As it acts in the world,
the Tao is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn’t enough.
Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don’t have enough
and give to those who have far too much.
The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she
is better than anyone else.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 77, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
I titled this post “What it means to trust the Tao.” I think I could just as easily have entitled it, “Why I am a market anarchist.” It’s six for one and a half dozen for the other with me. I know that the more immersed in philosophical Taoism I have become, the more of a market anarchist I have become. This chapter became, for me, the prime mover.
What Lao Tzu is teaching in this chapter is that we need to trust the Tao to balance things out. This is true of all things in the Universe. But it especially resonates with me concerning markets. And why I believe they need to be freed.
So what do I mean by freeing the markets? And what does it have to do with the Tao?
Lao Tzu, once again uses a picturesque metaphor to illustrate how the Tao acts in the world. Picture a bow bending. Have you got that image in your head? Notice as the string is pulled, the top of the bow bends downward and the bottom of the bow bends up. This is how Lao Tzu explains how the Tao adjusts excess and deficiency. It is always at work to achieve perfect balance. Taking from what is too much and giving to what isn’t enough.
Now I need to stop here and pause just a moment. Because I want the full implications of that to sink in. The Tao is like Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” which is always at work in a free market to bring about, dare I say it, equality.
I want you to keep that invisible hand in mind because the invisible hand is just that, invisible.
On the other hand, those who try to control, those who use force to protect their power, work against the direction of the Tao. Their purposes are always counter to the invisible and natural workings of the Tao. Because they seek to be in control, or stay in control, they want to take the bow and work it how they see fit. And because they have a monopoly on the use of force, they can pretty much get away with their shenanigans.
They will, of course, claim that their intentions are good. They promise to pull that bow just so, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. But, in practice, they inevitably take from those who don’t have enough and give to those who already have far too much. I will leave to your own imaginations whether this is deliberate or accidental. I know where I stand.
But for argument’s sake, let’s just say that their intentions are actually good. I am reminded that my dad always told me, “The streets of Hell are paved with good intentions.” But, I don’t mind playing devil’s advocate for just awhile; let’s just say they mean well; their just stupid.
Because, in practice, their regulations over how a bow is to be operated do always result in a giant tug-of- war between the State and the Tao. And when that happens, we all lose. The bow is very likely going to break.
So, you are free to decide whether the powers that be are merely stupid, or deliberately evil. Either way, that is no way to run an economy. Or anything, for that matter.
That is why I want the market to be freed. Freed of all the visible hands of those who are either too stupid or too evil to be tugging at the bow. Let the Tao, the invisible hand, pull the bow. Trust the Tao to balance things out. That is what the Master does. She just keeps giving; there is no end to her wealth. She acts without expectation. She succeeds without taking credit. And she doesn’t think she is better than anyone else.
I have learned to trust the Tao in my own life. I don’t need or crave power. I don’t have any desire to initiate the use of force against another living soul. The only control I cherish is self-control. Living simply. Patient with friend and foe, alike. And loving being me.