George Reisman’s Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is a triumph of sustained creative insight into the nature of economics and the ethical and epistemological ideas that illuminate the science of economics and strengthen the philosophical defense of capitalism as a rights-based social system.
Some more technical parts of the book are beyond me. But I would say that at least a good two thirds is a clear-sailing voyage of intellectual discovery. It is a tragedy that the tome’s virtues, because of how much it has to offer on so many levels, can never really be fairly indicated by even the best critical assessment. Some persons who should have commented on this work have yet to do so, two decades after it was originally published. And some even favorable commentators have taken too few pains to outline its many virtues while spending too much space on sometimes unworthy disagreements. The virtues of the book include its clear, forceful, eloquent style; its continuous stream of small and large original insights (some of them controversial among fellow-traveling Misesian economists); and the smoothly interlocking logical development of a mammoth theoretical structure that must have been brain-cracking to keep track of and keep concise. The scope of integration is really thrilling, and must be experienced firsthand. Reisman credits the invention of the personal computer for having made the project possible at all. This seems plausible. The book is primarily a positive achievement, a contribution to our knowledge, but also by the way smashes many an egregious anti-capitalist fallacy at its root or at the root of its root.
Yes, the book is concise. It is compact. It is tightly written and non-word-wasting. Years ago, on his Objective American web site, the journalist E.G. Ross (now long dead) took a casual swipe at the work for allegedly going on too long. Didn’t Reisman know how to get to the point? (Or words to that effect.) I had to doubt whether Ross had skimmed more than a few pages or done more than lift the book or look at a picture showing how thick it was. He certainly said nothing in his remarks to indicate that he had tackled any of it with understanding, the doing of which would have provided more than one clue as to why the length was more than justified. I am glad to see that many of the readers leaving comments about the book at Amazon do understand why. Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is the furthest thing you could imagine from a slack and wordy recapitulation of stuff about capitalism that every informed person or competent economist already knows. It is a careful, fresh and often brilliant rethinking of the subject from the ground up and in detail.
Of course, Reisman takes care to generally credit many major sources and influences. But that he seeks comprehensiveness in articulating his own synthesis is a great virtue of the work. A Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the book would fall short, I’m afraid; it would cripple the overarching awesomeness. On the other hand, the book could probably be divided into ten or fifteen normal-sized volumes, and perhaps it should be published that way also. Alas, Mr. Ross would not be around to give one of the entries in the less intimidating format a try and thus realize how tightly welded and enlightening this intellectual accomplishment really is.
Reisman may never fully get the credit and understanding he is due for Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. But at least he knows he did it, that he achieved this.
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