Densely-linked cluster of 147 companies control 40% of world's total wealth

The network of global corporate control (PDF), a study published in PLOS One, analyzes the ownership structures of the world's corporations and finds a tightly-knit cluster of 147 entities control 40 percent of the world's wealth. Not only is this creepy inasmuch as it puts a lot of power into a small number of hands, but it also suggests that the governance of much of the world's wealth is closely correlated, so one disaster could sweep like wildfire across them all:

The work, to be published in PloS One, revealed a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships (see image). Each of the 1318 had ties to two or more other companies, and on average they were connected to 20. What's more, although they represented 20 per cent of global operating revenues, the 1318 appeared to collectively own through their shares the majority of the world's large blue chip and manufacturing firms - the "real" economy - representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues.

When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a "super-entity" of 147 even more tightly knit companies - all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity - that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. "In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network," says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.

(via Kottke)


  1. So what they’re saying is :
    99% of Americans : 1% of Americans :: 147 companies : all other commercial enterprises?

    Collapse is certainly possible. What happened to Ireland when they tied up a huge chunk of production in two or three strains of potatoes?

      1. While the crop failure was caused by potato blight, the famine was caused by government policy.  Reread your history.

        It was caused by landlords evicting their tenants to use their land for higher profit-yielding purposes.  The role that the government played in the disaster was in failing to regulate the use of private property.  Ireland during the Great Famine was a libertarian paradise.

    1. No, the firms that mine fossil fuels are huge and the ones that mine hardrock minerals are even huger.  There are also some massive agribusinesses.  All these activities benefit from economies of scale, so the only way to do anything about them is getting all the material you need from recycling and micropower — which is pretty much impossible at this point in history.

      You want your iPod, you’re gonna have to take your globe-straddling ethically dubious multinational corporations.

  2. I’d love to find those people that were calling me “conspiracy theorist” on Usenet in the ’90’s and see if any of them have changed their minds.

    1. I don’t know what you were writing on Usenet back in the 90s, but if the words “N.W.O.” “Illuminati” or “Zionist Conspiracy” escaped from your fingers then they were probably right to do so. 

      1. What got me the appellation was having the gall to suggest that large financial interests will work together while seeming to be in competition. 

        It didn’t take much to get called “conspiracy theorist” by a group of unworldly 20-somethings conditioned by academia to reject anything not in the Canon of Accepted Dicta. 

  3. I saw this when it was published. They do go on to conclude:

    “So, the super-entity may not result from conspiracy. The real question, says the Zurich team, is whether it can exert concerted political power. Driffill feels 147 is too many to sustain collusion. Braha suspects they will compete in the market but act together on common interests. Resisting changes to the network structure may be one such common interest.”

    So far of course. The huge proportion of those companies that are in finance illustrates the enormous gains that sector has made over the last 30-40 years with a corresponding increase in power and political influence. Any american who believes they’re living in a democracy is wrong – for starters it was always meant to be a republic; secondly there is only one party: the business party. All the while the illusion of choice and power makes us comfortable and quiescent.

    As an aside, glad to see we’ve kindly spread this “democracy” to Libya (which by a strange coincidence used to have its own central bank and barely any debt).

    I really fear for what the world will be like in 50 years’ time

    1. I was with you until Libya. Not sure if I’d be making that comparison these days, when it turns out that their leader had 2x the GDP squirreled away.

      1. If Libya had a functioning central bank, no debt AND the late colonel still found a way to squirrel away that much dosh, there were obviously dubious political machinations. But were the woes shared by the people the result of poor economics or simple graft? 

      2. There’s doubt as to what constitutes “squirreled away”. However, I’m not supporting his actions, just pointing out it behooves us to be a little sceptical of western motives.

        And whatever your interpretation, couldn’t it be argued that Gaddafi was just a little bit better at grabbing everything for himself than the corporations? Until recently, of course ;-)

      3. I was with you until Libya. Not sure if I’d be making that comparison these days, when it turns out that their leader had 2x the GDP squirreled away.

        Unlike Goldman Sachs, et al?

      1. Reread the “Federalist”.
        The American republic was very specifically geared toward NOT being a Democracy (and explicitely built in opposition to becoming one).
        The prominent point of view of the people who wrote the Constitution was that the common people couldn’t be trusted, they had to be led by “a better class of people” (Madison), by a “natural aristocracy” (Hamilton). It just so happened that these “enlightened persons” were part of the wealthy.

  4. Not so much conspiracy as closely-aligned interests. I think it’s hard to dispute that business, at least in the US, trends towards consolidation rather than competition (look at the number of national telcos, railroads, banks). Considering how much these large firms share investors (the large institutional funds, board directors, etc.) it doesn’t seem likely that the free market is as dynamic as advertised. There is a lot of power in very few hands and very little accountability to any outside entity.

  5. Well, if anything, this kind of analysis is possible because of increasing access to data and information.  We can sense that transparency will only increase: the complexity needed to hide information makes protecting/hiding it inherently unstable, and leaks will occur.

  6. I ain’t scared…. We’re going to take them.

    It’s just a matter of time as we spread more and more valuable information to each other and act upon it en masse. For the first time in human history even some of the poorest “serfs” can send and receive truly priceless information over vast distances instantly to one another. Information is extremely powerful. This is called the Information Age for a reason. It’s the most powerful “substance” known to humankind.

    Think this is hyperbole? Then let me ask you this… Would you rather have 3000 soldiers in the woods without critical information on how to protect themselves or just 30 bad asses knowing which way the wind blows, how to knock out their communications and where to start the forest fire that can send all 3000 over a cliff to their doom?

    Shoot bullets in panic all over the place… the trillion packets will still take you out. You saw how quick information took out corrupt leaders in other countries. An educated populace is vastly more powerful than an armed populace who doesn’t know their enemy.

    The corporatists and their lackeys are trying to clog it all up with FUD and general attacks on our solidarity; but those attacks are just speed bumps to the inevitable. Once we tackle the pollution spread through the air via rightwing radio, you can stick a fork in many of the corporatist lie machines. Actually, rightwing radio (and FOX to a lesser extent) is their last stronghold and we’re closing in rapidly.

    Think about it, where would these megalomaniacal corporatists be without their priceless, coveted LIES and the serfs who believe them? The smart corporatists will start to help us lest they end up on the short end of the stick as this peaceful movement to educate each other relentlessly continues. We are NEVER going to stop.

    This is the Information Age. They can’t stop this… (although they fruitlessly do try). Frankly, they’re fucked. It’s beautiful. Just look at it. Just… look at it….

    I see your 3000 soldiers in the woods and I raise you this:


    1. Too bad the majority of information pathways are owned and controlled by those you wish to take down. And if the gov has a flip switch on the internets (pretty sure they do), it doesn’t matter much. The gov is controlled by these vampire corporations, and i’m pretty sure they will use gov. force if theres any widespread uprising against them.

      1. Too bad the majority of information pathways are owned and controlled by those you wish to take down.

        Yes, and I’m sure they are all just itching to shut down their sources of revenue (billions per day) at the behest of Obama, correct? (but more on this later)

        And if the gov has a flip switch on the internets (pretty sure they do), it doesn’t matter much.

        There’s no “flip switch” to the entire Internet in the United States.  The president would have to “issue a declaration of a national cyberemergency” and then many different disparate entities would have to comply to make it all “not” work…  all at once.  This isn’t impossible, but it is currently near impossible to pull off.

        It would also require massive revenue losses by many individual entities who would have to joyfully comply as well.  And we know how much corporations love to go without their precious revenue because someone like Obama tells them to do something.

        As I already mentioned in my first post, some corporatists are certainly trying to make this more possible to pull off with so-called Internet ‘kill switch’ bills:

        That would only enable them to TRY bringing down the Internet.  There would be a lengthy appeal process for numerous entities and in the meantime…  other things would happen, but I’ll continue in that vein after your next quote…

        i’m pretty sure they will use gov. force if theres any widespread uprising against them.

        Government “force” in this day and information age is an archaic, counterproductive  measure that only backfires and creates massive blowback in places like the United States of Connected Cameras.  Tony Baloney  dramatically helped spread the OWS movement through his violent actions, not hinder it.

        Read: In the Networked World, Police Violence Is a Gift for #OccupyWallStreet Protesters

        The more violent the authorities get, the more people are supporting and joining the OWS movement.  Many correctly “thank” Tony Baloney for helping to spark major growth in the movement.

        Go ahead, send in 1000 more Tony Baloneys and watch the movement spread like absolute wildfire.  Pray they’re that stupid. Pray we’re that lucky.

        – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

        So, let’s say they actually do “shut down” the entire Internet for the USA?

        Pray they’re that stupid. Pray we’re that lucky.

        That would be the biggest tactical blunder ever known in modern information warfare for many reasons.  For one, they would open a pandora’s box they could never close again.  Ever heard of MAKERS?

        Myself and many others have been working on Internet alternatives for over a decade and they are now ready to roll, my friend.  They make the Internet in a suitcase that was rolled out by the Obama administration when Egypt, etc. shut down its Internet look like child’s play.

        Squash the traditional Internet and a mesh Internet will take the United States by storm and permanently take most of the Internet access away from large corporations (and the profits that go with it).  And even worse for our corporatist friends it would be more difficult than ever to wiretap our communications because encryption would become the norm instead of the exception it is today.

        Begin transmission of priceless information:

        It’s already too late for the corporatists to bottle this.  The question is, do they want this mesh Internet technology to continue to move forward like a swollen river… or do they want this to become a tsunami that sweeps the nation with their pants down?

        The smarter corporatists already know the proper answer and they are helpless to stop us, they can only the decelerate the flow… decelerate the inevitable.  Drip… Drop… Drip… Drop…

        Expect us.

  7. I heard somewhere that 200 or so mega-corporations also control 100 per cent of the world’s land masses, forcing other people and corporations to rent them out. We sometimes call those mega-corporations, “nation-states” or “countries”.

    1. Well, except that now the most powerful of these “nation-states” or “countries” are in no small part controlled by corporate interests.

      And corporations, unlike many powerful countries, aren’t democracies. In fact, the very nature of a corporation is that it is a dictatorship.

  8. Remind me what it is that financial institutions actually do in order to deserve to be the most powerful creatures ever to roam the earth.

    Don’t they just move chips around?

  9. I’m confused. This appears to be a rather large list of financial organizations who manage other people’s money. I mean, isn’t it rather obvious that they would “control” a large percentage of the wealth given that it is their job to do so?

    1. this,

      Also most of the people who’s money they manage are people who put 3% or whatever of their pay check into a pension.   Although they might legal own all these assets they’re held on trust and they have to pay the policy holders when they retire 

  10. Its global. Its intertwined. It acts almost like a single entity and has more money and power than any government.
    Could we not be said, in some sense, to already be under a One World Government- ruled by a loose conglomerate of multi-national corporations?

  11. If capital is the most important component of one’s ability to acquire more capital, then capital will gradually centralise. If there is never any significant limit on how long capital can centralise for (either through inheritance or corporations that are treated like immortal people), then all of the world’s capital will eventually centralise in the hands of a few families and companies, resulting in the highly unstable and abusive hourglass distributions we see today.

    There is no conspiracy here – it is the logical outcome of a fundamentally flawed system.

  12. It would be nice if there actually was one secret government running everything, chances are we woulden’t be in this mess to begin with or out of it as soon as possible so they could get back to making as much money as possible. 
    But instead we have a bunch of idiots who we thought were experts lending each other more money then was actually sensible, non of them aware of the consequences and non of them having any idea what is going on or where things are going.
    The oposite of a giant conspiracy.

  13. Wealth is limitless. It expands explosively from human creativity and innovation. Unfortunately, we are all so beaten-down by (1) limiting beliefs and (2) government over-regulation that most great ideas don’t even get tried. We all have just a tiny fraction of the wealth we would have if not for these twin scourges. Within each of us is a Steve Jobs waiting to get out. It is possible for everyone in the world to be rich. Let’s work together, progressives and conservatives.  We both have good ideas. Let’s end the wars, bring the troops home (but keep our powder dry), police the marketplace to assure transparency and honesty, and free the marketplace to go in directions we never thought possible, that nobody even anticipates or conceives of today. Conservatives have a vision of a freedom in the marketplace and Progressives have a vision of honesty and transparency in the marketplace. Let’s team up and go places we’ve never dared to dream we could.

    1. Think of it as a problem in cybernetics. When the rich get it right, everyone benefits, all the way down to the front line cashier. We like to think the system works then. But when they make a mistake, the negative impacts of that mistake cannot trickle back to the source of the decision. The front line people feel it, maybe even middle management. But as far as the folks at the top are concerned, they’re still doing OK, so there’s no reason not to keep doing it like that.

      It’s a kind of cultural leprosy. The flesh doesn’t fall off because there’s anything wrong with it, it erodes away because the person wearing it can’t feel the pain of an improper movement.

      When this process iterates over decades and centuries, then the only negative consequence that can possibly trickle up to the top, is a complete system collapse. The rich don’t want this to happen any more than the rest of us do, but they can’t truly imagine failure any less profound.

       Money is limitless. The language of value can go anywhere you dare take it. But wealth is finite, and human beings are still a kind of animal that depend on a functional life support system to survive. The species cannot afford to allow the planet’s life support to degrade, and if we somehow miss this event, we don’t really deserve to survive as a culture.

      1. @boingboing-c256ccc612916ea0a2de47b89d168e7d:disqus :  That was an excellent post, one I hope will see lots of readers.  I liked the leprosy analogy in particular, but I’m afraid it might not reach most people.

        1. I wonder how many people here have ever seen a person with advanced leprosy in real life.

          1. I wonder how many people here have ever seen a person with advanced leprosy in real life.

            Not me!  Pictures were gruesome enough.  But I read those Donaldson books ;) 

    2. Within each of us is a Steve Jobs waiting to get out.

      The average IQ is 100.  Within each of us is more likely a Homer Simpson waiting to get out.

    3. “…government over-regulation that most great ideas don’t even get tried.”

      Like what?  Prove this statement.

      Not all regulation is bad.  I don’t want shale-fracking causing natural gas leaks into my drinking water, I don’t want factories abutting my home, I want to know what I’m buying really is what they claim it is, etc.  Free-market conservatives imagine that the marketplace is some pure and logic bound deity above the human fray that will lead the way if we just let it.  That is a myth.  It is ultimately defined and run by people with all their prejudices, urges to cheat, greed and so on.  We saw this with the collapse of the deregulated financial markets.  The marketplace should be there to serve us, we aren’t here to serve it.

      “It is possible for everyone in the world to be rich.”  Rich is relative.  A poor American is rich compared to a poor third worlder.  Once you are comfortable the rest is fluff.  The issue here is that much wealth in such a small number of hands creates a huge power imbalance.

      1. A tiny disagreement, although I agree with you that proper regulation enhances marketplaces and increases wealth for everyone.

        You do want factories next to your home.  Factories that are so brilliantly conceived and executed that they do not impact your quality of life negatively – factories where the logistics of moving people, products, information and money for the benefit of you and your fellow human beings have been managed so that the neigborhood does not suffer from pollution, congestion, noise, RF/EMI, etc. etc.  Factories that you would want to work in, factories that you would want to buy product from.

        Factories don’t really have to suck.  Mostly, they suck because we’ve decided we’ll stick them in somebody else’s backyard – so we can avoid finding solutions to these problems.

  14. No where in this paper do these authors claim that cluster of corporations own “40% of the World’s total wealth.” They say they control 40% of the gross operating revenue of the transnational firms studied.

    There is an important difference between revenue and income, between income and wealth, and between the wealth of international firms and that of the entire world.

  15. I realize this is just semantics but, shouldn’t the article say capital or money instead of wealth? My understanding is wealth consists of  tangible quality-of-life improving things like food and shelter.

  16. Yeah, what Jonas said. A dollar is a piece of paper; a potato is wealth. It’s a terrible thing, historically, to lose track of the distinction – nations which obsess over money without creating wealth eventually collapse.

  17. “one disaster could sweep like wildfire across them all”
    A very attractive idea.  Fire sale anyone?

  18. I agree that large  income inequality problem between individuals in a society, but why is it bad that there are large, interconnected companies? Many of you just seem to assume it in your postings. Maybe I missed the argument. Large corporations have lots of capital, but they also employ hundreds of thousands of people. And produce goods efficiently. The US system maybe gives them too much political power, but that’s a fault of the government, not of corporations. And isn’t complicated, economic interaction GOOD? Doesn’t that have a stabilizing effect on the economy and international politics? 

    Again, maybe I miss something. The linked article said the situation is ‘disconcerting’. Why? Why is bad that a small number of interlinked corporations own a large part of the economy? 

    1. Perhaps it’s bad because they’re mainly financial institutions who produce nothing tangible, but create money as debt out of thin air, ensuring that most (even our governments) are slaves to this debt. Or perhaps because campaign contributions from big business ensure that politicians are more interested in repaying their corporate paymasters than helping the people who voted for them. Or perhaps because cheap, helpless labour is preferable to an empowered workforce. Or perhaps because the global economy and political landscape are far from stable – while the people at the top enjoy increasing power, wealth and health vast swathes of humanity suffer as a result and people are angry and disillusioned. Or perhaps because media, itself a corporate monster, is less interested in telling us the truth than perpetuating a system based on exploitation and lies. And so on.

      The whole thing is such a con that most people can’t believe it’s going on. After all, it would make them gullible fools. And we’re surely not that, are we?

      The answer is out there, bkad, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

      1. The answer is out there, bkad, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

        That is a very religious-sounding argument. Those who agree with you are enlightened; those who do not are blind. And this belief, as you describe it, is volitional (it will find you if you want it to), a choice rather than a response to evidence. I am unpersuaded so far. But there’s enough of your coreligionists here that you’re in good company. I don’t need to waste your time.

    2. I agree that large  income inequality problem between individuals in a society, but why is it bad that there are large, interconnected companies?

      1. Large, interconnected companies operate at such a scale that a relatively small amount of their operating budget can amount to an absolutely huge sum in terms of campaign contributions or lobbying. 2. Large, interconnected companies are moral hazards — they are “too big to fail.”  If Rio Tinto were to pull out of Australia that would significantly impact Australia’s GDP and employment rates (negatively); as a result, Rio Tinto has the Australian government over a barrel to a certain extent.Points (1) and (2) suggest how large, interconnected firms can gain heavy-handed influence over government policies even in nominal democracies.  It gets worse:3. Large firms can temporarily undersell smaller competitors to prevent competition.4. Due to (1) and (2), large firms can pressure government to legislate the economic activity in question in such a way that the large firm or large firms in general become privileged or advantaged over smaller firms.There’s more, but I think both liberals and conservatives can agree that those are four bad things about big firms.  I won’t bother with arguments that will seem more partisan.

      Large corporations have lots of capital, but they also employ hundreds of thousands of people. And produce goods efficiently.

      Large corporations employ lots of people.  I’m not sure why that’s necessarily a good thing: I’d prefer the hardware guy at Walmart running his own store.  And whether they produce goods “efficiently” is a matter of how you define “efficiency”.  As cheap as possible in dollar terms?  Then you’re probably being incredibly inefficient in terms of fossil fuel use and somewhat inefficient in terms of consumer safety.  It’s a tradeoff. 

      The US system maybe gives them too much political power, but that’s a fault of the government, not of corporations.

      I don’t understand how you arrive at this conclusion.  When a bribe is made there are two suspects, not one.  Besides that, “the government” isn’t some metaphysical agency, it is another institution run by human beings who respond to incentives.  Large firms inevitably create incentives for regulators to look the other way, legislators to legislate in favor of large firms, etc.  Small firms would too but they don’t have the economy of scale to pull it off as effectively.

      And isn’t complicated, economic interaction GOOD? Doesn’t that have a stabilizing effect on the economy and international politics?

      Complicated economic interaction IS good.  That’s why everything being owned by 137 firms or whatever is BAD.  The analysis in the paper shows an economy in which everything interacts with one big node.  Complicated economic interaction would be indicated by lots of diffuse nodes or no obvious nodes at all.

  19. Who are the super-super cluster of Oligarchs who wield the most control of the supercluster of companies? Are they names we already know and revile? My guess is yes, that this is already a known quantity.

  20. You all are familiar with the tale of Jesus and the money changers? Even Jeebus is pissed at Goldman Sachs.

  21. This is an interesting tool for exploring the connections between the various corporate boards of directors:

    Those are just the visible connections.  There’s also a “dark-net” of connections invisible to direct analysis, though perhaps subject to intense data analytics.Consider things like Alan Greenspan being married to Andrea Mitchell.  James Carville married to Mary Matalin. The country clubs the go to, the schools their kids attend.

    1. Government officials gets grumpy when its citizens start to get wild ideas like that… 
      It’s much easier when everyone just goes to work for WalMart or a prison.

  22. This makes sense.  Suppose you go and try to make some serious  investments.  You’re bound to only stick to the few same core companies as everyone else.  Little of your capital will go to the smaller companies.

    You want change?  Take a risk.

    1. @boingboing-503440008c1a25ad5ad968c1458533bc:disqus :

      Change things,go out and start a business.

      How does anyone starting a business change any of this?  It’s a fine idea but I don’t see how it’s actually a solution.

      @boingboing-ecce52d2814bbd95c1ca72ce575dea4f:disqus :

      You want change?  Take a risk.

      Similarly useless.  Taking risks is necessary but not sufficient.

  23. This is unfortunately misleading….

    As for the ‘study’ in this article, they noted: ‘warns that the analysis assumes ownership equates to control, which is not always true. Most company shares are held by fund managers who may or may not control what the companies they part-own actually do. The impact of this on the system’s behavior, he says, requires more analysis.’

    Also, many of the firms in that list are financial firms that hold equities and other securities in ‘Street Name’ please see this link for an explanation:

    This would greatly overstate ownership….and render the study unusable.

    This would need to be corrected for before a clear picture would come forth.

  24. This was featured by the great John Baez on his blog Azimuth not all that long ago.  Anyone interested in some discussion of the mathematics of the model can head over and have a look.  He makes it pretty accessible.

  25. Er, it is a fund. That’s why the 147 seem to own so much. They are either (or usually both) fund managers and stockbrokers holding for clients in street name (ie, theirs). 

  26. Yes, but all those companies are in turn owned by the mega-conglomerate RAMJAC corporation, who are planning to create a virtual monopoly and then cede the ownership of the company to the people, as part of a giant socialist master plan, engineered by the owner of RAMJAC, who just happens to be a New York City bag lady who lives in abject poverty.

  27. Silly. These banks act as fiduciaries for dozens of millions, or perhaps hundreds of millions of individual investors, managing their mutual funds and other investment vehicles, yet the ownership stakes reported above are based on required filings that do not break that out. Also the stock of  these same financial industry behemoths is itself owned by millions of individual investors. Not as insidious as it is described.

    Granted the managers of the companies and funds have undue influence, but it is due to individuals and pension plans voluntarily handing over their assets to them.

Comments are closed.