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New Left Review I/26, July-August 1964

Joan Robinson

The Final End of Laissez Faire

Keynes pronounced his famous discourse on the End of Laissez-faire in 1926. It has been a long time a-dying. To ‘clear from the ground the metaphysical or general principles upon which, from time to time, laissez-faire has been founded’, Keynes declared: ‘It is not a correct deduction from the Principles of Economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightened; more often individuals acting separately to promote their own ends are too ignorant or too weak to attain even these. Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately.’ But the Principles of Economics were still being taught (though with many cautious reservations and exceptions) in such a way that the students were left with the impression that those deductions were not far wrong.

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Joan Robinson, ‘The Final End of Laissez Faire’, NLR I/26: £3

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