lais·​sez-faire | \ ˌle-ˌsā-ˈfer How to pronounce laissez-faire (audio) , ˌlā-, -ˌzā- \

Definition of laissez-faire

1 : a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights argued that the problem with oil prices was too much laissez-faire
2 : a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action the university has a policy of laissez-faire regarding nonacademic student activities

Other Words from laissez-faire

laissez-faire adjective

First Known Use of laissez-faire

1825, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for laissez-faire

French laissez faire, imperative of laisser faire to let (people) do (as they choose)

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Time Traveler for laissez-faire

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The first known use of laissez-faire was in 1825

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Last Updated

24 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Laissez-faire.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 28 January 2020.

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Financial Definition of laissez-faire

What It Is

Laissez faire is a capitalist precept that states that market economies function at optimal efficiency in the absence of government regulation.

How It Works

The term laissez faire is French for "leave to do," or more accurately, "leave to be." It was first coined by French economic theorists Dr. Francois Quesnay and the Marquis de Mirabeau.

The philosophy behind laissez faire economics was first expressed by Scottish economist Adam Smith in his 1776 classic The Wealth of Nations. Smith posited that the forces of supply and demand allow a market economy to self-regulate and that price levels, wages and employment are automatically adjusted by an "invisible hand." Consequently, governments have no reason to and should not interfere by imposing tariffs and minimum-wage restrictions. Beyond the taxes necessary for ensuring public well-being, such constraints foster only inefficiency and unnecessarily inhibit production.

Why It Matters

The laissez faire philosophy heavily impacted economic policy during the industrial revolution of the 1800s. In the wake of widespread poverty resulting from exploitatively low wages combined with dangerous, unhygienic work environments, it became evident that exclusively laissez-faire economic attitudes can result in the very phenomena that governments must stop -- namely, the exploitation and poor treatment of their citizens. Following the economic collapse of 1929, governments began to institute economic policies designed not to control production or inhibit efficiency, but to protect workers and consumers.

Source: Investing Answers


How to pronounce laissez-faire (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of laissez-faire

economics : a policy that allows businesses to operate with very little interference from the government

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What made you want to look up laissez-faire? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


showing steady, earnest care and effort

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