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What is Carte Blanche?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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When someone is given carte blanche, it means the person can do whatever he or she likes. The term may be used to describe a variety of situations; for example, someone might offer to pay for dinner, saying that guests have “carte blanche” to order whatever they please. In certain situations, carte blanche makes sense, since it empowers someone to act quickly at his or her own discretion. In other instances, carte blanche can be extremely hazardous, and some people use the term disparagingly to talk about things like poorly written laws which do not clearly define acts which would be considered illegal.

A closely related term is “blank check.” Carte blanche is actually French for “blank ticket,” and the two terms are often used interchangeably. The term originates from the 1700s, when it is was used to mean “full discretionary power,” often in politics. As one might imagine, politicians with carte blanche can make some unfortunate decisions, which is why most nations have systems of checks and balances to prevent people from acting entirely independently when they are in government.

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In the corporate world, certain people within a business may be given carte blanche. For example, a trusted secretary could order any needed office supplies, or a member of executive management might be empowered to make deals with other companies. Carte blanche can be a powerful tool for executives, since it allows them to move decisively and quickly to seal good contracts, or to reject contracts offered on unfavorable terms.

In the sense of a blank check, carte blanche is usually inadvisable. A blank check is a check which has been filled out and signed without indicating a monetary amount. In theory, someone could fill out a blank check with any amount and it would be honored by the bank, since the account-holder's signature would be on the check. Blank checks can be useful, as in the instance of a parent sending a child on a shopping trip with a blank check to pay for it rather than trying to guess about how much cash might be needed.

The ability to select any choice is unfortunately very easy to abuse, which is why “carte blanche” has taken on a pejorative sense. If you are in a position to offer someone carte blanche, you may want to carefully consider the situation, and perhaps establish some basic guidelines which that person may not exceed.

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ceilingcat
Post 7

@Monika - I don't agree that carte blanche should only be given for less important matters. I think the example the article gave of a business executive shows why this isn't true.

Imagine if you were an executive trying to close a business deal, and you had to call and ask permission from your boss every time you wanted to get any little thing done. This would hold up the process immensely.

But as the article said, if you have carte blanche you can act quickly. Also, I can't imagine any company would want to deal with an executive that couldn't make many decisions!

Monika
Post 6

It seems like carte blanche can be either good and practical, or very bad. I think politicians are a great example of someone you wouldn't want to give carte blanche.

I personally can't think of any political figure in recent history I would trust to have complete control. Like the article said, in politics and law their needs to be checks and balances. Or else many things could go horribly wrong.

However, in the example of the secretary, giving carte blanche makes sense. I suppose the secretary could go mad with power and order very expensive office supplies, but this doesn't seem likely.

I guess I'm saying I think carte blanche should be reserved for smaller matters. That way there is a bit less of chance for things to go wrong.

SteamLouis
Post 5

I'm glad to have found out what carte blanche means. I've heard it a lot, but was never exactly sure of it's meaning.

Carte Blanche is actually the name of one of my favorite jazz album series. The first album was named Carte Blanche and had different jazz artist's songs in it. It was released in 2001 by Naked Music and got really good feedback. So they also made Carte Blanche vol 2 and 3 in the following years. I have all three jazz albums and listen to them often.

discographer
Post 4

My newly married Indian friend took all of his friends out dinner to celebrate their pregnancy. Apparently, in India, it's a tradition to treat your friends when something good happens to you. So he took us to a really nice restaurant and gave us carte blanche to order whatever we wanted.

We all had dinner, but when it came to dessert, only half of us ordered and everyone shared.

Most of us would love to be given a carte blanche when it comes to food or shopping. But I think when it's someone whom you care about, you can't spend extravagantly because it feels like taking advantage of the situation.

I actually wanted my own dessert that day, but I didn't want to increase my friend's bill any more and we had already eaten a great dinner. It was so nice of him to think about his friends and give us a treat on his happy day.

burcidi
Post 3

In movies, when someone who is very wealthy and powerful tries to 'buy out' someone, they often offer them a blank check. This person is usually so rich that they could easily pay whatever the receiving end requests of them. It's also a way to show in films that the powerful person has done something bad and needs to keep someone quiet or cover up his tracks by bribing others.

I think films are based on real life so this scene probably happens in reality with the wealthy and powerful all the time. But very few people have the capability to offer someone a carte blanche with money.

MrSmirnov
Post 2

When I was getting married I gave my wife carte blanche so that she could have the wedding she always dreamed of. I didn't mind if she wanted to do something crazy like have peacocks roaming the garden during our ceremony. It was her day.

Luckily, my wife is very practical and we had a small, tasteful ceremony with just close family and friends. I think the only thing she did that was a bit out there was hiring a band she loved to perform at our reception. They were a local band, so I suppose it wasn't that extravagant.

drtroubles
Post 1

My mother gave me carte blanche status when she was filling in her power of attorney. We have always been close and she knew that I wouldn't take advantage of her situation when she was in her last days. Because my mom was quite ill she had a lot of difficulty putting her affairs in order and wanted to have someone she trusted in charge of it all.

If you are thinking about preparing a power of attorney make sure that you trust the person you are giving carte blanche to, as things can go badly if you don't. Carte blanche in estate matters means that the person could you give power to could sell everything you own if they wanted to and you wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

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