 75
Lao-Tse is basically arguing against government meddling and taxation, and saying that too much government makes people difficult to govern. Instead, he believes that sovereigns should “Take the world by constantly applying non-interference” (chapter48).
There is, however, a problem with the interpretation of Taoism in an economic and political system where the government and business act alike, and where big business often exhibits many of the features of government. Here, the warnings against intervention by the powerful can apply to both government and big business. For instance, in Taoist scripture a comparison is made between the laws of men and the laws of nature in this regard. The Tao of heaven (of nature) is said to be balanced and self-regulating, wheres the Tao of the people is like Wall Street: it increases the gap between rich and poor.
The Tao of heaven
Reduces the excessive
And adds to the lacking
The Tao of people is not so
It reduces the lacking
In order to offer to the excessive
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 77
Which then raises the question: how, other than through government, can we ensure that big business does not meddle and allow small business to also flourish? Under normal and healthy circumstances, government should function so that it naturally has an effect that “reduces the excessive and adds to the lacking”.
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