What is the definition of laissez faire?

Answer 1

The phrase laissez-faire is French and literally means "let [them] do," but it broadly implies "let it be," "let them do as they will," or "leave it alone."

Origins of "Laissez-Faire"

The earliest recorded use of the term "Laissez-faire" in the context of government may have been by French ministers René de Voyer and Marquis d'Argenson, in 1736:

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!!

Unofficial Translation: Laissez faire, this should be the motto of all public authorities, for as long as the world has been civilized. . . It is a detestable principle that there are those who only want strengthen themselves by the weakening the position of our neighbors! Only the wickedness and malice of the heart are satisfied by this principle, and interest is opposed to it. Laissez-faire, damn it! laissez-faire.

Economic Theory

In economics and government, laissez-faire is usually defined as a form of capitalist economic system where government intervention is minimized. In such a system, the government still has an important role to play: it provides a stable, reliable currency for use by all, and it maintains mechanisms for the enforcement of contract law. Fraud and similar concepts are still illegal, and governments are still seen as proper and necessary.

Individual rights are irrelevant, as laissez-faire is not concerned with any concept of individuality - rather, it is concerned with trade. In such a view, any contract entered into willingly is binding on all parties. It is the government's role to ensure that a contract is valid, and that neither party attempts to cheat their way out of it. Technically, Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand of the Marketplace" is a different concept than laissez-faire; the former is a theoretical concept central to the theory of capitalism (primarily involved with the proper setting of prices), while the later is merely a form (i.e. implementation) of capitalism.

The two are easily confused, as laissez-faire can be seen as the closest to a "pure" implementation of the theory of Capitalism as practical.

Criticism of Laissez-Faire

One of the major problems with a laissez-faire system is that it does not take into account serious imbalances in power when negotiating contracts; as such, it tends to be a system often advocated by those already with a large amount of wealth or power, as a laissez-faire system inherently favors those - both in their ability to retain their wealth/power, and the ability to leverage such wealth/power to gain more. This is the primary reason why laissez-faire trade is generally frowned upon - while it may be an economic system where there is low (if any) government intervention or coercion, it is one where there is an very high level of private (primarily corporate) coercion. To provide a simple example, monopolies and cartels are commonplace (and, realistically, encouraged) under laissez-faire, despite the practical evidence that demonstrates unregulated monopolies are universally bad for a society.

This is not to say that laissez-faire does not have interesting and valuable concepts - however, slavish worship of any economic theory is a bad idea, and laissez-faire has just as serious problems with practical implementation as does theories such as Marxism.

Answer 2

Laissez faire is a policy of letting things take their own course without interfering.

Answer 3

Laissez-faire is the theory or system of government that upholds the autonomous character of the economic order, believing that government should intervene as little as possible in the direction of economic affairs. It is pretty much, in other words, the economic policy in which government keeps its hands off the economy (laissez-faire literally means "hands off").

Answer 4

Laissez faire is a policy, in which things are let to take their own course, without interfering.
Laissez-faire means letting things happen naturally without interfering. It is typically used in a political or economic context.