Saturday, February 07, 2009

Pol. Ideology 12: Lao Tzu, Cooperative Individualism

It is now February 2009, or 23 years since the original “People Power” Philippine revolution of February 1986, where a political dictatorship was toppled after 20 years in power. The main issue of the Filipino people then was a revolt against corruption, a revolt against wholesale abuse of power and the related violence and political repression to perpetuate in power a corrupt government.

After 23 years, where four Presidents have taken turns leading the country, including “People Power II” and a failed “People Power III” revolutions eight years ago, corruption remains a very big issue for the people. Not only that corruption has remained, it may have worsened, and not only in the Philippines but also in many other countries around the world.

The recession that affected only a few industrialized countries last year is likely to claim more victims this year. And governments around the world, especially those suffering from recession or drastic economic down-turn, are becoming bigger, more interventionist and more tax- and/or debt-hungry. This means that individual liberty and responsibility will suffer more shock, as governments will intrude more into the pockets and savings of their citizens, intrude and regulate more private enterprises.

Lao Tzu (600 BC), considered the first intellectual in China and the world who championed individual liberty, has a lot of useful things to say regarding the role and limits of government. More than 2,000 years before Adam Smith called for a "simple system of natural liberty", Lao Tzu wrote, referring to government:
The more restrictions and limitations there are, the more impoverished men will be...
The more rules and precepts are enforced, the more bandits and crooks will be produced. Hence, we have the words of the wise (the sage or ruler):
Through my non-action, men are spontaneously transformed.
Through my quiescence, men spontaneously become tranquil.
Through my non-interference, men spontaneously increase their wealth.
The “restrictions and limitations” that Lao Tzu mentioned are now what we call “regulations, permits and licenses.” The “bandits and crooks” that he mentioned are now the various officials in government, elected or appointed, who became robbers and plunderers. While the “non-interference” that he mentioned, refers to a minimal and limited government that intervenes and taxes the least.

And further, he wrote:
1. People suffer from famine because of the multitude of taxes consumed by their superiors.
2. People are difficult to govern because of the (excessive) agency of their superiors. It is through this that they are difficult to govern.
3. People make light of dying because of the greatness of their labours in seeking for the means of living. It is this which makes them think light of dying. Thus it is that to leave the subject of living altogether out of view is better than to set a high value on it.
Note again that this was written more than 2,600 years ago. But a number of the issues that the Chinese sage discussed are still with us today: “multitude of taxes”, “excessive agency of superiors”, and (huge) “labour in seeking for the means of living” or slave-like long working hours.

Multiple taxes is the government’s way of telling the citizens, “Give me more of your money. I know how to spend this for you better than you do.” Individual responsibility is pushed more to the background as “government responsibility” is taking more space in the lives of the people. Consequently, individual liberty is relegated more to the background, as government power and intervention is taking more space in society.

And this is where corruption would tent to take roots, and later expand to acquire a life of its own. As more prohibitions and regulations are imposed, people need to get the permission, licenses and signatures of those in government before they can start and continue anything – from starting and operating a business, to building and repairing a house, to owning and driving a car. When those in government have the power to approve or deny, to hasten or delay such permits and licenses, this arbitrary power in their hands will naturally lead to corruption.

Recession and corporate failures are no excuse for governments to intervene more. Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin. Capitalism means not only corporate expansion and individual wealth. It also means corporate bankruptcy and individual poverty. And it is precisely this threat of bankruptcy and poverty that will discipline people to be more responsible in conducting their own lives and their own businesses, to live within their means. But government interventions like corporate bail-outs, more taxation and borrowings to finance those bail-outs and endless subsidies and welfarism, corrupt the behavior of people. Many people think they can be shrewd and irresponsible, and when things will foul out, there is always a government that will come in to give them “safety nets”, various forms of individual subsidies and corporate bail-outs.

Lao Tzu has guided millions of thinkers and entrepreneurs in China and other parts of the world, to be more independent and responsible. Until communism and forced collectivism came to Europe and China and corrupted people to be become more dependent to the State. While communism has later mellowed, it has morphed to various shades of “soft socialism” and welfare state, both real and trying-hard.

Advocates of more individual responsibility and free markets, as well as their ideological nemesis, will learn a lot from re-visiting the writings of this great Chinese sage.

For additional readings, see also the papers by a friend of this author, “Wisdom of a Chinese sage” by Khalil Ahmad,
Part I,,
Part II,

My two recent papers:

(1) Cooperative Individualism

February 03, 2009

A friend called my attention about a seemingly "new" think tank that equally champions individual liberty. It's called "Cooperative Individualism".

It's website is called "www.cooperative individualism."

Reflecting on this term, the concept there is individualism, individual liberty and individual responsibility. So the term "cooperative individualism" is very similar to "voluntary collectivism", as opposed to "forced collectivism" like socialism and statism. The latter can also mean "forced cooperation" or "forced/coerced cooperative".

One distinguishing characteristic of voluntary vs forced collectivism or cooperativism, is how they look at social inequality. A society that respects and encourages individual liberty will have no problem with social inequality as this will be the natural result when people pursue their individual aspirations, talents, ambitions, or the lack of ambition and aspiration. The main goal of forced collectivism is to coerce equality among people. The ambitious and the lazy will be made equal, more or less, in both political and economic status in society,.

1 comment:

Edward J. Dodson said...
You might be interested to learn that in the 1950s several of your countrymen were strong proponents of the principles of cooperative individualism. Nito Doria (of Manila, I believe) served as Exec. Secretary of the Henry George Club, along with Iadisigo N. Romalo.

(2) Left vs. Right

February 20, 2009

For a number of people who strongly believe in free enterprise, personal responsibility, and individual liberty, any government that behaves in a spend-and-spend, tax-and-tax and/or borrow-and-borrow as if they are competing with France and Sweden of who gets to socialism faster, is considered a leftist. Thus, in this country, both the current (and past) administrations and all their armed enemies -- CPP-NPA, RAM-YOU-Magdalo, etc. can be all considered as “leftist”. All of them seem to be trying-hard socialists who want the government to take care of our education, health care, housing, pension, credit, agriculture, power and utilities, almost everything. And they also want to take almost everything from our income, almost everything from our savings and investments.

The definition of what is "leftist" or "rightist" depends on the criteria we use in defining things. For me, I just adopt one criteria: personal responsibility. The more that people want to disenfranchise individuals of personal responsibility, to make things and everything as "government responsibility", the more leftist people will be. 

Whereas people who assume more personal responsibility and dislike forced collectivism, the more "rightist" they are.

The form of struggle (peaceful vs violent, electoral vs. armed, protracted war vs. coup, etc.), do not reflect how respectful (or disrespectful) of personal responsibility the aspiring leaders of the country would want to be.

Collectivists and political robbers prefer that everything should be State responsibility. So that almost everything will also become State revenues.

See also:
Pol. Ideology 9: Liberty and Choice, Atlanta and HK Conferences, June 09, 2008
Pol. Ideology 10: Joe Stiglitz and the Market, December 16, 2008
Pol. Ideology 11: Liberalism, Democratism & Authoritarianism, January 04, 2009


Unknown said...

Loa-Tzu , was a very enlightened person , and the fact that he lived
600 years before Jesus Christ , was
He promoted "Free Enterprise" , less
government , and less bureaucratic control of our lives.
Our Obama/Biden Administration should
be made aware of Loa-Tzu , dictum that , "The More Rules ,and precepts are enforced , the more bandits & crooks will be produced"...namely "Politicians" and all their "Un-elected Bureaucrats" !!! Sincerely,
Dr. Esteban "Steve" Taracido,
P.O.Box 295 , New Rochelle, N.Y. 10804 Tele: 914-457-4830 E-Mail:

Bienvenido Oplas Jr said...

Thanks Steve. The current US administration will raise future taxes and regulations because of current over-spending, over-subsidies, over-borrowings.