October 20, 2011
A University of Zurich study ‘proves’ that a small group of companies – mainly banks – wields huge power over the global economy.
The study is the first to look at all 43,060 transnational corporations and the web of ownership between them – and created a ‘map’ of 1,318 companies at the heart of the global economy.
The study found that 147 companies formed a ‘super entity’ within this, controlling 40 per cent of its wealth. All own part or all of one another. Most are banks – the top 20 includes Barclays and Goldman Sachs. But the close connections mean that the network could be vulnerable to collapse.
‘In effect, less than one per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network,’ says James Glattfelder, a complex systems theorist at the Swiss Federal Institute in Zurich, who co-wrote the research, to be published in the journal PLoS One.
Some of the assumptions underlying the study have come in for criticism – such as the idea that ownership equates to control. But the Swiss researchers have no axe to grind: they simply applied mathematical models usually used to model natural systems to the world economy, using data from Orbis 2007, a database listing 37 million companies and investors.
Economists such as John Driffil of the University of London, a macroeconomics expert, told New Scientist that the value of its study wasn’t to see who controlled the global economy, but the tight connections between the world’s largest companies.
The financial collapse of 2008 showed that such tightly-knit networks can be unstable.
‘If one company suffers distress,’ Glattfelder says, ‘This propagates.’
The research requires more analysis, but it could be used to look for the weaknesses in the network of global wealth, and prevent future financial disaster.
Looking at ‘connectedness’ also puts paid to conspiracy theories about the world’s wealth – companies connect to highly connected companies for business reasons, rather than world domination.
The ‘core’ of 147 companies also represents too many interests to wield real political power – but it could act ‘as one’ to defend common interests. Sadly for market reformers, resisting change may be one such common interest.
Top 50 of the 147 super-connected companies:
1. Barclays plc
2. Capital Group Companies Inc
3. FMR Corporation
5. State Street Corporation
6. JP Morgan Chase & Co
7. Legal & General Group plc
8. Vanguard Group Inc
9. UBS AG
10. Merrill Lynch & Co Inc
11. Wellington Management Co LLP
12. Deutsche Bank AG
13. Franklin Resources Inc
14. Credit Suisse Group
15. Walton Enterprises LLC
16. Bank of New York Mellon Corp
18. Goldman Sachs Group Inc
19. T Rowe Price Group Inc
20. Legg Mason Inc
21. Morgan Stanley
22. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc
23. Northern Trust Corporation
24. Société Générale
25. Bank of America Corporation
26. Lloyds TSB Group plc
27. Invesco plc
28. Allianz SE 29. TIAA
30. Old Mutual Public Limited Company
31. Aviva plc
32. Schroders plc
33. Dodge & Cox
34. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc*
35. Sun Life Financial Inc
36. Standard Life plc
38. Nomura Holdings Inc
39. The Depository Trust Company
40. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance
41. ING Groep NV
42. Brandes Investment Partners LP
43. Unicredito Italiano SPA
44. Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan
45. Vereniging Aegon
46. BNP Paribas
47. Affiliated Managers Group Inc
48. Resona Holdings Inc
49. Capital Group International Inc
50. China Petrochemical Group Company
* Lehman still existed in the 2007 dataset used