Was Adam Smith laissez-faire

What did it mean that Adam Smith was laissez-faire? This asks another question, did Adam Smith really support an economy free from government interference? Generally yes, but there is more to the story and it is worth trying to understand more on the subject. The most important thing is to understand why Adam Smith believed, what he believed in. He believed a government that leaves people alone to live their lives according to their own judgement is the best for all.

Adam Smith’s laissez-faire economics ment:

When people are given the freedom to be the best they can be, the result is the rich and the poor have  a better economic situation. Yes the poor are the ones who win in the free trade capitalism of Adam Smith.  The purpose of government is not to make everyone equal. It can not happen, but rather give everyone the freedom to make choices on their own enlightened self-interest.

The philosophers of the enlightenment believed that the role of government was to protect the rights of the individual so people and society as a whole would be happier. After all happiness is the goal of life. In my heart of hearts I truly believe in the ideals of the enlightenment. It was a great time for humanity and philosophy. I believe in the innate goodness of men. I believe that all people have the ability to achieve great things in this world, everyone.

The only two thing that can hold you back are wrong thinking or wrong government. It believed that men basically have the same innate ability to do well in life if given a chance. This means freedom. After all I am an American who has spend a good part of my life in Eastern Europe. I can compare two economies, one that is free and one that is not.

What does this have to do with laissez-faire?

With this freedom from the burden of government people strive to be the best they can be, individuals will be happier and so will society.

The poor will become middle class relatively fast with laissez-faire.

Laissez faire means ‘let do’ translated from French or ‘let it be’. Adam Smith never uses the term in his Wealth of Nations nor in his The Theory of Moral Sentiments. This is surprizing as it often connected to Adam Smith.  I think simply because it was a french expression. However, there is another reason.

I think people confuse his idea of the invisible hand with laissez-faire. The invisible hand is more about unintended consequences of individual action on society as a whole. While laissez-faire is a philosophy where the government is hands off business. And does not compete, regulate, tax business excessively. Similar ideas but slightly different focus. The classical liberal thinkers like Adam Smith wanted to answer the question how to maximizes your happiness.

The origins of laissez-faire

This French word import dates back several hundred years. It comes from M. Le Gendre when he and some French business leaders where asked my the French Mercantilist economic minister what the government could do to help their business. His reply was laissez-faire, lets us be. Every job creator, knows the best thing government can do is let the markets work. Vincent de Gournay was the French 1750s version of Ronald Reagan. The French commerce minster fought hard against encroaching government regulation. He tried to deregulate business and the result was positive. We need this today.

In English it first appear two years before Wealth of Nations, in 1774 in 1774, Principles of Trade by George Whatley,he coauthored the book with Benjamin Franklin. The first classical economics to use the term was Jeremy Bentham.

What does Adam Smith have to do with laissez-faire?

It is interesting that Adam smith does not use this term once in any of his works. Smith was describing something similar, but more radical and detailed than the simple notion of ‘let us be’.  Adam Smith was making an argument that when government protects individuals freedoms. This is classical liberalism. I rather than business, societies will thrive, people will be happy.

Adam Smith laissez-faire economics did not mean:

  • Greed
  • Selfishness
  • No government
  • Taking advantage of workers

Adam Smith is one of the most referenced economists of all time, but I think many people use his thinking to support their own views on Political economy without reading him. I have created a free e-book of Adam Smith’s wealth of nations. This book was not written for the capitalist class, but for all people especially the poor. I created a free e-book that has his complete Wealth of nations for free to download if you want to read him directly and read about laissez-faire  economics first hand.