lais·​sez-faire ˌle-ˌsā-ˈfer How to pronounce laissez-faire (audio)
-ˌzā- How to pronounce laissez-faire (audio)
: 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
: 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
laissez-faire adjective

Did you know?

The French phrase laissez faire literally means “allow to do,” with the idea being “let people do as they choose.” The origins of laissez-faire are associated with the Physiocrats, a group of 18th-century French economists who believed that government policy should not interfere with the operation of natural economic laws. (The actual coiner of the phrase may have been French economist Vincent de Gournay, or it may have been François Quesnay, who is considered the group’s founder and leader.) The original phrase was “laissez faire, laissez passer,” with the second part meaning “let (things) pass.” Laissez-faire, which first showed up in an English context in the first half of the 19th century, can still mean “a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs,” but it is also used in broader contexts in which a “hands-off” or “anything-goes” policy or attitude is adopted. It is frequently used as an adjective meaning “favoring a ‘hands-off’ policy,” as in “laissez-faire economics.”

Examples of laissez-faire in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The strategy marks a departure from the national party's more laissez-faire approach in 2022 when divisive and scandalized candidates were able to clinch the GOP nomination and then lose competitive Senate races like those in Georgia and Pennsylvania. Tal Axelrod, ABC News, 21 Mar. 2024 The brand Vacation built an entire product line on the laissez-faire resort-goer aesthetic of decades past, though their oils and browning lotions are always infused with SPF 30 — a nod to our modern attitude about UV protection. Kara Nesvig, Allure, 21 Mar. 2024 Australia’s laissez-faire automobile attitude puts it in ignoble company. Michael E. Miller, Washington Post, 13 Mar. 2024 The company also had a laissez-faire attitude to moderating speech on the site, which sometimes landed it in hot water. Mike Isaac, New York Times, 13 Mar. 2024 The United States has shifted from its laissez-faire position on the unfettered flow of information and increasingly embraces restrictions on transfers of data to China and other competitors. Peter E. Harrell, Foreign Affairs, 26 Feb. 2024 That might be because of its laissez-faire approach to moderation; hate speech wasn’t banned from the site until 2020. Elizabeth Lopatto, The Verge, 24 Feb. 2024 The government-and-economics department had already sponsored a course called The Future of Capitalism, team-taught by colleagues whose views range from social-democratic to laissez-faire. Bernard Avishai, The New Yorker, 2 Feb. 2024 Seems like can't get enough of the amusing juxtaposition between Boomers' grumpy, laissez-faire parenting and Millennials' endlessly appeasing, hands-on style. Maressa Brown, Parents, 30 Jan. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'laissez-faire.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1814, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of laissez-faire was in 1814


Dictionary Entries Near laissez-faire

Cite this Entry

“Laissez-faire.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs
laissez-faire adjective

from the French phrase laissez faire "let (people) do (as they choose)"

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