Reconsidering Laissez-faire

To ‘let it be.’ What does it mean in terms of modern American politics, social, and business policy, and are those who believe that pure merit and creativity will always prevail are utopian dreamers?

How May I Help You? (illustration | sociecity)

Laissez-faire: a French term roughly translated to Let Do, meaning let it be or sometimes, more passionately, leave it alone.

For centuries people have debated the effectiveness of the laissez-faire free market economy. While the benefits of this theory seem obvious enough to some, there are just as many faults and contradictions, making the Laissez-faire model equally hated as it is loved.

Many of these often overlooked problems can only be identified if one is willing to peek into the development of society and economics from more grand perspective, spanning centuries and continents, instead of decades in a domestic sense. If we do take that peek, history shows us why any who have ever uttered the words laissez-faire have often lacked historical perspective, tending towards shortsighted, survivalist outlooks. It is worth noting that many of the supporters of the so-called pure laissez-faire are mostly lucky, well-off, self-congratulatory industrialist intellectuals. A mouthful, but necessary in explaining their highly questionable vision of society which consists of upstanding, able-bodied citizens drinking wine and dining on red meat while the rest of existence is left to fend for themselves.

The main argument for laissez-faire is that there should be less government involvement in business affairs. But people cannot be trusted, and that is why laws are created to safe guard individuals against coercive powers. But what is coercion? Who decides when it is coercion? For example: should we allow the oldest business, prostitution, to prosper? Weapons dealers to profit freely from both sides of the law? Doctors to perform “necessary” abortions?

It seems that laissez-fairers have failed to establish — and have never agreed on — a standard by which to govern their system. In this everlasting tug of war over what is considered “coercive”…

…the let-it-be theorem in its most natural form would seem to side with the convenience of profit, even if it may come from ethically questionable practices.

It is often said that having no government oversight in the employment market will propagate itself and in turn create amazing jobs and amazing workers. I beg to differ, and here is why.

Two Sides of Coercion

If there are no rules against business practices, some businesses that are less desirable to work in — such as retail and service industry jobs — will hire employees to work just below full time as to prevent any overtime pay. Additionally, employees will be provided with an unpredictable schedule as to prevent them from having the time to seek employment elsewhere. In this example, whose side should we take?

Do we side with the employers, in favor of job creation and staying competitive in the free market?

Or should we side with the employees, in favor of human freedom and protection against employment traps?

Both sides can be equally coercive to the other and will also prevent each other from generating any growth. Under the let-it-be doctrine, it is assumed that this type of standoff will work itself out naturally. If labor laws remain unchanged, it can be assumed that undesirable jobs will be naturally phased out because of unpopularity, and everyone wins.

Without being cynical, one can easily predict that once businesses discover a way to maximize profit without consequence, it is only logical that such practice should continue. And while smaller, boutique-like businesses might be able to maintain a certain moral standard based on a niche market, major businesses — the majority of hiring entities — will have to forget ethics in order to stay competitive.

It is also worth noting that there are many important people giving lip service as to the advantages of small business who are themselves, monopoly millionaire playboys. All the while, some lesser laissez-fairers want to have it all, desperately calling for free enterprise, while also wanting to be moral gods; a total impossibility.  Remember that in this global market economy, there are entire nations willing to offer an equally educated, twice as hard working population for pennies a day.

The central idea is that people of great power and wealth — in short, monopolies — conceived of this let-it-be ideal. The monopolies’ motivation to apply the free-for-all model seems to be an attempt to put limits on the very people they exploited in order to achieve a monopoly. The idea of free market is often expressed by those of great power and wealth after a period of success through years of exploitation and warfare against the weak. Laissez-faire comes up as these people wish to justify and maintain the wealth accumulated, easily shrugging off any remaining guilt.

It surely would be convenient to “let-it-be” if I made incredible profit through labor and resource abuse instead of being held accountable by the people and building my model on a sustainable future.

Deregulation has always seemed laughable when considering the harsh lessons learned before any particular policy was conceived. Should we reinstate slavery? How about ending laborer’s rights? Revoking intellectual property laws? Who is to decide what is coercive to the free market ideal?

When applied in full, the ideas behind laissez-faire are contradictory and awkward for both sides. Lassiez-faire is only a matter of convenience, favoring short sight and a narrow-minded self-interest. Think slavery, conquest, colonialism and the modern West, and inside you will find all of the same contradictions of the laissez-faire model. Laissez-faire always has and always will serve to promote selfish, idiotic, survivalist behavior that, left unchecked, will quite easily end the world.

Freedom ≠ Success

I feel that we should also mention some popular vocal supporters of this model. These are the people who refer to the less-competitive as moochers and/or looters. The reality is that no one can achieve anything based purely on merit; there is luck, and then there is luck, and then there is also luck. To think that people are capable of succeeding based solely on their “talent” is elitist thinking. By now we must have learned that a talented person’s talent can sometimes be untimely, misunderstood, or even misguided by the times.

Laissez-fairers are also quick to use independently successful individuals with humble beginnings as examples of how a free society will help proliferate more of the same fantastically successful human beings, ignoring the reality of pure random luck, inheritance, and the brutal formations of many so-called free societies. In the context of achieving anything in this society, it seems the route to success is shown to those most willing to exploit the current exploitables. Meaning, if blood is a good seller now, you’d better be getting into blood production or contributing in some way to the blood trade. You will, of course be most successful if you can maximize your blood to profit margins.

Is this what we wish mankind to be? A thoughtless creature that preys on any opportunity to profit, even if it means damaging the future for themselves or those who may come after them?

I can understand why some cannot fathom an end of our times. All we can see are cities that stretch across the horizon; the free market economy is like this grand paper mâché bull, fooling people of the world into blind action.

There are misguided souls around the world who wish to look to the West for moral support when it comes to applying laissez-faire on their compatriots. We must remind ourselves however, that centuries of warfare and violent land grabs are what made today’s Western world so dominant. It was not carefully fostered creativity that built the modern Western world, it was mostly military power and random opportunities to exercise said military power.

World dominance through force also improved the prospect of success for many Westerners; so success stories in the modern West are by-and-large less respectable than they might seem. Those who see Americans as pioneers and devoted users of laissez-faire, are a bit misguided and misinformed as well, for even America’s beloved founding fathers could be summed up as money-hungry, slave-owning, tax-evading violent militants. And each year as we contemplate deeply the meaning of “Thanks Giving,” we might also do well to wonder how the original colonists would have fared if the natives simply applied their own brand of laissez-faire and let the colonist be with their disease and famine.

But yes, of course laissez-faire is the most ideal way to govern the world. Take China, a country who’s success has been achieved largely by self-inflicted exploitation, something that economists consider the only way out for a nation which has only natural resources and raw manpower to offer.

The correlation is undeniable: exploitation, not freedom, equals success.

In today’s world economy, imagine if we treated each nation as a person. Who would survive if we were to apply the laissez-faire model?

Nations without any natural resources would be at the mercy of nations that have natural resources. Here, it becomes apparent that someone born small and limited can only achieve more by taking what’s free, or robbing from another. Today however, with every useable land occupied by flags, guns, and tanks, it is hard to justify making it on one’s own like in ancient — or even colonial — times, where one could land anywhere and start extracting resources and wealth by enslaving the indigenous people with no consequence.

Apply the laissez-faire model and the motivation for murder and mayhem will increase ten fold.

And government? Supporters claim that governments are only good for protection from coercion, from rude, uncivilized looters.  This official coercive force, such as police or army is laughable when you consider the people they are protecting. The government under laissez-faire is basically an all-too-necessary police and military force, put in place to protect business interest, and ironically funded by the very people they must oppress.

Gentleman v. Hypocrite

We must notice now, that the application of laissez-faire is only beneficial to those who are already well off. Supporters of laissez-faire are not ready to compete, they simply want everyone to respect their achievements, or exploits, and adjust to their world order. Should they realize the possibility of destructive competition, do you think they will stand idly by and accept a gentleman’s defeat?

In the 1980s, did we think that a proud all-American-cowboy like Regan would bow down to the awesomeness that is the Japanese automotive industry? Today, will the United States’ unprofitable farming industry survive under the model of free competition? How about the airlines? The banks?

Many of these entities were conveniently bailed out by the exploited and we all wonder… is it even possible to be any more ironic? All of these proud developments of the deregulated free market failed, and they will fail again, and again, even if we let-it-be, because we never learn from history unless someone beats that bit of truth in our face and stops us from doing it again.

A society without consequence is a society no more.

Academics will be quick to point out that law and order is necessary to promote fair competition, but it is obvious that laws are made in favor of those who are already in power. So of course we cannot expect fair competition. Natural selection means creatures will do anything at any cost, to compete, to survive, to the point where we cannot even trust the democratic process, a concept which has been around as long as man lived in society.

The explanation — or excuse — most often used to describe this legislative power transfer is that the powers in charge, the all too important millionaire playboy job creators, need maximum freedom to stay competitive. This competitive streak will guarantee this amazing thing call trickle down wealth. But how contradictory is it for laissez-faire supporters to enjoy the thought of trickling down? Is trickling down some philanthropic saying utilized to calm the masses? It seems rather arrogant for the rich to ban government from being able to help those in need indiscriminately, and that only the rich should be relied on to fill this need with their selective benevolence.

Those who believe that pure merit and creativity will always prevail are utopian dreamers, lunatics. Creativity alone cannot solve or defeat matters such as economics, or limitations in physical resources. When a person or nation simply does not have resources, it doesn’t matter how non-violently creative they are, pretty soon the reality of doom will motivate the most natural behavior of all, aggression. That’s nature’s instinct, and I’d dare anyone to let that be.

Pure laissez-faire is founded by unscrupulous, individualistic, blood thirsted hypocrites who want the world to quietly put their hands up and comply with the monopolies. There is no doubt laissez-faire is elitist. It is also cruel, and it poses a living-breathing contradiction, especially when supporters of the laissez-faire model deny the obvious cold-bloodedness of what they do.

But I’d have no problem in supporting such an economic and governmental doctrine… if it weren’t for the hipocricy.


Further readings:

In One Slum, Misery, Work, Politics and Hope

SocieCity Inspires Your Inbox - sign up for the bi-weekly digest