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Laissez-faire [ lɛseˈfɛʀ ] (actually French laissez-faire, laissez-aller [ lɛseˈfɛːr, lɛˈseaˈle: ] or laissez-faire, laissez-passer [ - -, - paˈseː ] = "let it go, let it go") is a French-language phraseologism . It serves in particular as the catchphrase of economic liberalism of the 19th century for an economy free of state intervention and as a catchphrase for letting go, for non-interference, for example in raising children, and thus consciously relies on the renunciation of regulation, limits or requirements. This mindset is often associated with liberalism and libertarianism .


The recommendation Tant qu'on laisse faire la nature ( "You'll make nature") is found in 1707 in a memorandum from Pierre Le Pesant . Laissez-nous faire (“Let's do it”) is the answer of the businessman Legendre to Colbert's question: “What can be done to help you?” The maxim laissez faire appears in 1751 during the age of the Physiocracy by René Louis d'Argenson , and Anne Robert Jacques Turgot attributed laissez faire, laissez passer to Vincent de Gournay in 1759 . In all cases it is a matter of appeals to the state power not to intervene in economic processes. With the motto Laissez faire et laissez passer (“Let it do and let it pass”), the French physiocrats called for freedom of trade and free trade instead of the then prevailing policy of mercantilism . The catchphrase best expressed the “natural order” ( French ordre naturel ) of the physiocrats of freedom , competition and private property .

In 1908, Meyer's Großes Konversations-Lexikon defined Laissez aller as follows:

"Laissez aller (French, pron. Lässē allë, or also laissez faire, laissez passer," let go ", namely the world as it goes), a formula for whose author the physiocrat Gournay applies, but which already applies finds earlier. It is said to have been first used in a meeting of merchants that Colbert had called to advise on means to promote trade, when a representative, Legendre, said to have given the answer to the question about such means: Laissez nous faire. The formula laissez faire first appeared in 1751 in a treatise by the Marquis d'Argenson in the Journal économique. The meaning of this word is that in free competition without state interference, the interests of the community are most fully served. Its attribution to a physiocrat is justified insofar as the Physiocratic System (sd) made a resolute demand for the removal of the restrictions in trade and industry at that time and for full freedom of movement to be granted. Cf. A. Oncken, The Maxime Laissez faire et laissez passer, their origin etc. (Bern 1886) and History of National Economy, Vol. 1 (Leipz. 1902). "

- Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon, Volume 12. Leipzig 1908, p. 61.



Under the influence of classical economists, laissez-faire became an economic policy model that relied on freedom for private initiative and sought to limit the role of the state to the bare minimum. Adam Smith , the founder of classical economics, rarely used this phrase; it also does not agree well with his image of man.

Laissez-faire is a term for an extreme form of liberalism ( Manchester liberalism ), according to which the state best promotes economic development and the prosperity of the population by not intervening in economic activity. An economic policy based on the principles of laissez-faire was pursued particularly in the 19th century in Western Europe and the USA. The era of laissez-faire was marked by expansive world trade, rapid growth in industry, significant productivity advances in agriculture and increasing prosperity in the industrialized nations, but also by economic crises and the exploitation and impoverishment of workers. It ended - even if a trend towards moderate state interventionism and a protective tariff policy had already been recorded - with the outbreak of the First World War.

Prominent opponents included Ferdinand Lassalle , who described applied laissez-faire liberalism as a " night watchman state ", John Maynard Keynes , who published The End of Laissez-Faire in 1926 , and Alexander Rustow , who subscribed to laissez-faire liberalism devoted his works to the failure of economic liberalism and the religion of the market economy .

For a time there were few proponents of laissez-faire liberalism; by various neoliberals they were sometimes referred to as "old liberal" or "paleoliberal".

Ludwig von Mises pointed out that laissez faire and laissez passer belong together, that one cannot separate the demand for freedom of trade from the demand for the opening of borders.

In the mid-1960s, neoliberal thinking became radicalized and neoliberalism turned back to laissez-faire. The less government, the better the market, the credo of the younger was Chicago School of Milton Friedman . Even Friedrich August von Hayek called by now that the "competition as a discovery procedure" should not be disturbed by government intervention. Hayek believes that the phrase “laissez-faire” has always been misleading.

“Liberalism does not teach that we should leave things to their own devices. It is based on the conviction that where there is real competition for performance, this method of economic control is superior to any other. He does not deny, but even places special emphasis on the fact that a carefully thought-out framework is the prerequisite for a profitable functioning of competition and that both the current and the earlier legal norms are far from perfect. "


In education or upbringing , “laissez-faire” means a term introduced by Kurt Lewin for a style of upbringing in which the child is left to itself, “let it do it (unhindered)”. Upbringing is seen here as an illegitimate measure against children, and accordingly targeted educational measures are not taken. This view was then also transferred to leadership styles . The laissez-faire education is often in the public debate as a synonym for anti-authoritarian education used.


The principle of non-action or “doing without doing” ( Wu wei ) is known from Chinese philosophy , which is often described in the Daodejing of Laozi as the “ideal of the wise” and shapes Daoism . In the opinion of the religious scholar and expert on Eastern philosophy Alan Watts , however, this principle should not be confused with laissez-faire or mere passivity, but refers to casual action that makes use of natural laws. Other teachings influenced by the West , such as permaculture, have a similar way of thinking .


  • Donald Gibson: Wealth, Power, and the Crisis of Laissez Faire Capitalism . Palgrave, 2011, ISBN 978-0-230-11487-6 .
  • John Maynard Keynes: The End of Laissez-Faire: Ideas for Linking Private and Public Business . With a foreword by Peter Kalmbach / Jürgen Kromphardt (original title: The End of Laissez Faire and the Economic Consequences of the Peace , Prometheus 2004) Duncker & Humblot 2011, ISBN 978-3-428-13456-4 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Laisser-faire  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b laissez faire, laissez aller ., accessed on November 11, 2015
  2. laissez faire, laissez passer ,, accessed on November 12, 2015
  3. A. Oncken: The maxim Laissez faire et laissez passer, its origin, its becoming. Bern 1886.
  4. Fritz Söllner, The History of Economic Thinking , 2001, p. 19
  5. Laissez aller , , accessed November 12, 2015
  6. Joachim Starbatty: The English classics of political economy . Teaching and Effect. Knowledge Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1985. ISBN 3-534-05514-4 . P. 26.
  7. ^ Willi Albers, Anton Zottmann: Concise Dictionary of Economics (HdWW). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1980. ISBN 3-525-10256-9 . P. 43, 44; Duden Wirtschaft from A to Z: Basic knowledge for school and study, work and everyday life . 4th edition Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut 2009. Licensed edition Bonn: Federal Agency for Civic Education 2009, keyword: Laissez-faire ; Gabler Verlag (editor): Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon , keyword: Laissez-Faire-Liberalismus .
  8. ^ Willi Albers, Anton Zottmann: Concise Dictionary of Economics (HdWW). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1980. ISBN 3-525-10256-9 . P. 44.
  9. ^ Willi Albers, Anton Zottmann: Concise Dictionary of Economics (HdWW). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1980. ISBN 3-525-10256-9 . P. 45.
  10. Nils Goldschmidt, Michael Wohlgemuth, Basic Texts on the Freiburg Tradition of Ordnungsökonomik , Mohr Siebeck, 2008, ISBN 978-3-16-148297-7 , p. 419
  11. Ludwig v. Mises: Review of The End of Laissez-Faire by JM Keynes (1927); in Zeitschrift für die Allgemeine Staatswissenschaft , (1927) p. 190
  12. Philip Plickert: Neoliberalism turns seventy
  13. FA v. Hayek: Political Liberalism (PDF; 173 kB) ; in: Handwortbuch der Sozialwissenschaften , Vol. 6 (1959); P. 595
  14. Friedrich August von Hayek: The way to servitude ; 1944; P. 58.
  15. ^ A. Watts: TAO - The Watercourse Way , New York: Pantheon, 1975, p. 75.