Laissez-faire


The industrial revolution changed the lives of the population drastically. It affected both the wealthier and the poorer sections of society, but in very different ways. The rich became richer through the success of manufacturing businesses, but the poor people were living in germ infested, crowded and very unhealthy conditions, much like their place of work. The streets were not cleaned or maintained and the health of the population suffered as a result. Working hours were long and often in unhygienic or hazardous conditions and here again health and moral suffered.


In 1750, most people (whose views were acknowledged) thought it best to leave everyone to sort out their own mess, rather than pay for it by higher taxes.


This was the idea that ‘Laissez-faire’ was the best policy for a country to sort out its problems. Laissez faire is a French expression meaning to ‘leave to do’ or ‘leave alone’. The thought behind Laissez-faire believed that if left to their own devices, people in difficulties would eventually resolve their problems through their own initiative, rather than become dependant on an outside influence and therefore find their affaires out of their own control. This was the philosophy of Samuel Smiles, who in1859 believed \'Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.\' This philosophy was also adopted to encourage a free trade system that would regulate itself.


Another philosopher of the day, Jeremy Bentham, believed that if one followed a system of laissez faire and free trade ensued then it would naturally follow that the majority of people would also benefit. He supposed that the optimum society would bring happiness to the majority of the population.


Opposers to the laissez faire system argued that it was a system bias to the rich. They claimed that capitalists would benefit and become richer at the expense of the working class. This is exactly what did result as Britain became more and more industrialized. Although industrialization meant production was greatly increased, conditions of the workers in the factories and the living conditions lagged greatly behind and their health began to suffer which in turn had a knock on affect on their working abilities and it was clear that if something was not done to improve the situation, production would suffer as a result.


By the mid-Victorian era, the idea of laissez faire was being abandoned and many people wanted the government to step in to try to ease the problems. The government became increasingly more involved with the social issues of the land, but the responsibility lay with the local authorities and not with central government, so conditions could vary greatly from borough to borough. In the past, taxes had been introduced to raise money to finance wars, but now the government felt increasing responsibility to improve public facilities, employee working conditions, sewage works, better housing etc.


It has been argued that the government only gained a conscience of social awareness out of greed, as they realized that the profits and the gains of industrialization could be in jeopardy if the workforce became increasingly ill and unable to work efficiently.


Whatever the reasons for abolishing the laissez faire system of running the country, it is clear that it didn’t work in all spheres. If the government wanted the economy to look after itself, it realized that the workforce needed to also be looked after and that this did not happen on its own, or at least not if that same workforce was working unreasonable hours. Someone had to take responsibility and adopt a duty to care. This duty was taken up by the government and laissez faire was left undone until Mrs Thatcher decided that she would like to give it another try in 1989.


britain\'s world dominance


Throughout the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), the United Kingdom was the world\'s leading power. Its naval supremacy was unchallenged and its dominant influence in diplomacy and international power broking acknowledged on all sides. However, it was the strength of Britain\'s economy, which underpinned this pre-eminence. Britain had progressed from Napoleon\'s dismissive \'nation of shopkeepers\' into \'the workshop of the world\'