The Laissez-Faire Experiment: Why Britain Embraced and Then Abandoned Small Government, 1800-1914

The Laissez-Faire Experiment: Why Britain Embraced and Then Abandoned Small Government, 1800-1914

by W. Walker Hanlon
The Laissez-Faire Experiment: Why Britain Embraced and Then Abandoned Small Government, 1800-1914

The Laissez-Faire Experiment: Why Britain Embraced and Then Abandoned Small Government, 1800-1914

by W. Walker Hanlon

Hardcover

$49.95 
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Overview

Why Britain’s attempt at small government proved unable to cope with the challenges of the modern world

In the nineteenth century, as Britain attained a leading economic and political position in Europe, British policymakers embarked on a bold experiment with small and limited government. By the outbreak of the First World War, however, this laissez-faire philosophy of government had been abandoned and the country had taken its first steps toward becoming a modern welfare state. This book tells the story of Britain’s laissez-faire experiment, examining why it was done, how it functioned, and why it was ultimately rejected in favor of a more interventionist form of governance.

Blending insights from modern economic theory with a wealth of historical evidence, W. Walker Hanlon traces the slow expansion of government intervention across a broad spectrum of government functions in order to understand why and how Britain gave up on laissez-faire. Laissez-faire was not abandoned because Britain’s leaders lost faith in small government as some have suggested, nor did it collapse under the growing influence of working-class political power. Instead, Britain’s move away from small government was a pragmatic and piecemeal response—by policymakers who often deeply believed in laissez-faire—to the economic forces unleashed by the Industrial Revolution.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691213415
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 09/10/2024
Series: The Princeton Economic History of the Western World , #97
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

W. Walker Hanlon is associate professor of economics and codirector of the Center for Economic History at Northwestern University.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Capitalism, globalization, and free markets are under attack everywhere. How on earth did we ever manage to adopt such a system and what really are its consequences? This book explains all of that by focusing on Britain, the country that led the way but then soon recanted. Essential reading for our times.”—James Robinson, University of Chicago

“This is an important work. Britain’s experiment in laissez-faire and its eventual abandonment is a topic that should appeal to anyone interested in economic history, economics, or political science and yet it has until now received relatively little attention. W. Walker Hanlon has written a comprehensive study of the period that is both informative and a pleasure to read.”—Duncan Weldon, author of Two Hundred Years of Muddling Through

“A tour de force. Hanlon shows how British policymakers embarked on an experiment with small and limited government in the first half of the nineteenth century only to abandon it as a response to emerging problems arising from the Industrial Revolution. Through a careful look at the historical evidence, he demonstrates that both the adoption and subsequent abandonment of laissez-faire can best be understood as part of a pragmatic and evolutionary search for a more efficient state rather than by ideological shifts or changes in the power of organized labor.”—Stephen Broadberry, University of Oxford

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