Selected Essays of James Tobin
Chapter 26: Review of The Commanding Heights
Yergin, the principal author judging from print size, attended Yale College and graduated in 1968 from Cambridge, where he also got an economics PhD in 1974. He got Pulitzer Prize for his 1990 book The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, which by coincidence I reviewed here in my only other Sandwiching In. It is an excellent and fascinating book, I enjoyed reading and reviewing it. This book lacks the natural coherence of The Prize. It is very ambitious, a history of political economy and economic policy for the second half of the 20th century for the whole world. It is both a narrative of actual events, country by country, and an account of the interrelated intellectual history, the revolution in economics, which in Yergin’s view was decisive in bringing about an immense beneﬁcent worldwide political and policy revolution. Perhaps one should say ‘counterrevolution’. Mainly this book is a panegyric for the ‘free market’ as opposed to government, not just to communism or even socialism but to what is described as the inordinate role of the state in capitalist countries, including democracies. Indeed, the great crusade since the 1970s, as the authors describe it, was aimed at ‘mixed economies’. The ‘Commanding Heights’ of the title are the key, strategic parts of an economy, whose control gives government or market as the case may be control of the country’s economic destiny. The authors attribute the phrase to Lenin, who excused his retreat in the early 1920s to...
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