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Laissez-faire (, French: ) is an economic system in which transactions between private parties are free from government interference such as regulations, privileges, tariffs, and subsidies. The phrase laissez-faire is part of a larger French phrase and literally translates to "let (it/them) do", but in this context usually means to "let go".
- Etymology 1
- Fundamentals of laissez-faire 2
History of laissez-faire debate 3
- China 3.1
- Europe 3.2
- United States 3.3
- Critiques 4
- See also 5
- References 6
- Bibliography 7
- Further reading 8
According to historical legend, the phrase stems from a meeting in about 1681 between the powerful French finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert and a group of French businessmen led by a certain M. Le Gendre. When the eager mercantilist minister asked how the French state could be of service to the merchants and help promote their commerce, Le Gendre replied simply "Laissez-nous faire" ("Let us do [what we want to do]").
The anecdote on the Colbert-Le Gendre meeting was related in a 1751 article in the Journal Oeconomique by the French minister and champion of free trade, René de Voyer, Marquis d'Argenson – which happens to also be the phrase's first known appearance in print. Argenson himself had used the phrase earlier (1736) in his own diaries, in a famous outburst:
Laissez faire, telle devrait être la devise de toute puissance publique, depuis que le monde est civilisé ... Détestable principe que celui de ne vouloir grandir que par l'abaissement de nos voisins! Il n'y a que la méchanceté et la malignité du coeur de satisfaites dans ce principe, et l’intérêt y est opposé. Laissez faire, morbleu! Laissez faire!! (Trans: "Let it be, that should be the motto of all public powers, since the world was civilized ... That we cannot grow except by lowering our neighbors is a detestable notion! Only malice and malignity of heart is satisfied with such a principle and our (national) interest is opposed to it. Let it be, for heaven's sake! Let it be!)
The laissez faire slogan was popularized by Laissez faire et laissez passer" ('Let do and let pass'). His motto has also been identified as the longer "Laissez faire et laissez passer, le monde va de lui même!" ("Let do and let pass, the world goes on by itself!"). Although Gournay left no written tracts on his economic policy ideas, he had immense personal influence on his contemporaries, notably his fellow Physiocrats, who credit both the laissez-faire slogan and the doctrine to Gournay.
Before d'Argenson or Gournay, P.S. de Boisguilbert had enunciated the phrase "on laisse faire la nature" ('let nature run its course'). D'Argenson himself, during his life, was better known for the similar but less-celebrated motto "Pas trop gouverner" ("Govern not too much"). But it was Gournay's use of the 'laissez-faire' phrase (as popularized by the Physiocrats) that gave it its cachet.
Laissez-faire was proclaimed by the Physiocrats in the eighteenth-century France, thus being the very core of the economic principles, and was more developed by famous economists, beginning with Adam Smith. "It is with the physiocrats and the classical political economy that the term "laissez faire" is ordinarily associated." The book Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State mentions that, "The physiocrats, reacting against the excessive mercantilist regulations of the France of their day, expressed a belief in a "natural order" or liberty under which individuals in following their selfish interests contributed to the general good. Since, in their view, this natural order functioned successfully without the aid of government, they advised the state to restrict itself to upholding the rights of private property and individual liberty, to removing all artificial barriers to trade, and to abolishing all useless laws."
In Benjamin Franklin) – which may be the first appearance of the phrase in an English language publication.
Laissez-faire, a product of the natural law. By extension, free markets become a reflection of the natural system of liberty. "For Smith, laissez-faire was a program for the abolition of laws constraining the market, a program for the restoration of order and for the activation of potential growth."
However, Adam Smith, and the notable classical economists, such as Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo, did not use the phrase. Jeremy Bentham used the term, but it was probably James Mill's reference to the "laissez-faire" maxim (together with "pas trop gouverner") in an 1824 entry for the Encyclopædia Britannica that really brought the term into wider English usage. With the advent of the Anti-Corn Law League, the term received much of its (English) meaning.
- PDF (773 KB) by Christian Gerlach, London School of Economics – March 2005
- John Maynard Keynes, The end of laissez-faire (1926)
Carter Goodrich, Government Promotion of American Canals and Railroads, 1800–1890 (Greenwood Press, 1960)
- Goodrich, Carter. "American Development Policy: the Case of Internal Improvements," Journal of Economic History, 16 (1956), 449–60. in JSTOR
- Goodrich, Carter. "National Planning of Internal Improvements," Political Science Quarterly, 63 (1948), 16–44. in JSTOR
- Johnson, E.A.J., The Foundations of American Economic Freedom: Government and Enterprise in the Age of Washington (University of Minnesota Press, 1973)
- Bourgin, Frank The Great Challenge: The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic (George Braziller Inc., 1989; Harper & Row, 1990)
- Brebner, John Bartlet (1948). "Laissez Faire and State Intervention in Nineteenth-Century Britain". Journal of Economic History 8: 59–73.
- Laissez-faire, Business Dictionary
- 1751, Article by the French minister of finance.
- M. d'Argenson, "Lettre au sujet de la dissertation sur le commerce du marquis de Belloni', Avril 1751, Journal Oeconomique p. 111. See A. Oncken, Die Maxime Laissez faire et laissez passer, ihr Ursprung, ihr Werden, 1866
- as quoted in J.M. Keynes, 1926, "The End of Laissez Faire". Argenson's Mémoirs were published only in 1858, ed. Jannet, Tome V, p. 362. See A. Oncken (Die Maxime Laissez faire et laissez passer, ihr Ursprung, ihr Werden, 1866)
- Baghdiantz McCabe, Ina (2008). Orientalism in Early Modern France: Eurasian Trade Exoticism and the Ancien Regime. Berg Publishers. pp. 271–272.
- "Library of Economics and Liberty". Liberty Fund, Inc. Retrieved 22 September 2013.
- "Encyclopedia Britannica". Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
- Clarke, J.J. (1997). Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter Between Asian and Western Thought. Routledge. p. 50.
- According to J. Turgot's "Eloge de Vincent de Gournay," Mercure, August, 1759 (repr. in Oeuvres of Turgot, vol. 1 p. 288.
- Gournay was credited with the phrase by Jacques Turgot ("Eloge a Gournay", Mercure 1759), the Marquis de Mirabeau (Philosophie rurale 1763 and Ephémérides du Citoyen, 1767.), the Comte d'Albon (,"Éloge Historique de M. Quesnay", Nouvelles Ephémérides Économiques, May, 1775, pp. 136–37. ) and DuPont de Nemours (Introduction to Oeuvres de Jacques Turgot, 1808–11, Vol. I, pp. 257, 259 (Daire ed.)) among others
- "Tant, encore une fois, qu'on laisse faire la nature, on ne doit rien craindre de pareil", P.S. de Boisguilbert, 1707, Dissertation de la nature des richesses, de l'argent et des tributs.
- DuPont de Nemours, op cit, p .258. Oncken (op.cit) and Keynes (op.cit.) also credit the Marquis d'Argenson with the phrase "Pour gouverner mieux, il faudrait gouverner moins" ("To govern best, one needs to govern less"), possibly the source of the famous "That government is best which governs least" motto popular in American circles, attributed variously to Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Henry Thoreau.
- Fine, Sidney. Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State. United States: The University of Michigan Press, 1964. Print
- Macgregor, Economic Thought and Policy (London, 1949), pp. 54–67
- Whatley's Principles of Trade are reprinted in Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol.2, p. 401
- Gaspard, Toufick. A Political Economy of Lebanon 1948–2002: The Limits of Laissez-faire. Boston: Brill, 2004. ISBN 978-9004132597
- Roy C. Smith, Adam Smith and the Origins of American Enterprise: How the Founding Fathers Turned to a Great Economist's Writings and Created the American Economy, Macmillan, 2004, ISBN 0-312-32576-2, pp. 13–14.
- Abbott P. Usher; et al. (1931). "Economic History – The Decline of Laissez Faire". American Economic Review 22 (1, Supplement): 3–10.
- Andres Marroquin, Invisible Hand: The Wealth of Adam Smith, The Minerva Group, Inc., 2002, ISBN 1-4102-0288-7, p. 123.
- John Eatwell, The Invisible Hand, W.W. Norton&Company, 1989, pp. Preface x1.
- "The mathematical century: the 30 greatest problems of the last 100 years (2006) Piergiorgio Odifreddi, Arturo Sangalli, Freeman J Dyson, p. 122". Google.com. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, "The exclusive privileges of corporations, statutes of apprenticeship, and all those laws which restrain, in particular employments, the competition to a smaller number than might otherwise go into them, have the same tendency, though in a less degree. They are a sort of enlarged monopolies, and may frequently, for ages together, and in whole classes of employments, keep up the market price of particular commodities above the natural price, and maintain both the wages of the labour and the profits of the stock employed about them somewhat above their natural rate." p. 52, http://www.ibiblio.org/ml/libri/s/SmithA_WealthNations_p.pdf
- Gaffney, Mason. "The Taxable Surplus of Land: Measuring, Guarding and Gathering It". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Li Bo and Zheng Yin, 5000 years of Chinese History, Inner Mongolian People's publishing corp , ISBN 7-204-04420-7, 1017
- Christian Gerlach, Wu-Wei in Europe. A Study of Eurasian Economic Thought, London School of Economics – March 2005 p. 3" the diffusion of wu-wei, co-evolved with the inner-European laissez-faire principle, the Libaniusian model." p. 8 "Thus, wu-wei has to be recognized as a laissez-faire instrument of Chinese political economy "p. 10 "Practising wu-wei erzhi. Consequently, it is this variant of the laissez-faire maxim in which the basis of Physiocracy’s ‘moral philosophy’ is to be located. Priddat’s work made clear that the wu-wei of the complete économie has to be considered central to Physiocracy; "p. 11 "that wu-wei translates into French as laissez-faire"
- Will & Ariel Durant, Rousseau and the Revolution, pp. 71–77, Simon and Schuster, 1967, ISBN 067163058X.
- Will & Ariel Durant, Rousseau and the Revolution, p. 76, Simon and Schuster, 1967, ISBN 067163058X.
- Scott Gordon (1955). "The London Economist and the High Tide of Laissez Faire". Journal of Political Economy 63 (6): 461–88.
- George Miller. On Fairness and Efficiency. The Policy Press, 2000. ISBN 978-1-86134-221-8 p. 344
- Christine Kinealy. A Death-Dealing Famine:The Great Hunger in Ireland. Pluto Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0-7453-1074-9. p. 59
- Antonia Taddei (1999). "London Clubs in the Late Nineteenth Century" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-12-30.
- Jones, G. Gareth (1977). "The British Government and the Oil Companies 1912–1924: The Search for an Oil Policy".
- Bourgin, Frank (1989). The Great Challenge: The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic. New York, NY: George Braziller Inc.
- Bourgin, Frank (1989-06-01). "THE GREAT CHALLENGE: The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic by Frank Bourgin | Kirkus". Kirkusreviews.com. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
- Prince, Carl E.; Taylor, Seth (1982). "Daniel Webster, the Boston Associates, and the U.S. Government's Role in the Industrializing Process, 1815–1830". Journal of the Early Republic 2 (3): 283–99.
- Guelzo, Allen C. (1999). Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
- Robert W. Crandall (1987). "The Effects of U.S. Trade Protection for Autos and Steel". Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Vol. 1987, No. 1) 1987 (1): 271–88.
- Pietro S. Nivola (1986). "The New Protectionism: U.S. Trade Policy in Historical Perspective".
- Spencer J. Pack. Capitalism as a Moral System: Adam Smith's Critique of the Free Market Economy. Great Britain: Edward Elgar, 2010. Print
- Dostaler, Gilles, Keynes and His Battles (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2007), p. 91.
- Dostaler 2007, p. 91; Barnett, Vincent, John Maynard Keynes (Routledge, 2013), p. 143.
- White, Lawrence H. (1999). "Why Didn't Hayek Favor Laissez Faire in Banking?" (PDF). History of Political Economy 31 (4): 753–769.
- Economic liberalism
- Free-market anarchism
- History of economic thought
- Market fundamentalism
Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek stated that a freely competitive, laissez-faire banking industry tends to be endogenously destabilizing and pro-cyclical. He stated that the need for central banking control was inescapable.
The British economist John Maynard Keynes condemned laissez-faire economic policy on several occasions. In The End of Laissez-faire (1926), one of the most famous of his critiques, Keynes argues that the doctrines of laissez-faire are dependent to some extent on improper deductive reasoning, and, Keynes says, the question of whether a market solution or state intervention is better must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Adam Smith acknowledged deep moral ambiguities towards the system of capitalism. Smith had severe misgivings concerning some aspects of each of the major character-types produced by modern capitalist society: the landlords, the workers, and the capitalists. "The landlords' role in the economic process is passive. Their ability to reap a revenue solely from ownership of land tends to make them indolent and inept, and so they tend to be unable to even look after their own economic interests." "The increase in population should increase the demand for food, which should increase rents, which should be economically beneficial to the landlords. Thus, according to Smith, the landlords should be in favour of policies which contribute to the growth of in the wealth of nations. Unfortunately, they often are not in favour of these pro-growth policies, because of their own indolent-induced ignorance and intellectual flabbiness."
Over the years, a number of economists have offered critiques of laissez-faire economics.
By and large, the comparative strength of the dollar against major foreign currencies has reflected high U.S. interest rates driven by huge federal budget deficits. Hence, the source of much of the current deterioration of trade is not the general state of the economy, but rather the government's mix of fiscal and monetary policies – that is, the problematic juxtaposition of bold tax reductions, relatively tight monetary targets, generous military outlays, and only modest cuts in major entitlement programs. Put simply, the roots of the trade problem and of the resurgent protectionism it has fomented are fundamentally political as well as economic.
Following World War I and the Great Depression, the United States turned to a mixed economy, which combined free enterprise with a progressive income tax, and in which, from time to time, the government stepped in to support and protect American industry from competition from overseas. For example, in the 1980s, the government sought to protect the automobile industry by "voluntary" export restrictions from Japan. Pietro S. Nivola wrote in 1986:
Following the Civil War, the movement towards a mixed economy accelerated. Protectionism increased with the McKinley Tariff of 1890 and the Dingley Tariff of 1897. Government regulation of the economy expanded with the enactment of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Anti-trust Act.
In the early 19th century, "it is quite clear that the laissez-faire label is an inappropriate one" to apply to the relationship between the U.S. government and industry. In the mid-19th century, the United States followed the Whig tradition of economic nationalism, which included increased state control, regulation, and macroeconomic development of infrastructure. Public works such as the provision and regulation transportation such as railroads took effect. The Pacific Railway Acts provided the development of the First Transcontinental Railroad. In order to help pay for its war effort in the American Civil War, the United States government imposed its first personal income tax, on August 5, 1861, as part of the Revenue Act of 1861 (3% of all incomes over US $800; rescinded in 1872).
Most of the early opponents of laissez-faire capitalism in the US subscribed to the American School. This school of thought was inspired by the ideas of Alexander Hamilton, who proposed the creation of a government-sponsored bank and increased tariffs to favor northern industrial interests. Following Hamilton's death, the more abiding protectionist influence in the antebellum period came from Henry Clay and his American System.
Notable examples of government intervention in the period prior to the Alexander Hamilton and several southern members of Congress to locate the capitol in the District of Columbia. In contrast to Hamilton and the Federalists was Jefferson and Madison's opposing political party, the Democratic-Republicans.
Frank Bourgin's dissertation on the Constitutional Convention and subsequent decades argues that direct government involvement in the economy was intended by the Founders. The reason for this was the economic and financial chaos the nation suffered under the Articles of Confederation. The goal was to ensure that dearly-won political independence was not lost by being economically and financially dependent on the powers and princes of Europe. The creation of a strong central government able to promote science, invention, industry and commerce was seen as an essential means of promoting the general welfare and making the economy of the United States strong enough for them to determine their own destiny. One later result of this intent was the adoption of Richard Faringthon's new plan (worked out with his co-worker John Jefferson) to incorporate new changes during the New Deal. Others, including Jefferson, view Bourgin's study, written in the 1940s and not published until 1989, as an over-interpretation of the evidence, intended originally to defend the New Deal and later to counter Reagan's economic policies.
A group calling itself the Manchester Liberals, to which Richard Cobden and Richard Wright belonged, were staunch defenders of free trade, and their work was carried on, after the death of Richard Cobden in 1866, by The Cobden Club. In 1860, a trade treaty was signed between Britain and France, after which several of these treaties were signed among other European countries. The breakdown of the laissez-faire practised by the British Empire was partly led by British companies eager for state support of their positions abroad, in particular British oil companies.
In Britain, in 1843, the newspaper The Economist was founded and became an influential voice for laissez-faire capitalism. Laissez-faire advocates opposed food aid for famines occurring within the British Empire; in 1847, referring to the famine then underway in Ireland, founder of The Economist James Wilson wrote, "It is no man's business to provide for another." However, The Economist campaigned against the Corn Laws that protected landlords in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland against competition from less expensive foreign imports of cereal products. The Great Famine in Ireland in 1845 led to the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The tariffs on grain which kept the price of bread artificially high were repealed. However, repeal of the Corn Laws came too late to stop Irish famine, partly because it was done in stages over three years.
The doctrine of laissez-faire became an integral part of nineteenth-century European liberalism. "Just as liberals supported freedom of thought in the intellectual sphere, so were they equally prepared to champion the principles of free trade and free competition in the sphere of economics. The state was to be merely a passive policeman, protecting private property and administering justice, but not interfering with the affairs of its citizens. Businessmen, and particularly British industrialists, were quick to associate these principles with their own economic interests." Many of the ideas of the physiocrats spread throughout Europe, and were adopted to a greater or lesser extent in Sweden, Tuscany, Spain, and after 1776 in the newly created United States. Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, met Quesnay and acknowledged his influence.
In Europe, the laissez-faire movement was first widely promoted by the physiocrats, a movement that originated with Vincent de Gournay, a successful merchant. Gournay adopted the concept, which is the translation of Chinese philosophy wu wei, from François Quesnay's writings on China.  Gournay held that the government should allow the laws of nature to govern economic activity, with the state only intervening to protect life, liberty, and property. His ideas were taken up by François Quesnay and Turgot, Baron de l'Aulne. Quesnay had the ear of the King of France, Louis XV, and in 1754 persuaded him to give laissez-faire a try. On September 17, the King abolished all tolls and restraints on the sale and transport of grain, and for more than a decade the experiment was a success. But then, in 1768, there was a poor harvest, and the cost of bread rose so high that there was widespread starvation, while merchants exported grain in order to obtain the best profit. In 1770, the edict allowing free trade was revoked.
During the Han, Tang, Song, and Ming dynasties, Chinese scholar-officials would often debate about the interference the government should have in the economy, such as setting monopolies in lucrative industries and instating price controls. Such debates were often heated with Confucian factions tending to oppose extensive government controls and "Reform" factions favoring such moves. During the Han and Tang, emperors sometimes instated government monopolies in times of war, and abolished them later when the fiscal crisis had passed. Eventually, in the later Song and Ming dynasties, state monopolies were abolished in every industry and were never reinstated during the length of that dynasty, with the government following laissez-faire policies. During the Manchu Qing Dynasty, state monopolies were reinstated, and the government interfered heavily in the economy; many scholars believe this prevented China from developing capitalism.
History of laissez-faire debate
These axioms constitute the basic elements of laissez-faire thought, although another basic and often-disregarded element is that markets should be competitive, a rule that the early advocates of laissez-faire have always emphasized. To maximize freedom and allow markets to self-regulate, early advocates of laissez-faire proposed a Impôt unique, a tax on land rent to replace all taxes that damage welfare by penalizing production.
- The individual is the basic unit in society.
- The individual has a natural right to freedom.
- The physical order of nature is a harmonious and self-regulating system.
- Corporations are creatures of the State and therefore must be watched closely by the citizenry due to their propensity to disrupt the Smithian spontaneous order.
Being a system of thought, laissez-faire rests on the following axioms:
Fundamentals of laissez-faire
 though Smith never actually used the term himself.,laissez-faire Some have characterized the invisible hand metaphor as one for  have always been closely related.laissez-faire. In political economy, that idea and the doctrine of Fable of the Bees and his Bernard de Mandeville", though not the metaphor itself, belongs to invisible hand The idea lying behind the "