Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy is a three-part PBS documentary series that is the story of how the new global economy was born. It traces the rise of free markets during the last century, as well as the process of globalization. There are three segments – 1. “The Battle of Ideas” (primarily between Capitalism and Communism); 2. “The Agony of Reform” (after the end of Communism); 3. “The New Rules of the Game” (of Globalization). The film begins at the dawn of technological change in 1914 and traces the century-long battle of ideas to determine who would control the commanding heights of the economy, central governments or free markets. Then in the 1990s, a worldwide capitalist revolution fueled a new era of globalization, the greatest expansion of world trade in history. The film takes an in-depth look at various economies throughout the world, and confronts critical concerns about the new interconnected world economies. It raises several questions: Can the new interconnected world of globalization deliver prosperity to everyone? Who will write the new rules for the new global economic system? Is it fair that the world’s wealthiest one percent and the huge multinational corporations get to write the new rules in their favor? And how will it affect our society’s future? The origin of the phrase “commanding heights” is from a speech by Vladimir Lenin referring to the control of key segments of a national economy. The film points out that, prior to World War I, the world effectively lived in the “First Era of Globalization.” Globalization is defined as periods where free markets predominate, and countries place few if any limits on imports, exports, immigration and exchanges of information. Overall, the authors see globalization as a positive movement that improves the standard of living for all the people connected to it, from the richest to poorest. But during the rise of fascism and communism, then the Great Depression, capitalism rapidly lost popularity and was nearly extinguished. After World War II, the work of British economist John Maynard Keynes came to be widely accepted in Western economies. Keynes believed in government regulation of the economy. In accordance with Keynes’ ideas, the so-called “commanding heights” of the economy were often owned or severely regulated by governments. The film discusses how the political changes of the 1980s ushered in a change of economic policy, when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of the United Kingdom, and Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States. Both these leaders parted ways with Keynesian economics that favored government regulation of the economy. Rather, they were more in the tradition of Austrian Friedrich von Hayek, who opposed government regulation, tariffs, and other infringements on a pure free market. After Thatcher, Reagan, and their successors made sweeping reforms, the current era of globalization finally began around 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, countries embracing free markets have prospered on the whole, while those adhering to central planning have failed. While strongly in favor of this trend, the authors worry that globalization will not last. More specifically, they believe that if inequality in economic growth remains high, and if Third World nations are not offered the proper opportunities and incentives to support capitalism, the current globalization movement will end, as did the first era of globalization. Based on the best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw. Documentary 2002 NR 360 minutes.
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