Monday, 15 May 2006

Cue Card Libertarianism - Laissez Faire

Laissez-faire: Literally, leave/let to make or do; denotes the policy of non-intervention by government in the economy, an obvious application of the libertarian non-initiation of force principle.

The term originates from the despotic reign of King Louis XIV who had grandiose ambitions for France and believed that only through the state could they be achieved. His chief adviser, Colbert, a 17th century French version of Sir Robert Muldoon or Jim Anderton, believed that he could manage and control his way to national prosperity and duly regulated everything in sight. Meeting one day with a group of industrialists, he asked them what more he could do for them. One of the industrialists, a man rejoicing in the name Legendre, replied: “Laissez-nous faire!” -- “Leave us alone!”

Opponents of laissez-faire typically attribute to it the results of interventionism (the woes of the New Zealand electricity industry being a classic example) and then proceed to demand more intervention to repair the results of the ealier meddling – thereby, if they are successful, compounding the problems by further distorting the natural ebb and flow of supply and demand. New Zealand’s economic difficulties that came to a head in the Muldoon years arose from precisely this type of acquiescence to the demands of lobby groups seeking favours.

For decades farmers, unions, and business interests jostled for domination of government’s agenda, all meeting with considerable success at different times, always to the ultimate detriment of the economy. The solution to domination of the government by one group is not domination by another. Those who feel that Big Business and the current government are too cosily intertwined, for example, should realise that, even if that were true, the answer is not simply to effect a change of partner, but to disentangle government from all sectors of the economy altogether. Corporate welfare is as wrong as 'social' welfare.

Let's be clear: Advocates of laissez-faire are opposed to government collusion with any pressure group. Advocates of laissez-faire propose a complete and constitutional separation between the state and the economy, in the same way and for similar reasons as the separation of church and state, believing that only in this way can governments be prevented from playing favourites and confined to their legitimate function – protecting the rights of individuals.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. The 'Cue Cards' will be published as a set at the completion of the series.

TAGS: Cue_Card_Libertarianism, Economics, Libertarianism, Politics, Politics-NZ

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