This article considers the early intellectual career of Thorstein Veblen through the lens of his hitherto neglected 1895 English translation of System der Finanzwissenschaft (1889), an eight-hundred-page treatise on public finance by Gustav Cohn, a German historical economist of high reputation among his contemporaries. The article examines the academic circumstances that led Veblen to undertake the translation; the direct pertinence of a volume on public finance to the American tax reform debates of the 1890s; and the translation's possible significance for Veblen's own intellectual development. The analysis identifies three themes in Cohn's treatise that figured pivotally in the seminal writings that Veblen produced in the years that immediately followed: an interest in forging a new direction in economics, a via media between existing schools of political economy; a concern with understanding the consumption practices of collective social units; and an insistence that economics take as its subject matter the evolution of economic institutions.

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