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laissez faire

or lais·ser faire

[ les-ey -fair; French le-sey -fer ]
/ ˌlɛs eɪ ˈfɛər; French lɛ seɪ ˈfɛr /
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noun
the theory or system of government that upholds the autonomous character of the economic order, believing that government should intervene as little as possible in the direction of economic affairs.
the practice or doctrine of noninterference in the affairs of others, especially with reference to individual conduct or freedom of action.
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Origin of laissez faire

1815–25; <French: literally, allow to act

Other definitions for laissez faire (2 of 2)

laissez-faire

or lais·ser-faire

[ les-ey-fair; French le-sey-fer ]
/ ˌlɛs eɪˈfɛər; French lɛ seɪˈfɛr /

adjective
of, relating to, or conforming to the principles or practices of laissez faire.

Origin of laissez-faire

First recorded in 1815–25

OTHER WORDS FROM laissez-faire

laissez-faireism, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does laissez faire mean?

As a noun, laissez faire refers to the practice of allowing people or institutions to act or behave however they want, with little or no interference or regulation. It can also refer to the theory on which such a system is based.

The adjective form laissez-faire is used to describe people or things that engage in this practice or that are based on this theory, such as a laissez-faire economy.

These terms are especially associated with economics. In this context, they refer to systems in which there are few regulations and little government oversight of how business is conducted. Supporters of free enterprise typically advocate for laissez-faire policies. In contrast, most governments create regulations or provide oversight with the intention of trying to keep the economy fair.

The terms can be used more generally in everyday life in the context of people who use laissez faire as an approach to dealing with a situation or who have a laissez-faire attitude. This typically involves a person letting things happen without getting involved.

Example: The head of the franchise was known for her philosophy of laissez faire, usually letting the head coach make most of the decisions about the team.

Where does laissez faire come from?

The first records of the term laissez faire come from around 1825. It’s a French term that translates to “allow to act,” “let (them) act,” or “let (people) do (as they choose).”

Allowing people (and businesses) to act in the way that they believe best suits their interests is the basis of any system considered to be an example of laissez faire. Laissez faire was a popular theory in politics and economics in the 1800s and is closely associated with France’s Physiocrats from the late 1700s. At the time, many French economists thought the king should leave businesses alone and not regulate them.

Though laissez-faire economics are rare in practice, at least on a wide scale, the theory still has many proponents. It is a central focus of libertarianism.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to laissez faire?

  • laisser faire (variant spelling)
  • laissez-faire (adjective)
  • laissez-faireism (noun)

What are some synonyms for the noun laissez faire?

What are some synonyms for the adjective laissez-faire?

What are some words that share a root or word element with laissez faire

What are some words that often get used in discussing laissez faire?

How is laissez faire used in real life?

Laissez faire is most commonly used in the context of economics, but it can be used in everyday life to refer to a hands-off approach to something. The adjective form laissez-faire is more commonly used.

Try using laissez faire!

Is laissez-faire used correctly in the following sentence?

“Jane has a very laissez-faire teaching style, allowing her students to work at their own pace.”

How to use laissez faire in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for laissez faire

laissez faire

laisser faire

/ (ˌlɛseɪ ˈfɛə, French lese fɛr) /

noun
  1. Also called: individualism the doctrine of unrestricted freedom in commerce, esp for private interests
  2. (as modifier)a laissez-faire economy
indifference or noninterference, esp in the affairs of others

Derived forms of laissez faire

laissez-faireism or laisser-faireism, noun

Word Origin for laissez faire

French, literally: let (them) act
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for laissez faire

laissez-faire
[ (les-ay-fair, lay-zay-fair) ]

French for “Let (people) do (as they choose).” It describes a system or point of view that opposes regulation or interference by the government in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary to allow the free enterprise system to operate according to its own laws.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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