Commanding Heights

Recently a friend recommended the documentary Commanding Heigths — The Battle for the World Economy to me. The good news is that it is available for viewing online. Based on a book by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw it tells the story of two of the most influential economists and how thier ideas shaped the economic policies of the twentieth century: Friedrich August von Hayek and John Maynard Keynes. The former being an advocate of free market capitalism and the latter the founder of modern macroeconomics and a devout believer in anti-cyclical government intervention to counter the most devestating effects of unreined capitalist market forces.The tone of the series is mostly pro free markets and pro globalization and critiques have pointed out the political bias reflected by the corporate sponsorship of the programme. However, Yergin and Stanislaw do not fail to address the problems of the new global economy (Russia, Asian Crisis, Argentina,…). They remain cautiously optimistic about the link between free market capitalism and freedom. Certainly it is more a trip to the market than a work indicative of a third way. This is probably not so much a shortcoming of the authors, but founded in what seems to be the unanimous success of free markets at the beginning of the twenty-first century and the failiure of viable alternatives to emerge.The question remains, how the cause of liberty can be served best under the current economic conditions and with terrorism and counter-terrorism raising the stakes for those interested in defending the idea of a free society. Some of the answers given seem too simple. Is freedom in Chile really a result of the forces of free markets? How does China’s model of capitalism with free markets without freedom for its people hold up? Is it just a transitional phase of capitalism or indicative of a failure of free markets to fulfill Hayek’s promise? Have free markets failed to emerge in Russia — as Yergin and Stanislaw suggest — because a (post-)soviet culture of theft triumphed over entrepreneurial spirit?

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