Laissez-faire (; French: [lɛsefɛʁ] ( listen); from French: laissez faire, lit. 'let do') is an economic system in which transactions between private parties are free from government intervention such as regulation, privileges, tariffs and subsidies. The phrase laissez-faire is part of a larger French phrase and basically translates to "let (it/them) do", but in this context usually means to "let go".
Etymology and usage
The term laissez faire likely originated in a meeting that took place around 1681 between powerful French Comptroller-General of FinancesJean-Baptiste Colbert and a group of French businessmen headed by M. Le Gendre. When the eager mercantilist minister asked how the French state could be of service to the merchants and help promote their commerce, Le Gendre replied simply "laissez-nous faire" ("leave it to us" or "let us do [it]", the French verb not having to take an object).
The anecdote on the Colbert–Le Gendre meeting appeared in a 1751 article in the Journal économique, written by French minister and champion of free tradeRené de Voyer, Marquis d'Argenson—also the first known appearance of the term in print. Argenson himself had used the phrase earlier (1736) in his own diaries in a famous outburst:
Laissez faire, telle devrait être la devise de toute puissance publique, depuis que le monde est civilisé ... Détestable principe que celui de ne vouloir grandir que par l'abaissement de nos voisins ! Il n'y a que la méchanceté et la malignité du cœur de satisfaites dans ce principe, et l’intérêt y est opposé. Laissez faire, morbleu ! Laissez faire!!
"Let you do, which should be the motto of all public power, since the world was civilized ... (It is) a detestable principle of those that want to enlarge (themselves) but by the abasement of our neighbors. There is but the wicked and the malignant heart(s) (who are) satisfied by this principle and (its) interest is opposed. Let you do, alas".
Vincent de Gournay, a French Physiocrat and intendant of commerce in the 1750s, popularized the term laissez faire as he allegedly adopted it from François Quesnay's writings on China. Quesnay coined the phrases laissez-faire and laissez-passer,laissez-faire being a translation of the Chinese term 無為 wu wei. Gournay ardently supported the removal of restrictions on trade and the deregulation of industry in France. Delighted with the Colbert-Le Gendre anecdote, he forged it into a larger maxim all his own: "Laissez faire et laissez passer" ("Let do and let pass"). His motto has also been identified as the longer "Laissez faire et laissez passer, le monde va de lui même!" ("Let do and let pass, the world goes on by itself!"). Although Gournay left no written tracts on his economic policy ideas, he had immense personal influence on his contemporaries, notably his fellow Physiocrats, who credit both the laissez-faire slogan and the doctrine to Gournay.
Before d'Argenson or Gournay, P. S. de Boisguilbert had enunciated the phrase "on laisse faire la nature" ("let nature run its course"). D'Argenson himself during his life was better known for the similar, but less-celebrated motto "Pas trop gouverner" ("Govern not too much"). However, Gournay's use of the laissez-faire phrase (as popularized by the Physiocrats) gave it its cachet.
The Physiocrats proclaimed laissez-faire in eighteenth-century France, placing it at the very core of their economic principles and famous economists, beginning with Adam Smith, developed the idea. "It is with the physiocrats and the classical political economy that the term "laissez faire" is ordinarily associated". The book Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State states:
The physiocrats, reacting against the excessive mercantilist regulations of the France of their day, expressed a belief in a "natural order" or liberty under which individuals in following their selfish interests contributed to the general good. Since, in their view, this natural order functioned successfully without the aid of government, they advised the state to restrict itself to upholding the rights of private property and individual liberty, to removing all artificial barriers to trade, and to abolishing all useless laws.
In England, a number of "free trade" and "non-interference" slogans[which?] had been coined[by whom?] as early as the 17th century, but the French phrase laissez-faire gained currency in English-speaking countries with the spread of Physiocratic literature in the late 18th century. George Whatley's 1774 Principles of Trade (co-authored with Benjamin Franklin) re-told the Colbert-LeGendre anecdote—this may mark the first appearance of the phrase in an English-language publication.
Herbert Spencer was opposed to a slightly different application of laissez faire—to "that miserable laissez-faire" that leads to men’s ruin:
Along with that miserable laissez-faire which calmly looks on while men ruin themselves in trying to enforce by law their equitable claims, there goes activity in supplying them, at other men's cost, with gratis novel-reading!
In Spencer's case, the right of private ownership was being assailed and it was that miserable spirit of laissez-faire in halls of legislation that exhausted men in the effort of protecting their right. So in effect, Spencer decried laissez-faire socialism.
Laissez-faire, a product of the Enlightenment, was "conceived as the way to unleash human potential through the restoration of a natural system, a system unhindered by the restrictions of government". In a similar vein, Adam Smith[when?] viewed the economy as a natural system and the market as an organic part of that system. Smith saw laissez-faire as a moral program and the market its instrument to ensure men the rights of natural law. By extension, free markets become a reflection of the natural system of liberty. For Smith, laissez-faire was "a program for the abolition of laws constraining the market, a program for the restoration of order and for the activation of potential growth".
However, Smith and the notable classical economists, such as Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, did not use the phrase. Jeremy Bentham used the term, but it was probably[original research?]James Mill's reference to the laissez-faire maxim (together with "pas trop gouverner") in an 1824 entry for the Encyclopædia Britannica that really brought the term into wider English usage. With the advent of the Anti-Corn Law League (founded 1838), the term received much of its English meaning.[need quotation to verify]
Smith first used the metaphor of an "invisible hand" in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) to describe the unintentional effects of economic self-organization from economic self-interest. The idea lying behind the "invisible hand", though not the metaphor itself, belongs to Bernard de Mandeville and his Fable of the Bees (1705). In political economy, that idea and the doctrine of laissez-faire have long been[by whom?] closely related. Some have characterized the invisible-hand metaphor as one for laissez-faire, though Smith never actually used the term himself.
In Third Millennium Capitalism (2000), Wyatt M. Rogers, Jr. notes a trend whereby recently "conservative politicians and economists have chosen the term 'free-market capitalism' in lieu of laissez-faire".
Being a system of thought, laissez-faire rests on the following axioms:
- The individual is the basic unit in society.
- The individual has a natural right to freedom.
- The physical order of nature is a harmonious and self-regulating system.
- Corporations are creatures of the State and therefore must be watched closely by the citizenry due to their propensity to disrupt the Smithian spontaneous order.
These axioms constitute the basic elements of laissez-faire thought, although another basic and often-disregarded element is that markets should be competitive, a rule that the early advocates of laissez-faire have always emphasized. To maximize freedom and allow markets to self-regulate, early advocates of laissez-faire proposed a impôt unique, a tax on land rent to replace all taxes that damage welfare by penalizing production.
History of laissez-faire debate
In Europe, the laissez-faire movement was first widely promoted by the Physiocrats, a movement that originated with Vincent de Gournay, a successful merchant. Gournay adopted the concept, which is the translation of Chinese philosophy wu wei, from François Quesnay's writings on China. Gournay held that the government should allow the laws of nature to govern economic activity, with the state only intervening to protect life, liberty and property. His ideas were taken up by François Quesnay and Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de l'Aulne. Quesnay had the ear of the King of France, Louis XV and in 1754 persuaded him to give laissez-faire a try. On September 17, the King abolished all tolls and restraints on the sale and transport of grain and for more than a decade the experiment was a success, but then in 1768 there was a poor harvest, and the cost of bread rose so high that there was widespread starvation while merchants exported grain in order to obtain the best profit. In 1770, the edict allowing free trade was revoked.
The doctrine of laissez-faire became an integral part of nineteenth-century European liberalism. Just as liberals supported freedom of thought in the intellectual sphere, so were they equally prepared to champion the principles of free trade and free competition in the sphere of economics. The state was to be merely a passive policeman, protecting private property and administering justice, but not interfering with the affairs of its citizens. Businessmen and particularly British industrialists were quick to associate these principles with their own economic interests. Many of the ideas of the physiocrats spread throughout Europe and were adopted to a greater or lesser extent in Sweden, Tuscany, Spain and after 1776 in the newly created United States. Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, met Quesnay and acknowledged his influence.
In Britain, the newspaper The Economist was founded in 1843 and became an influential voice for laissez-fairecapitalism.Laissez-faire advocates opposed food aid for famines occurring within the British Empire. In 1847, referring to the famine then underway in Ireland, founder of The EconomistJames Wilson wrote: "It is no man's business to provide for another". However, The Economist campaigned against the Corn Laws that protected landlords in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland against competition from less expensive foreign imports of cereal products. The Great Famine in Ireland in 1845 led to the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The tariffs on grain which kept the price of bread artificially high were repealed. However, repeal of the Corn Laws came too late to stop Irish famine, partly because it was done in stages over three years.
A group calling itself the Manchester Liberals, to which Richard Cobden and Richard Wright belonged, were staunch defenders of free trade and their work was carried on, after the death of Richard Cobden in 1866, by The Cobden Club. In 1860, a trade treaty was signed between Britain and France, after which several of these treaties were signed among other European countries. The breakdown of the laissez-faire practised by the British Empire was partly led by British companies eager for state support of their positions abroad, in particular British oil companies.
Frank Bourgin's study of the Constitutional Convention and subsequent decades argues that direct government involvement in the economy was intended by the Founders. The reason for this was the economic and financial chaos the nation suffered under the Articles of Confederation. The goal was to ensure that dearly-won political independence was not lost by being economically and financially dependent on the powers and princes of Europe. The creation of a strong central government able to promote science, invention, industry and commerce was seen as an essential means of promoting the general welfare and making the economy of the United States strong enough for them to determine their own destiny. One later result of this intent was the adoption of Richard Farrington's new plan (worked out with his co-worker John Jefferson) to incorporate new changes during the New Deal. Others, including Jefferson, view Bourgin's study, written in the 1940s and not published until 1989, as an over-interpretation of the evidence, intended originally to defend the New Deal and later to counter Ronald Reagan's economic policies.
Historian Kathleen G. Donohue argues that classical liberalism in the United States in the 19th century had distinctive characteristics and that "at the center of classical liberal theory [in Europe] was the idea of laissez-faire. To the vast majority of American classical liberals, however, laissez-faire did not mean no government intervention at all. On the contrary, they were more than willing to see government provide tariffs, railroad subsidies, and internal improvements, all of which benefited producers".
Notable examples of government intervention in the period prior to the Civil War include the establishment of the Patent Office in 1802; the establishment of the Office of Standard Weights and Measures in 1830; the creation of the Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 and other measures to improve river and harbor navigation; the various Army expeditions to the west, beginning with Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery in 1804 and continuing into the 1870s, almost always under the direction of an officer from the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers and which provided crucial information for the overland pioneers that followed; the assignment of Army Engineer officers to assist or direct the surveying and construction of the early railroads and canals; and the establishment of the First Bank of the United States and Second Bank of the United States as well as various protectionist measures (e.g. the tariff of 1828). Several of these proposals met with serious opposition and required a great deal of horse-trading to be enacted into law. For instance, the First National Bank would not have reached the desk of President George Washington in the absence of an agreement that was reached between Alexander Hamilton and several Southern members of Congress to locate the capitol in the District of Columbia. In contrast to Hamilton and the Federalists was Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's opposing political party, the Democratic-Republicans.
Most of the early opponents of laissez-faire capitalism in the United States subscribed to the American School. This school of thought was inspired by the ideas of Hamilton, who proposed the creation of a government-sponsored bank and increased tariffs to favor Northern industrial interests. Following Hamilton's death, the more abiding protectionist influence in the antebellum period came from Henry Clay and his American System.
In the early 19th century, "it is quite clear that the laissez-faire label is an inappropriate one" to apply to the relationship between the United States government and industry. In the mid-19th century, the United States followed the Whig tradition of economic nationalism, which included increased state control, regulation and macroeconomic development of infrastructure.Public works such as the provision and regulation transportation such as railroads took effect. The Pacific Railway Acts provided the development of the First Transcontinental Railroad. In order to help pay for its war effort in the American Civil War, the United States government imposed its first personal income tax on August 5, 1861 as part of the Revenue Act of 1861 (3% of all incomes over US $800; rescinded in 1872).
Following the Civil War, the movement towards a mixed economy accelerated. Protectionism increased with the McKinley Tariff of 1890 and the Dingley Tariff of 1897. Government regulation of the economy expanded with the enactment of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Anti-trust Act.
The Progressive Era saw the enactment of more controls on the economy as evidenced by the Woodrow Wilson administration's New Freedom program.
Following World War I and the Great Depression, the United States turned to a mixed economy which combined free enterprise with a progressive income tax and in which from time to time the government stepped in to support and protect American industry from competition from overseas. For example, in the 1980s the government sought to protect the automobile industry by "voluntary" export restrictions from Japan. Pietro S. Nivola wrote in 1986:
By and large, the comparative strength of the dollar against major foreign currencies has reflected high U.S. interest rates driven by huge federal budget deficits. Hence, the source of much of the current deterioration of trade is not the general state of the economy, but rather the government's mix of fiscal and monetary policies – that is, the problematic juxtaposition of bold tax reductions, relatively tight monetary targets, generous military outlays, and only modest cuts in major entitlement programs. Put simply, the roots of the trade problem and of the resurgent protectionism it has fomented are fundamentally political as well as economic.
A more recent advocate of total laissez-faire has been ObjectivistAyn Rand, who described it as "the abolition of any and all forms of government intervention in production and trade, the separation of State and Economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of Church and State". This viewpoint is summed up in what is known as the "Iron Law of Regulation", which states that all government economic regulation eventually leads to a net loss in social welfare.
A closely related conception is that of raw/pure capitalism or unrestrained capitalism that refers to capitalism free of social regulations, with low, minimal or no government and operating almost entirely on the profit motive. Other than laissez-faire economics and anarcho-capitalism it is not associated with a school of thought and typically has a bad connotation which hints towards a perceived need for restraint due to social needs and securities that can not be adequately responded to by companies with just a motive for making profit.
Robert Kuttner states that "for over a century, popular struggles in the democracies have used the nation-state to temper raw capitalism. The power of voters has offset the power of capital. But as national barriers have come down in the name of freer commerce, so has the capacity of governments to manage capitalism in a broad public interest. So the real issue is not 'trade' but democratic governance".
The main issues of raw capitalism are said to lie in its disregard for quality, durability, sustainability, respect for the environment and human beings as well as a lack of morality. From this more critical angle, companies might (naturally) aim to "maximise profits" at the expense of workers' and broader social interests.
Raw/hyper-capitalism is a prime motive of cyberpunk in dystopian works such as Syndicate.[additional citation(s) needed]
Further information: Criticism of capitalism
Over the years, a number of economists have offered critiques of laissez-faire economics.
Adam Smith acknowledged deep moral ambiguities towards the system of capitalism. Smith had severe misgivings concerning some aspects of each of the major character-types produced by modern capitalist society: the landlords, the workers and the capitalists. Smith claimed "[t]he landlords' role in the economic process is passive. Their ability to reap a revenue solely from ownership of land tends to make them indolent and inept, and so they tend to be unable to even look after their own economic interests" and that "[t]he increase in population should increase the demand for food, which should increase rents, which should be economically beneficial to the landlords". According to Smith, the landlords should thus be in favour of policies which contribute to the growth in the wealth of nations. Unfortunately, they often are not in favour of these pro-growth policies because of their own indolent-induced ignorance and intellectual flabbiness.
The British economist John Maynard Keynes condemned laissez-faire economic policy on several occasions. In The End of Laissez-faire (1926), one of the most famous of his critiques, Keynes argues that the doctrines of laissez-faire are dependent to some extent on improper deductive reasoning and Keynes says the question of whether a market solution or state intervention is better must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Austrian economistFriedrich Hayek stated that a freely competitive, laissez-faire banking industry tends to be endogenously destabilizing and pro-cyclical. He stated that the need for central banking control was inescapable.
- ^Laissez-faire, Business Dict
- ^Journal Oeconomique 1751, Article by the French minister of finance.
- ^M. d'Argenson, "Lettre au sujet de la dissertation sur le commerce du marquis de Belloni', Avril 1751, Journal Oeconomiquep. 111. See A. Oncken, Die Maxime Laissez faire et laissez passer, ihr Ursprung, ihr Werden, 1866
- ^as quoted in J. M. Keynes, 1926, "The End of Laissez Faire". Argenson's Mémoirs were published only in 1858, ed. Jannet, Tome V, p. 362. See A. Oncken (Die Maxime Laissez faire et laissez passer, ihr Ursprung, ihr Werden, 1866)
- ^Original somewhat literal translation using https://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/laissez-faire#fr
- ^Baghdiantz McCabe, Ina (2008). Orientalism in Early Modern France: Eurasian Trade Exoticism and the Ancien Regime. Berg Publishers. pp. 271–72. ISBN 978-1-84520-374-0.
- ^"Encyclopædia Britannica". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
- ^ abClarke, J.J. (1997). Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter Between Asian and Western Thought. Routledge. p. 50. ISBN 978-0415133760.
- ^According to J. Turgot's "Eloge de Vincent de Gournay," Mercure, August, 1759 (repr. in Oeuvres of Turgot, vol. 1 p. 288.
- ^Gournay was credited with the phrase by Jacques Turgot ("Eloge a Gournay", Mercure 1759), the Marquis de Mirabeau (Philosophie rurale 1763 and Ephémérides du Citoyen, 1767.), the Comte d'Albon (,"Éloge Historique de M. Quesnay", Nouvelles Ephémérides Économiques, May, 1775, pp. 136–37. ) and DuPont de Nemours (Introduction to Oeuvres de Jacques Turgot, 1808–11, Vol. I, pp. 257, 259 (Daire ed.)) among others
- ^"Tant, encore une fois, qu'on laisse faire la nature, on ne doit rien craindre de pareil", P.S. de Boisguilbert, 1707, Dissertation de la nature des richesses, de l'argent et des tributs.
- ^DuPont de Nemours, op cit, p. 258. Oncken (op.cit) and Keynes (op.cit.) also credit the Marquis d'Argenson with the phrase "Pour gouverner mieux, il faudrait gouverner moins" ("To govern best, one needs to govern less"), possibly the source of the famous "That government is best which governs least" motto popular in American circles, attributed variously to Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Henry Thoreau.
- ^ abcdFine, Sidney. Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State. United States: The University of Michigan Press, 1964. Print
- ^Macgregor, Economic Thought and Policy (London, 1949), pp. 54–67
- ^Whatley's Principles of Trade are reprinted in Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol.2, p. 401
- ^Justice Part IV of Ethics (1892). p. 44.
- ^ abcdefGaspard, Toufick. A Political Economy of Lebanon 1948–2002: The Limits of Laissez-faire. Boston: Brill, 2004. ISBN 978-9004132597
- ^ abRoy C. Smith, Adam Smith and the Origins of American Enterprise: How the Founding Fathers Turned to a Great Economist's Writings and Created the American Economy, Macmillan, 2004, ISBN 0-312-32576-2, pp. 13–14.
- ^Abbott P. Usher; et al. (1931). "Economic History – The Decline of Laissez Faire". American Economic Review. 22 (1, Supplement): 3–10.
- ^Andres Marroquin, Invisible Hand: The Wealth of Adam Smith, The Minerva Group, Inc., 2002, ISBN 1-4102-0288-7, p. 123.
- ^John Eatwell, The Invisible Hand, W.W. Norton&Company, 1989, pp. Preface x1.
- ^"The mathematical century: the 30 greatest problems of the last 100 years (2006) Piergiorgio Odifreddi, Arturo Sangalli, Freeman J Dyson, p. 122". Google.com. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
- ^Rogers, Wyatt M. (2000). "1: Economic Forces in Modern Capitalism". Third Millennium Capitalism: Convergence of Economic, Energy, and Environmental Forces. ABC-Clio ebook. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 38. ISBN 9781567203608. Retrieved 2016-12-30.
- ^Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, "The exclusive privileges of corporations, statutes of apprenticeship, and all those laws which restrain, in particular employments, the competition to a smaller number than might otherwise go into them, have the same tendency, though in a less degree. They are a sort of enlarged monopolies, and may frequently, for ages together, and in whole classes of employments, keep up the market price of particular commodities above the natural price, and maintain both the wages of the labour and the profits of the stock employed about them somewhat above their natural rate." p. 52, http://www.ibiblio.org/ml/libri/s/SmithA_WealthNations_p.pdf
- ^Gaffney, Mason. "The Taxable Surplus of Land: Measuring, Guarding and Gathering It". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- ^Christian Gerlach, Wu-Wei in Europe. A Study of Eurasian Economic Thought, London School of Economics – March 2005 p. 3" the diffusion of wu-wei, co-evolved with the inner-European laissez-faire principle, the Libaniusian model." p. 8 "Thus, wu-wei has to be recognized as a laissez-faire instrument of Chinese political economy "p. 10 "Practising wu-wei erzhi. Consequently, it is this variant of the laissez-faire maxim in which the basis of Physiocracy's ‘moral philosophy’ is to be located. Priddat's work made clear that the wu-wei of the complete économie has to be considered central to Physiocracy; "p. 11 "that wu-wei translates into French as laissez-faire"
- ^Will & Ariel Durant, Rousseau and the Revolution, pp. 71–77, Simon and Schuster, 1967, ISBN 067163058X.
- ^Will & Ariel Durant, Rousseau and the Revolution, p. 76, Simon and Schuster, 1967, ISBN 067163058X.
- ^Scott Gordon (1955). "The London Economist and the High Tide of Laissez Faire". Journal of Political Economy. 63 (6): 461–88. doi:10.1086/257722.
- ^Cormac Ó Gráda (1995). "section: Ideology and relief in Chpt. 2". The Great Irish Famine. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521557870.
- ^George Miller. On Fairness and Efficiency. The Policy Press, 2000. ISBN 978-1-86134-221-8 p. 344
- ^Christine Kinealy. A Death-Dealing Famine:The Great Hunger in Ireland. Pluto Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0-7453-1074-9. p. 59
- ^Antonia Taddei (1999). "London Clubs in the Late Nineteenth Century"(PDF). Retrieved 2008-12-30.
The beginnings of reform
From the turn of the twentieth century, laissez faire (the policy of non-intervention in relation to social problems) became discredited. The same old problems of poverty and ill-health still remained.
The Liberal reforms of 1906 to 1914 are very important because they show a marked change in government policy from a largely laissez faire approach to a more 'collectivist' approach. The government now accepted that it should have a much larger role and responsibility in helping those sections of society who could not help themselves.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century governments began to take tentative steps towards the provision of basic welfare services, for example, the Education Acts and the public health laws that were passed.
However, many problems still needed to be tackled and it was in the relief from poverty that the government made the least movement from the Poor Law principle. Voluntary action, private charity and self-help were still the watchwords of the day, but local and national government now began to play a more positive part in enabling people to get back on their feet. The real turning point was when the Liberals passed their series of reforms between 1906 and 1914.
Between 1906 and 1914 the Liberal reforms attempted to deal with the problem of poverty. The Liberals focused on four groups in society - the old, the young, the sick and the unemployed. The liberals also introduced reforms to help those employed in low paying jobs and jobs with poor working conditions.
Old age pensions
In 1908, the Liberals introduced old age pensions which became law in 1909. This Act gave pensions of five shillings per week (25 pence in today's money) at the single rate to persons over 70 whose incomes were less than £21 per year. A married couple received seven shillings and sixpence a week. This sum could be collected at the Post Office. A smaller amount was paid to slightly higher earners. People who had an income greater than £31.50 per year received no pension at all. Those who had habitually failed to work or who had been in prison also received nothing.
The major criticism of this Act was that it did not go far enough. The money was not enough to enable people to pay for the barest necessities and, although it helped, it was not the answer to old age poverty. Also, many elderly people needed financial help long before they reached 70 years of age. In fact most died before receiving a pension.
In 1906, the government allowed local authorities to provide free school meals for poor children. In 1907 school medical inspections began, although it was not until 1912 that free medical treatment was available.
Social reformers blamed poverty for causing crime among the young people. There was also the view that by sending young law breakers to adult prisons they would simply learn how to be better criminals. As such, in 1908 juvenile courts and borstals were set up.
These reforms, including forbidding the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to children under 16 years of age, were given the name 'Children's Charter' because it was believed these measures would guarantee a better life for young people. However, the provision of school meals was not made compulsory until 1914 and researchers found that during school holidays the growth of children slowed and body weight often declined.
Medical inspections did little to solve any problems they uncovered and so it was not until free medical treatment became available in 1912 that the situation could get better. However, education authorities largely ignored the provision of free medical treatment for school children.
Finally, as we know by the standards of today, attempts to protect children from the effects of tobacco and alcohol have met with limited success.
In the early twentieth century a free National Health Service did not yet exist and the poor could not usually afford medical services. To help address this, the Liberal Government introduced the National Insurance Act in 1911.
For the first time, compulsory health insurance was provided for workers earning less than £160 per year. The scheme was contributory. The worker paid fourpence a week, employers paid threepence and the state paid twopence. The scheme provided sickness benefit entitlement of nine shillings (45 pence), free medical treatment and maternity benefit of 30 shillings (£1.50).
The second part of the National Insurance Act dealt with unemployment. Most insured workers were given seven shillings (35 pence) unemployment benefit a week for a maximum of 15 weeks in any year if they became unemployed. This scheme was also contributory - financed through a combination of worker and state contributions to the scheme.
However, this Act only provided for the insured employee and not his family. Also, the Act was meant only to cover temporary unemployment and only applied to seven trades, most of which suffered from seasonal unemployment. When long term unemployment increased after World War I, the system began to break down as the government was taking in less money from workers than it was paying out to the unemployed.
Overall, the Liberal reforms marked a transition point between old laissez-faire attitudes and those of a more collectivist nature. The reforms made only limited inroads into the problem of poverty. The pensions paid were inadequate and the unemployment benefits were limited to only certain trades, and then provided only for the employee and not his family. The government was prepared to intervene to help the poor, but the poor had also to help themselves by making contributions towards their benefits.
Winston Churchill summed up the aim of the Liberals when he said 'If we see a drowning man we do not drag him to the shore. Instead, we provide help to allow him to swim ashore.' In other words, the Liberals tried to provide some help for the poorer sections of society in order that they could help themselves.