Review of Austrian Economics, 12: 81–94 (1999)
1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers
Report on a Treatise
ISRAEL M. KIRZNER
eorge Reisman’s massive Capitalism, A Treatise on Economics deserves a care-
ful, fair, and sympathetic hearing among Austrian economists. Into this work
Professor George Reisman has literally poured a life’s work; and the book am-
ply reﬂects the simply stupendous pains and effort, which this gifted economist
has taken to explicate his understanding of and appreciation for the Austrian component
in his economics, and of its implications for the evaluation of the capitalist system. (In
this latter respect, the work undoubtedly constitutes the most exhaustively argued case for
capitalism that has ever appeared in print.) The paradoxical circumstances that Reisman
identiﬁes his views not as “Austrian” simpliciter, but rather as “Austro-classical” (p. 11,
ftn. 2) should make his work of even greater and more intriguing interest to Austrians
(who have been trained to understand their tradition as being, among the various post-1870
schools of economic thought, the most radically opposed to the classical system.) Much
(if not most) of what follows in this review essay will be highly critical of Reisman’s book.
Nothing in these forthcoming criticisms should obscure this writer’s appreciation for its
quality as a sustained work of profound thought and scholarship, dedicated to the relentless
pursuit of economic truth as its author sees it.
It must be immediately pointed out that this work offers a number of tough barriers
and formidable obstacles to a prospective scholarly reader, whether Austrian or not. I
cannot claim that each Austrian reader who invests the time and energy needed to pierce
these barriers and overcome these obstacles will, in retrospect, judge that investment to
have been worthwhile and proﬁtable. What I do claim is that the intellectual contribution
represented by this work (once those barriers and obstacles have been scaled) offers a
challenge to Austrians which cannot and should not be ignored. This work is extremely
On the other hand, a review essay must certainly and frankly acknowledge the formidable
barriers and obstacles we have referred to. Two such hurdles loom particularly noticeably.
The most obvious obstacle is the sheer physical bulk of the volume. It consists of close to
eleven hundred double-columned pages of medium-sized type, on good paper. The weight
and size of the book make comfortable reading and study of it, a virtual impossibility
(especially since the notes are located at the end of each chapter—with a number of chapters
being long ones). This writer was able to read the book carefully only by adopting drastic
A review essay on: George Reisman, Capitalism, A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books
1996) 1 +1046 (i.e., 1096) pages.
Department of Economics, New York University, Washington Square, New York, NY 10003. Telephone:
(212) 998-8914; Fax: (212) 995-4186.