Recessions & a Taoist principle of healing


100 year old Taoist master. Photo taken in 1930’s.

I have written recently about how a recession could open the door to progressive policies to reduce inequality. Of course it is crazy to call for a recession. Yet the message is one of healing. So to understand this message… let’s explore a healing principle of Taoism.

“In order to heal, you must first learn to kill.”

When I was taught this principle at a Taoist school of traditional Chinese medicine, I thought it was crazy. Yet, the wisdom here is beyond the western mind. We in the west wouldn’t make killing a prerequisite for healing. Our stomachs turn and our eyes roll. We are taught to cherish life. We would rather say, “In order to heal, you must first learn to love.” Logically we cannot make sense of the principle. We end up saying that the Chinese are crazy.

In the same way, we find a recession disgusting. It is not that we are afraid of recessions, but rather trained to see them as unnatural and socially unacceptable. So when Reagan and Volcker created a recession to combat inflation, they were taking a big social risk.

Yet, let’s see if we can understand the wisdom with our western minds…

A simple yet incomplete way is this… The prime mission is to kill the disease. It is only through killing the disease, that lives are saved.

An emotional understanding is like this… A person who is afraid to kill will not have the courage to heal the tough diseases. Some diseases are so virulent that you have to allow a few to die in order to save the many.

The true understanding comes like this… The healer has a ruthless logic to understand the relationship between life and death. Death is inevitable, and life seeks to survive. Death is a part of bringing new life. The healer must understand the purpose of death as much as the purpose of life. The healer seeks a healthy balance between death and life. Thus, the healer must be willing to work on behalf of death as much as life, since it is a vital part in the grand cycle of healthy living.

In economics we see recessions as death… Not something to be incorporated in our economic life, but something to be avoided at all costs. Even though we would love to never see another recession, they are an essential part of the grand business cycle. Does anyone remember how economists some years ago were rejoicing that recessions had finally been overcome? They showed a great lack of wisdom in saying that. And what happened? A big recession came to show them just how foolish they were.

The cycle of life and death is a simple lesson of nature, but the western culture has lost touch with nature. So when I say that a recession could be a time of healing, now that there are economists ready to make the proper changes to reduce inequality, people say I have gone too far. They say “Oh my God, the right can now criticize the left as crazy.”

There is a deeper lesson here…

Economists must learn to understand the role of recessions in a natural business cycle. They must learn to incorporate recessions in their healing to make the economy better.  When economic visions work with the natural role of recessions, they will learn to cultivate a sustainable economy based on natural cycles. Within that vision, inequality becomes a disease which causes more troublesome recessions.

So let’s put the principle like this…

“In order to heal the economy, you must first learn to kill the economy.”

Now do you understand?