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The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace That Is Remaking the Modern World Hardcover – February 4, 1998
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The "commanding heights," according to Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Yergin and international business advisor Joseph Stanislaw, are those dominant enterprises and industries that form the high economic ground in nations around the globe. In their analysis of the new world economy, The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace That Is Remaking the Modern World, they examine "the individuals, the ideas, the conflicts, and the turning points" that are responsible. And by considering events such as the ongoing Asian monetary crisis, they suggest what the ultimate interconnection of financial markets might mean in the future.
Yergin and Stanislaw's global tour d'horizon doesn't extrapolate from the discrediting of various shades of socialism that free markets are here to stay. The situation varies from country to country. The authors report on the post^-World War II performance of significant national economies and, moreover, on the politicians who, starting with Margaret Thatcher, advocated the disengagement of the state from the economy. This work complements Robert Skidelsky's Road from Serfdom (1996), a readable analysis of how the predictions of free-market economist F. A. Hayek came true. The authors supplement their research with interviews of influential economists and politicians over the past two decades, such as those who implemented "shock therapies" in ex-communist countries. The authors' judgments are reasoned and seasoned, far from podium-pounding homilies on the free market; rather, they explain why the welfare state was so appealing after the war, then how it gradually sputtered into 1970s stagflation. Renders wide-ranging acquaintance with the basic ideas of contemporary economics. Gilbert Taylor
Top customer reviews
Commanding Heights is an appropriate title, reinforced by knowledgeable people from Harvard, Washington DC and around the world. Commanding heights are about to come tumbling down in country after country as human population exceeds carrying capacity and countries compete for resources and food. The authors did an excellent job, but need to follow-up in light of resource, water and food limits.
That said, the book is an educational review of the changing political economy of the world, a change away from command and control toward free markets. Although the authors clearly favor free markets which have created much more wealth and well being for a huge portion of the population than command and control ever did, they manage to remain objective about the dangers that markets pose. This objectivity is most clearly shown in the last chapter where they talk about the critical tests required to judge the results that markets bring.
Not all markets are created equal. For example, the supposed deregulation of the California energy market was a fiasco because that market was badly designed. To get a better understanding of markets I suggest reading John McMillan's Reinventing the Bazaar, a Natural History of Markets.
My country was mostly bypassed by the move to a market economy. Reading the book I felt as if I were living in an alternate universe. In the early 1990s the local telco was privatized and that was about the end of it for us. When the president tried to raise the price of gas at the pump, he was impeached on trumped up charges. His own party turned against him. As a result, we have moved backwards from an economy based on import substitution to a quasi dictatorship with price controls and the destruction of private enterprise. These are the dangers of trying to move to market economies without first preparing the population for the inevitable pain that comes with the change. Unfortunately, The Commanding Heights does not cover the failures, only the success stories. Talking about failures, Russia is fast moving back to autocratic management of the economy mostly by Putin's KGB cronies, another failure where markets are not being given a chance.
To sum up, the book is worth reading but it is no thriller, be prepared to work you way through it.