The sovereign debt and eurozone crises, the Great Recession, etc, have all focussed attention on the failings of the banking sector and the greedy giant capitalist corporations. But exactly how powerful is finance capital in the world?
Posing and answering this question is not new. Lenin’s famous booklet - Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism - did just that at the turn of the 20th century.
But of course the capitalist world economy has grown immeasurably since then and the tentacles of finance capital appear to grasp every corner of the globe more tightly.
And, indeed, this is the case according to a study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, reported in New Scientist.
The Swiss number crunchers used a 2007 database listing 37 million companies and investors internationally from which they extracted 43,060 ’transnational companies’ and the share ownerships linking them. "Then they constructed a model of which companies controlled others through shareholding networks, coupled with each company’s operating revenues, to map the structure of economic power." (New Scientist 22/10/11)
What this exercise showed is that a core of just 1,318 corporations effectively controlled the majority of economic activity on the planet. "The 1,318 appeared to collectively own through their shares the majority of the world’s blue chip and manufacturing firms - the ’real’ economy - representing 60% of global revenues."
But the researchers revealed another fact: "A ’super-entity’ of 147 even more tightly knit companies - that controlled 40% of the total wealth in the network."
In other words just 1% of the giant corporations effectively control the world economy! "Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JP Morgan Chase & Co and The Goldman Sachs Group."