In Defense of Classical Liberalism is not for everyone. It will appeal to a very specific audience, but I believe that it will appeal to them very well indeed.

The Audience

First, the book is less a cohesive whole than a series of essays. It doesn’t offer a single thesis or framework to tie the entire thing together. Instead, it’s a compendium of articles on diverse, wide-ranging topics—from the impact of the minimum wage, to the economic virtues of immigration, to the empirical problem with Keynesian stimulus packages.

Readers aren’t going to reach The End and experience a sudden epiphany. The book does not offer the mind-changing theory of Rothbard or Mises. Instead, readers might look at the book as a limited encyclopedia. If they need information on a specific topic, they can quickly find a wealth of sources and solid arguments.

Second, authors Palumbo and Iacano eschew deductive logic in favor of empiricism. Rather than lay out a taut chain of logic as to why Keynesian stimulus packages fail, they prefer to step back and let data do the talking. This emphasis on empiricism over logic will frustrate many Austrian adherents.

But this book doesn’t seem intended for the veteran economist. Rather, one can imagine an audience of college-age readers, uncertain about their ideology and open to powerful arguments on any side. An audience that cares mostly about what’s best for the economy and their fellow man, and wants to endorse policy positions that have a track record of helping the middle-class.

On these people, the theoretical brilliance of Rothbard and the taut logic of Hazlitt might be lost—arguments are fine, they say, but data are what matter. What will sway them are not arguments about how the world should work, but hard evidence of how it does.

The other audience who will find value in Palumbo’s and Iacano’s work is veteran libertarians interested in being missionaries rather than monks. These people can spread Rothbard and Hayek, and that will work with some people. But by taking note of the data and facts in In Defense of Classical Liberalism, and including it in their arguments, these missionaries can create more varied arguments geared towards a more varied audience.

Palumbo and Iacano’s research is so in-depth that it’s at times overwhelming. They quote several hundred sources and scores of studies. The libertarian seeking empirical research to convert new people will find In Defense a solid mine of such evidence.

The Style

As I have indicated, the book contains so much research that it is at times overwhelming. In one chapter, Iacano might quote three dozen different studies and several experts. One can’t help but be amazed at the work both authors did in pulling together sources. Here, again, I see the book as an encyclopedia rather than a pamphlet. Those who are looking for a quick, easily digestible read will be disappointed. Those looking for a springboard enabling them to deep-dive into a wealth of data on a variety of topics will not be.

That said, at times, the book suffers from saying a little about a lot: it glosses over key elements of X or Y piece of research, pulling out conclusions without adequately explaining why X or Y is the right study to cite.

The two authors’ writing styles are also very different. Rather than co-write each chapter they elected to tackle separate topics individually, and it shows. Palumbo is more polished and has a better sense of how much data to include—enough to illuminate without inundating. But Iacano’s research, while daunting, is also dazzling. His chapters are a powerful mini-encyclopedia of studies and expert opinions on X topic. Like any encyclopedia, they can be a valuable resource.

As I said at the beginning, In Defense of Classical Liberalism is not for everyone. I hope I’ve done a fair job in warding off those who will find it irritating. But there is a sizeable audience—of libertarians and people on the fence—who will find the diverse research and wide-ranging topics to be a useful resource and an engaging read.

If you’d like to read a copy, you can find it here