In COMMANDING HEIGHTS: THE BATTLE BETWEEN GOVERNMENT AND THE MARKETPLACE THAT IS REMAKING THE MODERN WORLD Daniel Yergin and his co-author, Joseph Stanislaw, survey the changes away from state-controlled economies to the free market which has emerged with the globalization of the world’s economies and after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The title refers to Vladimir Illyich Lenin’s 1922 statement that it was necessary for the Soviet government to control the commanding heights, or the primary sectors of the economy. The 1917 Russian Revolution presented an alternative paradigm to market capitalism, and the Great Depression of the 1930’s undermined faith in markets. By the late 1940’s the market was in retreat everywhere, and not only in the communist bloc: Great Britain’s Labour Party nationalized much of the economy, most of the third world followed a socialist path, and the United States pursued a policy of broad government regulation of business.
However, by the 1970’s government dominated economies were stagnating and worse. One of the heroes of COMMANDING HEIGHTS is Margaret Thatcher, who was a key catalyst in rehabilitating the market economy, and not just in Britain. Yergin and Stanislaw argue the importance of ideas: John Maynard Keynes and his interventionist theories were dominant from the 1930’s, but in the latter part of the twentieth century, market advocates such as Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman and his colleagues at the University of Chicago have had the better of the argument.
The authors note that there is no guarantee that the market’s victory will be permanent. Environmental challenges, the welfare needs of increasingly older populations, and national and cultural differences must be accommodated. In addition, the market must deliver economically, and not just to the few at the top. COMMANDING HEIGHTS is an important book about a major subject.
Sources for Further Study
Commentary. CV, April, 1998, p. 62.
Commonweal. CXXV, April 24, 1998, p. 26.
The Economist. CCCXLVII, April 18, 1998, p. S5.
Foreign Affairs. LXXVII, January, 1998, p. 135.
Fortune. CXXXVIII, August 3, 1998, p. 48.
The Nation. CCLXVII, July 6, 1998, p. 42.
The New York Review of Books. XLV, October 8, 1998, p. 32.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, February 8, 1998, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, January 26, 1998, p. 81.
Washington Monthly. XXX, March, 1998, p. 39.