Courtesy Reuters

The Ultimate Lagging Indicator

In This Review

The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace That Is Remaking the Modern World

By Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw
Simon & Schuster, 1998
352 pp. $25.00

Eighteen years after Margaret Thatcher's victory, Paul Volcker's assumption of the Federal Reserve chairmanship, and Deng Xiaoping's initiation of reforms in China, seventeen years after Ronald Reagan was elected President, twelve years after the introduction of glasnost and perestroika, and eight years after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Yergin and his coauthor, Joseph Stanislaw, make an unassailable case that big government has fallen out of fashion and markets are more powerful than ever before.

Yergin, whose masterful saga of the petroleum industry, The Prize, was acclaimed for both its rendering of history and its insights, is a reporter of formidable gifts. In this book, The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace that Is Remaking the Modern World, he and his coauthor tell with sweep and style of the rise and fall of active government intervention in national economies. They find the drama and human elements in each of their stories, depicting economists and government officials with an eye for color.

Even students of the economic upheavals recounted in this book cannot help but be drawn into what in other hands might be very dry material. Take, for example, the image of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammed-now disaffected with global electronic markets after the beating his country's currency has taken-sitting not too long ago at his desk in Kuala Lumpur viewing the world through four computer screens while contemplating the establishment of a Malaysian city of tomorrow called Cyberjaya.

Yergin and Stanislaw take the reader on a whirlwind world tour several times over. But detail is their book's greatest blessing-and its greatest curse. Again and again the authors tell gripping tales of big government gone bad. Again and again they emphasize the same points about governments' shortcomings and markets' strengths. But after all, Yergin and Stanislaw are attempting to chronicle a global transformation, taking readers through the parallel revelations of national leaders and their advisers who watched as local experiments in market intervention

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