Concentration of control in the global economy

All conspiracy theorists know that the global economy is concentrated in the hands of a few. But even they will be blown away by this paper which maps the network of global corporate ownership and control. Here is the (somewhat understated) abstract:

“The structure of the control network of transnational corporations affects global market competition and financial stability. So far, only small national samples were studied and there was no appropriate methodology to assess control globally. We present the first investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network, 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.”  (Vitali, Glattfelder and Battiston)

Some of the findings:
– almost 40% of the economic value of transnational companies in the world is in the hands of a group of 147 tightly-interconnected companies “which has almost full control over itself” (p.6)
– “[N]etwork control is much more unequally distributed than wealth…[T]he top ranked actors hold a control ten times bigger than what could be expected based on their wealth” (p.6)
10 companies control 20% of the network; 50 companies control 40% of the network (!)
– 35 of these 50 companies belong to a strongly connected core, meaning that they are all “tied together in an extremely entangled web of control” through co-ownerships (p.32)
77% (463 006) of the firms in the entire network belong to a single connected component [formally, in a connected component all firms can reach each other along the paths of the network]. The second largest connected component has only 230 firms.  

Here is the map of the core of the core of the network itself; not very informative as such but beautiful nonetheless:  (Superconnected companies are red, very connected companies are yellow)


(Image: PLoS One, via New Scientist)
 
This is the first paper to include indirect and weighted control paths in constructing the global economy network and it introduces a new method for measuring control that is suitable for such complex networks. Although quite technical, the paper does a remarkable job of walking the reader step-by-step through the analysis. New Scientist has a less-technical presentation of the research here.

The implications of this work for the stability of the economy and competition should be quite obvious, but the authors (all from ETH Zurich) also explicitly discuss them in the paper. One can only hope that economic policy makers and politicians take note. 

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