Commanding heights of the economy

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In Marxism–Leninism, the "commanding heights of the economy" are certain strategically important sectors of private industry. Some examples of industries considered to be part of the "commanding heights" include public utilities, natural resources, and sectors relating to foreign and domestic trade.


This phrase emerged from a branch of modern political philosophy concerned with organising society and can be traced back to Karl Marx's idea on socialism which advocates for government control of it. According to Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, a Bolshevik economist, control over the commanding heights of the economy would ensure primitive socialist accumulation.[1]

Vladimir Lenin used the military metaphor to justify his New Economic Policy, proposing that free markets could be permitted so as long as the government retained control of certain "commanding heights" like heavy industry and transport.[2] The second of the Five-Year Plans of India, overseen by Jawaharlal Nehru, was an attempt to industrialize India through state control of the commanding heights.[3]

For an example from Socialism with Chinese characteristics, while the Chinese economic reform has generally shifted funding sources for higher education in China from the government to individual students, the Communist Party of China has also organized projects like Project 985 and Project 211 to retain government funding (and therefore influence) over certain elite institutions.[2]

New commanding heights[edit]

The phrase "commanding heights" often occurs in modern political commentary outside of Marxist connotations.

Healthcare and education[edit]

In service economies, where the relative importance of industry has decreased, Arnold Kling posited in 2011 that healthcare and education are the new commanding heights. The two sectors are central to employment and consumption, and, in the United States, are driven primarily by government intervention.[4] In the ten years preceding 2011, employment in education and healthcare in the United States increased by 16%, despite employment in other sectors decreasing.[5] For comparison, "revenues in the psychic industry have grown 52% since 2005 to reach nearly $2.2 billion in 2018".[6]


Other commentators have identified digital platforms and the internet as the new commanding heights of the economy.[7] Since October 2011 the People's Republic of China has held a policy of controlling the commanding heights of the internet.[citation needed] Beijing uses its position of control to censor the internet in China.[8][need quotation to verify]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bonner 2013, p. 86.
  2. ^ a b Wang, Rong (2014). "The commanding heights: The state and higher education in China". The Oxford Companion to the Economics of China. p. 78.
  3. ^ Tharoor, Shashi (2011). Nehru: The Invention of India. Arcade Publishing. p. 188.
  4. ^ Kling, Arnold (2011-07-05). "The New Commanding Heights". Cato Institute. Retrieved 2020-08-15. The commanding heights of our economy today are not heavy manufacturing, energy, and transportation. They are, rather, education and health care.
  5. ^ "Liberating The Economy's New Commanding Heights". Manhattan Institute. 2015-08-24. Retrieved 2020-08-15.
  6. ^ "Psychic, Mediumship and Tarot Statistics & Infographics for 2021". A Little Spark of Joy. 2021. Retrieved 22 April 2021. [...] revenues in the psychic industry have grown 52% since 2005 to reach nearly $2.2 billion in 2018, the most recent year for which there is data available. The US industry has grown rebounded significantly since the beginning of this century and is expected to reach 2.3 to 2.4B by the end of 2024.
  7. ^ Rajadhyaksha, Niranjan (2017-08-29). "Digital platforms—the new commanding heights?". Livemint. Retrieved 2020-08-15. [...] the Indian government has been building a new generation of digital public goods—or platforms that in a way occupy the commanding heights of the digital economy.
  8. ^ Denyer, Simon (2016-07-10). "The Internet was supposed to foster democracy. China has different ideas". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-08-15.