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What is the Laissez Faire Club?
The Laissez Faire Club (LF Club) provides you with free, high-quality e-books that we publish every week that you can access from your laptop, e-reader, smartphone or desktop. Membership grants you access to videos and podcasts that allow you to read and absorb the ideas in those books more quickly, saving you hundreds of hours of reading time. Connect with fellow members in business, finance, and the world of ideas. This allows you to leverage hundreds of years of experience as you learn, discuss, socialize and share and pass ideas back and forth. The LF Club also saves you a boatload of money on every printed book in the Laissez Faire catalog, with a clean 20% discount on all 1,000 titles. On top of all that, when you sign up we will send you Economics in One Library absolutely free. This package includes four hard copy books that will serve as the keystone of your economic library.
How can I become a member of the Laissez Faire Club?
We couldn’t be more excited to invite you to become a member of the Laissez Faire Club. All of the club member benefits can be yours for only $10 a month. For an even better deal, yearly subscriptions are available for only $99 (20% off regular rate). For more details on LF Club or to join click here.
General Laissez Faire FAQs:
This is a French term that in English is usually rendered lay-say-faire. Here are audio samples.
About the year 1680 in France, with the nation-state on the rise throughout Europe, the finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert asked a merchant named M. Le Gendre what the state could do to promote industry. According to legend, the reply came: Laissez-nous faire, or “let it be.” This incident was reported in 1751 in the Journal Oeconomique by the free-trade champion René de Voyer, Marquis d’Argenson. The slogan was codified finally in the words of Vincent de Gournay: “Laissez faire et laissez passer, le monde va de lui même!” The loose translation: “let it be and let goods pass; the world goes by itself.” We’ve rendered this in the form you see on our masthead. Leave society alone. The world manages itself. Let it be. Let goods pass. All these express not only the idea of free trade – a main subject of dispute in 18th century European politics – but also a larger and more beautiful vision of the way society can be permitted to work.
This idea can be summed up in the phrase Laissez Faire, or in the doctrine of what was once called simply liberalism, which today is clarified as classical liberalism. This idea is this: society contains within itself the capacity for ordering and managing its own path of development. It therefore follows that people should enjoy the liberty to manage their own lives, associate as they please, exchange with anyone and everyone, own and accumulate property, and otherwise be unencumbered by state expansion into their lives. In the centuries that have followed, millions of great thinkers and writers have elaborated on this core idea within all disciplines of the social science.
Then as now, there stands two broad schools of thought, those who believe in state control of one or many aspects of the social order and those who believe that such attempts at control are counterproductive to the cause of prosperity, justice, peace, and the building of the civilized life. These two ways of thinking are different from what is called right and left today. The left is inclined to think that if we let the economic sphere be free, the world will devolve into fixed classes in which the rich and privileged will exploit everyone else. The right is similarly convinced that the state is necessary lest the world collapsed into violent, warring, culture-destroying gangs. The laissez-faire view rejects both views in favor of what Bastiat called “the harmony of interests” that make up the social order. It is the view that the artists, merchants, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and property owners – and not the cartelizing thugs of the state – ought to be permitted to drive the course of history. [Back to top]
The idea of laissez-faire is not new in world history. Though it is mostly associated with 18th-century British thought, it is a view of society that has much deeper roots in the Christian middle ages and early Jewish thought too. Nor is laissez-faire somehow a Western idea alone. The deepest roots of laissez-faire actually trace to ancient China, and, even today, the thoughts of the masters offer a fine summary.
Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.):
“The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished… The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be.” “The Sage says: I take no action yet the people transform themselves, I favor quiescence and the people right themselves, I take no action and the people enrich themselves…”
Chuang Tzu (369-286 B.C.):
“I would rather roam and idle about in a muddy ditch, at my own amusement, than to be put under the restraints that the ruler would impose. I would never take any official service, and thereby I will [be free] to satisfy my own purposes.” “There has been such thing as letting mankind alone; there has never been such a thing as governing mankind [with success].” The world “does simply not need governing; in fact it should not be governed.”
Pao Ching-yen (4th century A.D.):
“Where knights and hosts could not be assembled there was no warfare afield… Ideas of using power for advantage had not yet burgeoned. Disaster and disorder did not occur… People munched their food and disported themselves; they were carefree and contented.”
Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145-90 B.C.):
“Each man has only to be left to utilize his own abilities and exert his strength to obtain what he wishes… When each person works away at his own occupation and delights in his own business, then like water flowing downward, goods will naturally flow ceaseless day and night without being summoned, and the people will produce commodities without having been asked.”
These early beginnings of the idea began here but can be traced through thinkers ancient Greece and Rome and through the middle ages until the notion swept the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, giving rise to unheard of prosperity, liberty, and peace for all.
Classical liberalism is the view that liberty, in the words of Lord Acton, is the highest political end of humankind. As Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book Liberalism (1929)
The philosophers, sociologists, and economists of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth century formulated a political program that served as a guide to social policy first in England and the United States, then on the European continent, and finally in the other parts of the inhabited world as well. Nowhere was this program ever completely carried out. Even in England, which has been called the homeland of liberalism and the model liberal country, the proponents of liberal policies never succeeded in winning all their demands. In the rest of the world only parts of the liberal program were adopted, while others, no less important, were either rejected from the very first or discarded after a short time. Only with some exaggeration can one say that the world once lived through a liberal era. Liberalism was never permitted to come to full fruition.
Nevertheless, brief and all too limited as the supremacy of liberal ideas was, it sufficed to change the face of the earth. A magnificent economic development took place. The release of man’s productive powers multiplied the means of subsistence many times over. On the eve of the World War (which was itself the result of a long and bitter struggle against the liberal spirit and which ushered in a period of still more bitter attacks on liberal principles), the world was incomparably more densely populated than it had ever been, and each inhabitant could live incomparably better than had been possible in earlier centuries. The prosperity that liberalism had created reduced considerably infant mortality, which had been the pitiless scourge of earlier ages, and, as a result of the improvement in living conditions, lengthened the average span of life.
Nor did this prosperity flow only to a select class of privileged persons. On the eve of the World War the worker in the industrial nations of Europe, in the United States, and in the overseas dominions of England lived better and more graciously than the nobleman of not too long before. Not only could he eat and drink according to his desire; he could give his children a better education; he could, if he wished, take part in the intellectual and cultural life of his nation; and, if he possessed enough talent and energy, he could, without difficulty, raise his social position. It was precisely in the countries that had gone the farthest in adopting the liberal program that the top of the social pyramid was composed, in the main, not of those who had, from their very birth, enjoyed a privileged position by virtue of the wealth or high rank of their parents, but of those who, under favorable conditions, had worked their way up from straitened circumstances by their own power. The barriers that had in earlier ages separated lords and serfs had fallen. Now there were only citizens with equal rights. No one was handicapped or persecuted on account of his nationality, his opinions, or his faith. Domestic Political and religious persecutions had ceased, and international wars began to become less frequent. Optimists were already hailing the dawn of the age of eternal peace.
But events have turned out otherwise. In the nineteenth century strong and violent opponents of liberalism sprang up who succeeded in wiping out a great part of what had been gained by the liberals. The world today wants to hear no more of liberalism. Outside England the term “liberalism” is frankly proscribed. In England, there are, to be sure, still “liberals,” but most of them are so in name only. In fact, they are rather moderate socialists. Everywhere today political power is in the hands of the antiliberal parties. The program of antiliberalism unleashed the forces that gave rise to the great World War and, by virtue of import and export quotas, tariffs, migration barriers, and similar measures, has brought the nations of the world to the point of mutual isolation. Within each nation it has led to socialist experiments whose result has been a reduction in the productivity of labor and a concomitant increase in want and misery. Whoever does not deliberately close his eyes to the facts must recognize everywhere the signs of an approaching catastrophe in world economy. Antiliberalism is heading toward a general collapse of civilization.
If one wants to know what liberalism is and what it aims at, one cannot simply turn to history for the information and inquire what the liberal politicians stood for and what they accomplished. For liberalism nowhere succeeded in carrying out its program as it had intended.
Nor can the programs and actions of those parties that today call themselves liberal provide us with any enlightenment concerning the nature of true liberalism. It has already been mentioned that even in England what is understood as liberalism today bears a much greater resemblance to Toryism and socialism than to the old program of the freetraders. If there are liberals who find it compatible with their liberalism to endorse the nationalization of railroads, of mines, and of other enterprises, and even to support protective tariffs, one can easily see that nowadays nothing is left of liberalism but the name.
Nor does it any longer suffice today to form one’s idea of liberalism from a study of the writings of its great founders. Liberalism is not a completed doctrine or a fixed dogma. On the contrary: it is the application of the teachings of science to the social life of man.
The word libertarian has long been associated with a primary concern for human liberty, but in current understanding it refers to a tightening and radicalizing of the old liberal view. It asserts the inviolability of property rights, the primacy of peace in world affairs, and the centrality of free association and trade in the conduct of human affairs. It differs from the old liberal view in dispensing with the naive view that the state can be limited by law and constitutions; it imagines the possibility that society can manage itself without a state, defined as the one institution in society that is permitted the legal right of aggression against person and property. Libertarians are consistently against war, protectionism, taxation, inflation, and any laws that interfere with the right of free association.
Libertarianism came of age in the early 1970s with the writings of Murray Rothbard and, later, with the founding of Laissez Faire Books and the work of Robert Nozick and Tibor Machan. Libertarians are not necessarily anarchists or anarcho-capitalists, but the main strain of thinking in the libertarian world today revolves around the idea of statelessness as an intellectual benchmark. This view is not utopian or far flung; it is only the hope for an ideal where theft, murder, kidnapping, and counterfeiting are not legally sanctioned by the state. Nor is such a society historically unprecedented. Rothbard wrote about Colonial America as an example of a wildly successful experiment of society without a central state. Medieval Europe made the first great economic revolution without recourse to the power of the nation state. David Friedman has documented anarchism and competitive legal orders in medieval Iceland. Other writers go so far as to say that given how we conduct our lives day to day, relying on the productivity of private institutions and associations, we never really leave anarchy.[Back to top]
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