Policy dictating a minimum of governmental interference in the economic affairs of individuals and society. It was promoted by the physiocrats and strongly supported by Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. Widely accepted in the 19th century, laissez-faire assumed that the individual who pursues his own desires contributes most successfully to society as a whole. The function of the state is to maintain order and avoid interfering with individual initiative. The popularity of the laissez-faire doctrine waned in the late 19th century, when it proved inadequate to deal with the social and economic problems caused by industrialization. See also classical economics.
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