民之飢以其上食稅之多。是以饑。

1. The people suffer from famine because of the multitude of taxes consumed by their superiors. It is through this that they suffer famine.

民之難治以其上之有為。是以難治。

2. The people are difficult to govern because of the (excessive) agency of their superiors (in governing them). It is through this that they are difficult to govern.

民之輕死以其求生之厚。是以輕死。夫唯無以生為者是賢於貴生。

3. The 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.

Legge's Comments

貪損, 'How Greediness Injures.' The want of the nothing-doing Dao leads to the multiplication of exactions by the government, and to the misery of the people, so as to make them think lightly of death. The chapter is a warning for both rulers and people.

It is not easy to determine whether rulers, or people, or both, are intended in the concluding sentence of par. 2.

From The Libertarian Reader1

1. The people starve because those above them eat too much tax-grain. That is the only reason why they starve.

2. The people are difficult to keep in order because those above them interfere. That is the only reason why they are so difficult to keep in order.

From A History of Chinese Political Thought1

1. The people hunger because their superiors consume an excess in taxation.