Commanding Heights – PBS Documentary
August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
Last week I watched all three episodes of Commanding Heights, a 2002 PBS documentary based off of a book by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw titled The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace That Is Remaking the Modern World. The documentary was presented in three, 2-h0ur long episodes that discussed the development of the modern global economic system. The subject matter could easily double as a doctoral dissertation or an academic sub-discipline of its own.
Episode 1: The Battle of Ideas takes an in-depth look at John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek as two competing yet highly influential economists post World War I. The episode features depictions of Keynesianism’s rise to prominence in the middle part of the 20th century, the ascendence of communism, the establishment of Chicago-school economists in the US and finally the development of market-oriented policy under Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK.
Episode 2: The Agony of Reform starts out by showing global economic downturns in both Western democratic and communist countries. Mostly working to highlight the failure of centrally planned economies, this episode shows the struggle that many (if not all economies) went through to transition toward privatization and moving away from Keynes toward Hayek. Jeff Sach’s “shock therapy” is centrally featured, as is the fall of the USSR and the emergence of post-Soviet bloc states.
Episode 3: The New Rules of the Game delves into concepts and issues in globalization. Unequal distribution of resources and wealth are highlighted as the episode wanders through the rise and fall of the Asian Tiger economies, troubles in Mexico, concerns of labor unions who felt powerless in the United States and the Clinton administration’s relentless pursuit of unfettered globalization.
All in all, the documentary features interviews from former and current heads of state (Clinton, Thatcher, Goni, bin Mohamad), economic powerhouses (Hayek, Friedman, Sachs) , policy-makers (Rubin, Corzine) and leaders of international organizations – a veritable who’s who of international political economy. If you find yourself with 6 hours to kill and an insatiable appetite for understanding how and why the global economy works as it does today, I highly recommend this documentary. In all honesty, I can’t recommend this documentary highly enough. The in-depth analysis, narrative structure and highly convincing content is a must see for all students of politics, economics or the world at large. It is my contention that just as the tragedy of 9/11 created greater interest in foreign policy, military strategy and comparative politics, the economic and financial crises we’re in today will be responsible for a new generation of students concerned with economic, political and global issues. It’s unfortunate that it takes such tragedies to spark these interests, but with these events so prime in our minds, there is no doubt that young-people like myself will work to understand what went wrong and do our best to avoid repeating these failures in the future.
Incidentally, this has also made me look forward to reading Yergin’s newest book on energy, security and post-9/11 global issues.