State of Corporate Power 2012
The economic, social and ecological crises humanity face are no accident, but a result of policies pursued by a small corporate elite that has systematically hijacked political and economic policy throughout the world.
This global elite - best known as the Davos class - meets annually in the Swiss skiing resort in the last week of January to reaffirm their faith in the orthodoxy of pro-corporate economic policies. They continue to do so, even as the costs become ever more clear in debt crises that are never resolved, rising unemployment and inequality, and an ever-pressing ecological crisis.
TNI, as part of its new Corporate Power project, is producing a series of infographics over 2012 that expose the reality of corporate power, and our need to fundamentally change direction. Please download and share these infographics, and watch out for new ones over the coming months.
|Introduction to the Davos Class|
The Davos class run our major institutions and know exactly what they want, but they face a huge crisis of legitimacy because their ideology isn't working and they have virtually no ideas nor imagination to resolve this.
A global economy that has benefited a small elite is no accident: it was carefully designed by politicians who often worked for transnational corporations and at times were rewarded by them after leaving office.
Planet Earth: A Corporate World
Top 25 companies based on revenues: Forbes, April 2011
Top 25 companies based on ownership and control: Vitali, Glattfelder, and Battiston, The Network of Global Corporate Control, 2011
Location of Top 200 corporations and number of Top 500 corporations per country: Fortune 500
The global 0.001%
Extreme wealth and Geography of the Rich: Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management, World Wealth Report 2011
An unequal world: Isabel Ortiz and Matthew Cummins, Global inequality: Beyond the Bottom Billion , UNICEF April 2011 f
What would $42.7 billion pay for?
- US-Iraq War: direct costs so far have been $800 billion but indirect costs could top $4 trillion, MarketWatch, December 2011
- US space programme: US White House website
- Gulfstream Executive Jet: Business & Commercial Aviation's
- 2010 Purchase Planning Handbook
- Universal primary and secondary education: Calculated fromhttp://www.amacad.org/publications/cohen_intro.pdf, p.3,22
- Meeting UN Millennium Development Goal on Clean Water: UNESCO website
- Climate change adaptation: UNFCCC (2008). Investment and Financial Flows to Address Climate Change. UNFCCC, Bonn
World's top billionaires and sectors the wealth came from: Forbes.com, March 2011
Case study of Carlos Slim: Outing the oligarchy - billionaires who benefit from today's climate crisis, International Forum on Globalization (IFG)
Tax rates in different OECD countries: Center of Budget and Policy Prioritieshttp://www.cbpp.org/
Tax evasion costs: Tax Justice Network, Cost of Tax Abuse, November 2011
- Testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, October 23, 2008.
- Reuters, September 22, 2008; Marketwatch, September 26, 2008.
- Ken I. Kim and Anna Yelkina, Privatization in Russia: Its Past, Present, and Future, SAM Advanced Management Journal, Winter 2003. See also Thane Gustafson, Capitalism Russian-style, chapter 8; Anne Williamson, Contagion: The Betrayal of Liberty;http://www.lenta.ru/lib/14160313/full.htm; andttp://russiaprofile.org/bg_people/resources_whoiswho_alphabet_c_chubais.html
- Thane Gustafson, Capitalism Russian-style, chapter 3; and Janine R. Wedel, The Harvard Boys Do Russia, The Nation, June 1, 1998.
- Reuters, September 22, 2008; and Aaron Mulvihill, Russia Today
- Marketwatch, September 26, 2008.
Marcilio Marques Moreira
- Jeff Faux, The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future.
- U.S. GAO, Private Banking: Raul Salinas, Citibank, and Alleged Money Laundering, GAO/OSI-99-1
- The Independent, January 19, 2009
- Financial Industry Paid Millions to Obama Aide, New York Times, April 3, 2009.
- Bloomberg News, March 3 and December 18, 2009.
- The Moscow Times, Oct 22, 2008
- The Times, Oct 13, 2008
- The Guardian, Oct 21, 2008
- The Telegraph, Oct 24, 2008,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/georgeosborne/3253562/Lord-Mand...
- BBC News, January 10, 2008.
- The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/series/blair-mysteryand articles by David Leigh and Ian Griffiths on Dec 1, 2009,http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/dec/01/mystery-tony-blair-finances and Dec 19, 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/dec/17/mystery-tony-blairs-money-solved
- Dispatches: The Wonderful World of Tony Blair,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg-Dc3nmdYA
- The Guardian, March 17, 2010.
Research: George Draffan
Design: Ricardo Santos
The Davos Class
(This article is adapted with minor editorial changes from Susan George's recent book Whose Crisis, Whose Future? (Polity Press and John Wiley & Sons, 2010)
'"All for ourselves and nothing for other people" seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind,'i wrote Adam Smith in 1776 in The Wealth of Nations, universally considered the first comprehensive inquiry into the nature and practice of capitalism.
The masters of mankind are still with us: I call them the Davos class because, like the people who meet each January in the Swiss mountain resort, they are nomadic, powerful and interchangeable. Some have economic power and usually a considerable personal fortune. Others have administrative and political power, mostly exercised on behalf of those with economic power, who reward them in their own way. Contradictions among its members can most certainly exist – the CEO of an industrial company does not always have exactly the same interests as his bankers – but generally speaking, when it comes to societal choices, they will agree.
I'm not impugning anybody's individual morality here – there are surely plenty of kind-hearted bankers, generous traders and socially responsible CEOs. I am simply saying that, as a class, they can be counted on to behave in certain ways if only because they serve a single system. The Davos class, despite its members' nice manners and well-tailored clothes, is predatory. These people cannot be expected to act logically because they are not thinking about longer-term interests, usually not even their own, but about eating, right now.
You can find the Davos class in every country – its members do not belong to a conspiracy and its modus operandi can be readily observed and identified. Why bother with conspiracies when the study of power and interests will do the job? The Davos class is always extremely small relative to the society and its members naturally have money – sometimes inherited, sometimes self-made. More importantly, they have their own social institutions – clubs, top schools for their kids, neighbourhoods, corporate and charity boards, holiday destinations, membership organizations, exclusive fashionable social events, and so on – all of which help to buttress social cohesion and collective power. They run our major institutions, including the media, know exactly what they want and are much more united and better organized than we are.
But this dominant class has weaknesses too; one is that it has an ideology but virtually no ideas and no imagination. Their programme since the 1970s, usually called 'neoliberalism', is based on freedom for financial innovation, no matter where it may lead, on privatization, deregulation, and unlimited growth; on the supposedly free, self-regulating market and free trade that gave birth to the casino economy. This economy has failed spectacularly and is now thoroughly discredited, at least in the public mind.
Most people ask for no further proof; they can see that the system works neither for them, nor for their families and friends, nor for their country. Many also recognize that it's bad for the immense majority of the earth's people and for the earth itself. The sole response of the Davos Class is to keep the old world order ticking over a bit longer, with a free pass for all the institutions which created the crisis to begin with. It won't work, not even on their own terms.
I believe that 'we' – the decent, honest, so-called ordinary people I meet all the time – have the numbers (and thus also the votes) on our side. We have the imagination, the ideas and the rational proposals as well as most of the skills and the scholarship – meaning we know what needs to be done and how to do it. We belong to a huge variety of formal and informal organizations struggling for change in this or that institution, this or that domain. Collectively, we even have money. What we do not have is the unity or the organization of the adversary, and we all too often lack the consciousness of our own potential power.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the United States and the Indignados and others in Europe have identified the huge inequalities that prevail in our societies as "the 1 percent" and the "99 percent" that roughly coincide with the Davos Class and the rest of us, although the former is closer to one-tenth of 1 percent. In other words, they have identified the adversary, the class that maintains a rotten status quo. Our task now is to build a vast coalition of all those who agree with the diagnosis, all those who want to fight for their future but also for a fairer society, a better world, a healthier planet. Such alliances, which must become at once local, national and transnational, won't happen by magic—they require conversations, debates and the concrete recognition that whatever our minor differences of opinion or emphasis, we are all on the same side.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
i Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book III, Chapter IV, p. 512 in the Pelican Classic edition, Andrew Skinner, ed. armondsworth & New York, 1974