Bernard Mandeville and the doctrine of laissez-faire


  • Renee Prendergast Queen's University Belfast, Ireland



Mandeville, laissez-faire, interventionist, education, labour, voluntary action


The view of Mandeville as a pioneer of laissez-faire is difficult to reconcile with his repeated insistence that private vices were turned into public benefits by the 'dexterous management of the skilful politician'. Even if references to the skilful politician are regarded as shorthand for a legal and institutional framework, there remains the question of whether such a framework is a spontaneous order or the product of purposeful experiment as Mandeville thought? Mandeville warned about the harmful effects of meddling but his complaint was about the actions of fashionable do-gooders rather than government. He understood that the voluntariness of a transaction could be regarded as a defence against complaints of unfairness but he was quick to point out the limitations of voluntariness especially in the market for labour. Mandeville's objective was to teach people what they are not what they should be. He pointed to the strengths of the emerging market system but was not afraid to expose its faults.

Author Biography

Renee Prendergast, Queen's University Belfast, Ireland

Renee Prendergast is reader in economics at Queens' Management School, Belfast.




How to Cite

Prendergast, R. (2016). Bernard Mandeville and the doctrine of laissez-faire. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 9(1), 101–123.