What does “laissez faire” mean?

Laissez faire (pronounced lessay-farr) is a French phrase literally meaning “let do.” In economics it is applied to a policy of minimum interference with industry, trade and labor; that is, competition in private business without protective tariffs, subsidies, restrictions or regulations by the government. It is based on the theory that commerce, domestic trade, manufactures and labor, if let alone by the government, will adjust themselves to one another. The term is supposed to have originated about 1680 in a conversation between Jean Colbert, the French statesman and financier, and a merchant named Legendre Colbert, then the Minister of Finance under Louis XIV, asked Legendre what ought to be done by the government to help the merchants and business people in general. “Laissez faire, laissez passer,” replied the merchant. Literally the French phrase signifies “let do, let pass.” Figuratively it signifies “let people do what they choose.”

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