Laissez-faire = Laisser souffrir

The much debunked economic theory of laissez-faire, usually translated as ‘let them be,’ meaning let those with wealth do as they will, no regulation needed has had a resurgence in the past 35 years or so.  For a while in the United States it was understood that laissez-faire was the shiny face of the coin, the other side of which was laisser-souffrir — let them suffer.  For a quick review here is Thomas O. McGarity in the NY Times.

The laissez-faire revival of the past 35 years was no accident. The protective statutes and liberal common-law doctrines of the late 1960s and early 1970s — what can be called the Public Interest Era — had a profound impact in such areas as occupational safety and health, environmental protection, consumer finance and the safety of food, drugs and consumer products. This legislative and judicial activism placed far more constraints on the economic freedom of corporate America than had any legal regime preceding it.

It also galvanized a “divert and delay” strategy of resistance by businesses, which lobbied against the new statutes and resisted the efforts of newly empowered regulators and plaintiffs. The laissez-faire revival, however, required more than resistance to change. It also took the determined efforts of a relatively small number of philanthropists and academics to create what I call an “idea infrastructure” around minimalist regulation, popularizing that ideology and persuading Congress, the executive branch, and the courts to scale back constraints on corporations.

Corporate activists — responding in part to a call to action by William E. Simon, a financier and architect of the modern conservative movement, who served as Treasury secretary under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford — devoted tens of millions of dollars to the creation of right-leaning think tanks, media operations and free-enterprise centers in academia, as well as lobbying and public relations firms and “grass-roots” (but actually business-financed) organizations.

The business community launched three frontal assaults on the regulatory agencies that Congress had created over the years to protect the American public. … read all.

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