The global elites that really run the world.
- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
The world is run today by what I call supercitizens — super-empowered global elites that straddle borders, move markets, and make or break politicians. What makes a supercitizen different from you and me? With apologies to Mitt Romney, they’re not actually people; they’re entities designed much like comic book superheroes to have remarkable powers. To begin with, they’re immortal (having the ability to survive the demise of their owners was one reason companies were first created). They operate globally, their scant national ties affording them great flexibility, mobility, and leverage. And of course, they’re made super by virtue of their size: Their resources and influence vastly outstrip those of individual citizens and often entire countries.
In other words, the world’s corporate behemoths really do enjoy powers greater than all but the biggest countries. There are plenty of critics who love to poke holes in flawed comparisons such as those between national GDPs and corporate annual sales, but no matter: There’s a wealth of evidence to show just how vast their reach is. Here are just a few examples.
How the top companies on Forbes magazine’s Global 2000 list stack up against some of the world’s countries.
» $2.3 trillion: assets of JPMorgan Chase
» $812 billion: reserves of foreign exchange and gold held by the European Union
» Has around 7,500 offices in 87 countries and territories across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, more than the number of Austrian embassies (83).
» Has 300,000 employees around the world, more than Germany’s number of active military troops (250,000).
» Spent $26 million lobbying the U.S. government in 2011, more than Anguilla’s budget expenditures ($23 million).
» Has 287,000 employees, more than Croatia’s number of government employees (278,000).
» Produces 2.4 million barrels a day of crude oil and natural gas liquids, more than the 2.2 million barrels produced in the European Union.
Royal Dutch Shell
» Controls 49 billion cubic feet of worldwide natural gas reserves, more than the combined state-owned reserves of Oman and Dubai (totaling 34 billion cubic feet).
» Emits 85 million metric tons of CO2 each year, more than Chile (73 million).
» $321 billion: the market capitalization of PetroChina, more than the GDPs of all but 40 countries
» $21.2 billion: PetroChina’s 2011 profits, more than Belarus’s budget expenditures ($20 billion)
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
» Has $1.7 trillion in assets, more than the foreign exchange reserves of any country except China.
» Made profits of $18.8 billion in 2011, more than Syria’s budget expenditures ($18.3 billion).
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway
» Has annual sales of $136 billion, bigger than Hungary’s GDP ($129 billion).
» Made profits of $13 billion in 2011, more than Panama’s budget expenditures ($8.7 billion).
» Produces 2 million barrels of crude oil per day, more than Angola (1.9 million).
» Emits 63 million metric tons of CO2 each year, more than Finland (57 million).
» Manages the accounts of 200 million customers, more than the populations of all but five countries (China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil).
» Does business in more than 140 countries, more than Italy has embassies (123).
» Has $2.7 trillion in assets, more than France’s foreign exchange reserves ($172 billion).
» Made profits of $10.5 billion in 2011, more than Iceland’s budget expenditures ($6.9 billion).
» Employs 272,000 people, more than the populations of New Caledonia (256,000), Vanuatu (225,000), or Samoa (193,000).
» Made profits of $12.4 billion in 2011, more than Yemen’s budget expenditures ($9 billion).
» Had sales of $110 billion in 2011, more than Iran’s budget expenditures ($92 billion).
» Had profits of $12 billion in 2011, more than Costa Rica’s budget expenditures ($8 billion).
» Spent $20 million lobbying the U.S. government in 2011, more than the annual military budgets of Laos ($19.7 million) or Moldova ($19 million).
» Made profits of $19.9 billion in 2011, more than Uruguay’s budget expenditures ($14.7 billion).
» Has annual sales of $99 billion, more than Ethiopia’s GDP ($95 billion).
» Emits 131 million metric tons of CO2 each year, more than the Czech Republic (117 million).