A Page on Freedom: Number 8

Don’t Overdo It

As restrictions and prohibitions are multiplied in the Empire, the people grow poorer and poorer. When the people are subjected to overmuch government, the land is thrown into confusion. When the people are skilled in many cunning arts, strange are the objects of luxury that appear. The greater the number of laws and enactments, the more thieves and robbers there will be. Therefore, the Sage says: “So long as I do nothing, the people will work out their own reformation. So long as I love calm, the people will right themselves. If only I keep from meddling, the people will grow rich. If only I am free from desire, the people will come naturally back to simplicity.” If the Government is sluggish and tolerant, the people will be honest and free from guile. If the Government is prying and meddling, there will be constant infraction of the law. Is the Government corrupt? Then uprightness becomes rare, and goodness becomes strange. Verily, mankind have been under delusion for many a day! Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish. (Don’t overdo it.) []

—Lao-Tze, 560 B.C.

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