Tibor R. Machan
The French president, with a Hungarian father and born in the mid 1950s
recently made headlines by announcing that "Le laisser-faire, c’est fini."
This means that free market capitalism is finished.
What is interesting about Sarkozy having said this is that the term
“laisser-faire” refers to how the French king was responded to when he
asked French farmers “So what do you want?” He was told: “Leave us
alone.” Accordingly, laisser-faire came to refer to a system of
economics, also defended by Adam Smith and the classical liberal and
libertarian political economy tradition, in which the government plays the
sole role the American Founders assigned to it, namely, “to secure [our]
rights.” Just as referees do at games, government has the important role
of making sure the rules are followed and violators are punished. In the
case of a society, including its economic system, the rules are that the
rights to private property and freedom of contract are strictly respected
This idea has never, ever been fully implemented but here and there,
especially in America, it has gained some inroad in public affairs.
Certain compared to the rest of human history and the rest of the globe,
America’s economy has often been relatively free. But as with most
democracies which may not ban the input of even undemocratic ideas, the
best that has been achieved is a mixed economy, one with socialist,
capitalist, fascist, theocratic and even communist features, a fully free
market never existed in America.
Still, whenever some upheaval with economic implications does occur in
America and other mixed economies, defenders of some variation of the
ancient regime of mercantilism—which include champions of all kinds of
statist economic systems such as socialism, fascism, etc.—quickly announce
what Sarkozy said, namely, that free enterprise is now dead, proven to
have failed. In the current financial fiasco this is all too evident. Day
after day one can read this bunk, in The New York Times, The New Republic,
letters to various magazines and newspapers, you name it.
A regular feature of this glee, exhibited by folks who have never shown
the slightest sympathy for free enterprise, is to mention that people in
the business world are often complicit in promoting statism. But that’s
no news at all, of course. Adam Smith already observed it back in the 18th
century. As he warned:
“The proposal of any new law or regulation which comes from [businessmen],
ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to
be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only
with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes
from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that
of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to
oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both
deceived and oppressed it.” The Wealth of Nations, vol. 1, pt. xi, p.10
(at the conclusion of the chapter) (1776).
The bottom line is that in mixed economies it is somewhat difficult to
detect the source of economic problems. The chattering classes—many of
whose members would love to rule the world since they tend to believe
(following the lead of a certain reading of Plato) that only they are
qualified to do so—jump at the chance to blame freedom, including free
enterprise, since that is the main obstacle to their being in charge.
My simple plea is, do not fall for this ruse. The current—as all human
produce—economic fiasco is the fault of statists who routinely distort the
natural ways of an economy. (In this case it had to do with massive
amounts of easy money doled out in the name of helping the poor,
minorities, and so forth.) As usual, such interference results in
And those who are responsible have no intention to confessing their guilt
in making it happen and one effective way to hide that fact is to point
the finger at the innocent party, human liberty.