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.
Daniel Yergin is president of the Cambridge Energy Research Associates, the vice chairman of Global Decisions Group, and a prominent consultant on the international scene. His The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and was made into an eight-part Public Broadcasting System television series. He has also written about the Cold War in Shattered Peace and co-authored Russia 2010, on the future of noncommunist Russia, as well as Energy Future and Global Insecurity. His co- author, Joseph Stanislaw, is an adviser on international markets to both governments and businesses.
Like The Prize, Commanding Heights ranges across the world, includes many prominent personalities, and features numerous historical anecdotes. Both studies, while organized on a historical basis, speak to current events: history becoming the present. In Commanding Heights, the authors tell the story of the world’s economies, particularly since the end of World War II, and argue the revolutionary importance of the change from government planning and governmental-political control of national economies to the revival of the competitive market system as the world’s dominant economic engine.
Their story opens in Moscow’s Izmailovo outdoor market in the early 1990’s, where anything and everything was for sale, from czarist memorabilia to South Korean electronics. For Yergin and Stanislaw, this was symbolic of the beginning of a return to Russia of the market economy. Ironically, also available at the Izmailovo market as historical curiosities were pins bearing...
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