– Najma Sadeque
In 2011, thanks to advanced computers, three systems scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology drew on an existing global marketing database of over 30 million companies and investors worldwide. The study, called ‘The Network of Global Corporate Control’, traced their inter-linkages and analyzed their outreach and impact on economies.
They singled out 43,060 entities defined as transnational corporations. Dominating them were 1,318 companies with a very important feature. Thanks to the shareholding system, these core 1,318 entities own each other; alone fetching 20% of the world’s income. That’s not all: this core also owns the remaining of the 43,060 TNCs that make another 60% of global income! In other words, the world’s biggest, richest and most influential corporations constitute a single massive cartel.
It gets worse: 80% of the total control lies in the hands of an even smaller group of 737 corporations. Of these, a mere 147 corporations with deeply interlocking stakes in one another, directly control 40% of total wealth.
What does it leave the rest of the world’s 7 billion with? – Very little. It shows shocking and unacceptable wealth concentration and monopolies which democracies supposedly disallow.
Much of these tangible assets actually belong to the South, but the monopolists control all key factors basic to economies and development — the oil, food, weapons, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, telecommunications, Internet, and much more, but don’t benefit the South much. Should one be surprised that over half the world suffers hunger, unemployment or underemployment and no future?
It also turns out that all but one of the top 50 listed are not operating companies but investment companies — a small cartel of banking and other financial institutions controlling a massive chunk of the globe’s economy from top down.
How can that happen, and what does it have to do with Pakistan? – Plenty. It is no longer necessary to physically own or operate productive industries or work to make profits. The corporate system enables buying shares that are publicly floated. Foreign investors can buy a little at a time from stock exchanges, or most in one fell swoop during planned privatization. Governments previously maintained control by retaining majority shares – 51% at the minimum. Now indifferent leaders and unelected finance ministers prefer to be fashionably globalized rather than honestly democratized, and offer 25-26% share with 100% control, because they have much to gain even though citizens don’t.
Then, bankers and investors, who invest and sell on others’ behalf, simply slice up shares from different companies, combining and selling them off in mixed ‘packages’, profiting from rising and falling prices. What this arbitrary system does to the health of productive industries and their workers, no one cares. Worst of all, once shares are scattered across borders, perfectly well-functioning and profitable industries – and hundred or thousands of jobs — can be destroyed overnight because some people made bad bets in the capricious global casino. Our companies become faceless numbers on computers, ticker tapes and flashing stock exchange boards, never to be regained. At any rate, our unknown, transient future owners abroad will leave us to our own devices.
A charade may be made of selling off to Pakistani investors, but who’s to stop them from selling them onward to foreign investors, acting as a front for them? Now the government seeks to avoid that hassle by handing all over to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the ‘private’ arm of the World Bank/ IMF that freely does direct business where the ‘aid donors’ officially cannot, thereby leaving no opportunities lost. How many of the general public knew that?
With borders no longer blocking the free flow of capital between countries, and deregulation the order of the day, predatory banks and investors spread themselves like colonizers of old – except that it’s ‘legitimate’ under WTO and multilateral agreements. Never mind that no one asked billions of citizens.
If the laws of the land don’t permit axing regulations, it’s no problem. – A military dictator or autocrat can alter the constitution. With ‘elected’ governments enjoying uninformed electorates, pre-selected, pre-primed finance ministers can bypass protesting citizens and pliable parliament through secret or ‘special’ committees behind closed doors. – Just as is happening now with Monsanto and the privatization of strategic, highly profitable state enterprises like OGDC and PPL. Most people aren’t educated or strong enough to assert democracy.
The North has successfully imposed unequal and devious trade and financial systems on gullible or corrupt South leaderships. The west long practiced protectionism in their citizens’ interests, but once they achieved such strength that it no longer mattered, the South was not allowed the same. The west can heavily subsidize their own agriculture because they always did, thereby undercutting us in global markets; the South may not. From the beginning, the goal was to relieve South governments of regulatory powers and governance.
Throughout, the World Bank and GATT, which later became World Trade Organization (WTO), worked in tandem, their common purpose succinctly put in the preamble: for the “substantial reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers and the elimination of preferences, on a reciprocal and mutually advantageous basis.” That would have been appropriate between equals, but the much-exploited formerly colonized and ex-colonizers remained anything but equal for decades; some never. It appeared to be a pre-emptive move so that demands wouldn’t come up for reparations for losses during colonization.
Unprepared, ill-equipped and even ignorant South leaders were deceived into following the non-existent Northern ‘export-oriented’ model for growth and development. In the euphoria of independence, it escaped most new leaders that far from being mutual ‘free’ trade, Northern trade had been founded on outright theft and genocide. Grandly offered credit and financial services for ‘trade and development’, the South forgot who was responsible for beggaring them in the first place.
Most South countries failed to differentiate between self-created domestic finance and foreign loan needs, and unnecessarily neglected provision of basic needs including healthcare, education, water and sanitation, energy, public transport and food security with their own resources and sweat without getting conned into debt. But insatiable greed and lingering ignorance, both within and abroad, intervened.
Mr. Dar doesn’t have to worry about money needed for governance and economic infrastructure after divesting the golden-egg laying geese; he’ll be long gone and won’t have to pay the price that we will. While it’s no consolation, history will remember his irresponsibility with the same ill-will that followed Mr. Naveed Qamar, Mr. Shaukat Aziz and others of their ilk.
This article was published in The Nation on February 12, 2014