Laissez-Faire (Political Science)

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  • A free-market economic policy, which spread through Europe and the United States in the mid-1800s, whereby private contracts were freely negotiated without government intervention. States relaxed their protective measures, such as tariffs and subsidies, which had curtailed trade, especially beyond national borders. It was believed that such arrangements would encourage competition. As a result of laissez-faire policies, nations became neutral in competitions among businesses and interest groups vying for market and political power.

    Competition, however, seemed to encourage monopolies rather than market regulation. Laissez-faire policies were thus modified, and today, most industrialized nations usually maintain strong government intervention in the economy through minimum wages, antitrust regulation, and trade tariffs.


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