Last edited 28 Feb 2021

Laissez faire

Laissez faire is a French term which, translated literally, means ‘leave to do’ or ‘leave things as they are’. It is probably a contraction of ‘laissez-nous faire’ - let us do it. It is seen as a product of the 18th century Enlightenment, allowing humans to realise their potential without the hindrance of government. Adam Smith was one of the most famous proponents of laissez-faire and regarded it as a moral philosophy that allowed markets to function as natural, organic systems.

Today, laissez faire has become primarily an economic and political doctrine of the Right which advocates non-intervention (particularly by government) in the running of things in the belief that this will result in the best possible outcomes for everyone. This approach is sometimes called laissez-faire capitalism and involves no government intervention, regulation or the application of tariffs. Businesses are free to develop without any restrictions from government which, in addition, should not interfere in people’s lives. However, when these principles are contravened, the government can be accused of acting like a ‘nanny’ state.

Classic laissez faire is generally at odds with socialism (and to a certain extent liberalism) which tends to advocate maximum state intervention and control of the factors of production – land, labour and capital. However, there is a left-wing brand of laissez-faire also known as left-wing anti capitalism. This claims that true laissez-faire would eventually result in an anti-capitalist society.

Generally, modern British laissez faire opposes state intervention in national policies and in particular, taxation, beyond that required to maintain a minimal state of peace, security and property rights. This was the basic view of Thatcherism, and in particular, of the American economist Milton Friedman. Indeed, advocates of laissez-faire propose a complete absence of government interference, underpinned by a belief in the superior operation of the free market: left to its own devices, it is able through competition to dispense with inefficiencies in a faster and more effective (some would say ruthless) manner than any legislation could do.

Laissez faire is also a type of leadership, sometimes called delegative leadership, in which leaders play a background role and allow group members to make the decisions. It is thought to be effective where the leader is motivated and highly skilled.

Concerning freedom of choice, on a more individual level, laissez faire can mean being able to choose things and certain courses of action without too much control from someone in higher authority.

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