June 11th, 2000.
Laissez-faire, in the area of economics and politics, is a doctrine holding that an economic system functions best when there is no interference by government. It is based on the belief that the natural economic order tends, when undisturbed by artificial stimulus or regulation, to secure the maximum well-being for the individual and therefore for the community. This description of the natural state of affairs has long been with us. (See Quesnay.) The story is that Colbert (1619-1683), the chief minister of Louis XIV -- the patron of industry, commerce, art, science and literature -- once asked a group of businessmen what he could do for them. One of these businessmen, replied, laissez nous faire - leave us alone. At times a phrase is added suggesting the social theory behind the slogan: le monde va de lui meme - the world goes by itself.
Subsequently, French authors, including Turgot (1727-81), who wrote Reflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses (1766), a work that predated Adams Smith's work by 10 years - used the slogan laissez-faire. In Britain: Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and J.S. Mill developed laissez-faire into a tenet of classical economics and a philosophy of individualism.