Saturday, November 12, 2011

A first time investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network

It seems incredible that any economist, as late as this year, would claim that for the very first time in history there has been performed an investigation into the network of owners of global capital. But that is indeed what authors Vitali, Glattfelder and Battiston state in the opening paragraph of their abstract entitled 'The network of global corporate control'.

“The first investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network is presented, along with the computation of the control held by each global player. We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic “super-entity” that raises new important issues both for researchers and policy makers… network control is much more unequally distributed than wealth. In particular, the top ranked actors hold a control ten times bigger than what could be expected based on their wealth…”

"...nearly 4/10 of the control over the economic value of TNCs in the world is held, via a complicated web of ownership relations, by a group of 147 TNCs in the core, which has almost full control over itself. The top holders within the core can thus be thought of as an economic “super-entity” in the global network of corporations. A relevant additional fact at this point is that 3/4 of the core are financial intermediaries...."

The implications are mind boggling. How incredibly fragile must the global economy be when such an incredible lack of diversity of enterprise (and therefore also of intellect and strategic resilience) are present.

It is possible to see our world now facing very serious global trading and current account imbalances due to these enormous organisations having moved their gigantic 'enterprises' into pockets of cheap labour, land and currencies to gain an artificial economic advantage. As one big TNC after another diversifies into many enterprises there is a simultaneous loss of diversity for the economic system as a whole. This problem escalates when TNCs combine strategies through global networks. It's not surprising that vast portions of world trade have long metamorphosed into non-trade intracorporate transactions.

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