free enterprise

Idioms & Phrases

free enterprise

Also, private enterprise. An undertaking on one's own behalf, especially a shady or illegal one. For example, The city treasurer didn't bother with competitive bids; the spirit of free enterprise just led him to his brother-in-law, or The sergeant indulged in a little private enterprise, selling cigarettes on the black market. This sarcastic application of a term that has meant, since about 1885, the freedom of private businesses to operate competitively for profit with a minimum of government control, dates from the mid-1900s.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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