The Commanding Heights

Part One: The Battle of Ideas

Recently, I stumbled across a documentary series that had appeared on PBS about seven years ago called The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy. The film is based on a book by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, first published in 1998 as The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace That Is Remaking the Modern World, which attempts to trace the rise of free markets during the last century, as well as the process of globalization.

The documentary’s website at PBS and Wikipedia entry both provide a wealth of information on the thesis of the book and film, so I won’t bother reinventing the wheel here in that regard. Save to say that it’s very supportive of free-market capitalism, taking the view that “globalization” is generally beneficial on balance in terms of narrowing economic gaps and fostering wider prosperity. Despite being what some might call “neo-liberal” in its stance, the authors of the book somewhat implausibly claimed that there’s no ideological support for capitalism, only the pragmatic fact that the system works better than any other. Much like Churchill’s famous quip about democracy, I guess. Even so, the film expresses some concerns about the possible end of the current era of globalization if inequality in economic growth remains high, and if Third World nations are not offered the proper opportunities and incentives to support capitalism.

I’ve watched this couple of times now and seemed to come away with different impressions each time. Maybe that’s a result of viewing it in a sort of disjointed way. Whether you agree with the largely pro-globalization premise of the authors/filmmakers, it’s very informative (although by no means comprehensive or definitive) as a backgrounder to the subject.