Laissez faire is first and foremost a beautiful notion: leave the world alone. It manages itself.
In many ways this idea is the very seat of human civilization.
The term is pronounced lay-say-FAIR and derives its present-day meaning from Vincent de Gournay’s half-forgotten codification:
Laissez-faire et laissez-passer, le monde va de lui même.
“Let it be and let goods pass: the world goes by itself.”
People who believe in total, unadulterated laissez faire, as I do, believe that society contains within it the capacity for ordering and managing its own path of development.
This includes ecosystems of every stripe and variety, which are clearly best managed by a system of full private property rights, and not centralized planning committees or an elite bureau who determine everything for the rest of us.
It follows thus that people should enjoy the liberty to manage their own lives, associate as they please, exchange with anyone and everyone, which includes — and please listen closely — owning and accumulating property and otherwise being unencumbered even when one grows wealthy.
For all the lip-service they may pay anarchism, the egalitarians, the communitarians, the agrarians, and all the other similarly-minded groups, they simply do not tolerate hierarchy, neither in wealth-and-property accumulation, nor in employment structure — blanking out, of course, the incontrovertible fact that human beings possess varying degrees of motivation and ambition: the two greatest factors in “inequality and privilege.”
It is for this reason that implementing egalitarianism in any form requires the diametric opposite of laissez faire: it requires force.
Laissez faire asks only this: that you leave others alone.
Laissez faire is deeply connected with the concept of individual rights.
Laissez faire states that your rights, my rights, everyone’s rights stop where another’s begin.
There are, in the present day, two main alternatives to laissez faire, neither of which is more convincing than the other:
There is the so-called Left, which, to speak generally, believes that if we let the economic sphere be free, the world will collapse. (The Left then hypothesizes all manner of disaster that will befall humankind without government control.)
And then there is the so-called Right, which is every bit as misbegotten, convinced as it is that state control must happen in, for instance, your bedroom, or the world will collapse into debauchery and crime and war.
Laissez faire rejects both views — for obvious reasons:
“The harmony of interests,” as Claude Frédéric Bastiat called it, which make up the social order. And the fact that human freedom is a birthright.
Laissez faire is the view that the artists and creators, the merchants and business-people, the philanthropists and farmers, the entrepreneurs and property-owners — all, in short, should be left alone.