Word of the day – laissez-faire

Word of the day 30th March 2020

Laissez-faire noun less-ay-FAIR


1 : a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights

2 : a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action

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 attributively before another noun.



“Though often viewed as an age of laissez-faire, the Victorian period saw ambitious lawmaking. Much of this involved revising existing legislation: one result was the expansion of the middle-class bureaucracy….” — Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, 2011

“In the late nineteenth century, a new generation of economists, who had returned from training in Germany to challenge the laissez-faire orthodoxy of the American Gilded Age, gradually rose to prominence at Wharton. They argued that the government should intervene to address widening inequality of industrial capitalism.” — David Sessions, The New Republic, March 2020