The study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world's transnational corporations (TNCs).
From Orbis 2007 (a database listing 37 million companies and investors worldwide) they pulled out all 43,060 TNCs and the share ownerships linking them. Then they constructed a model of which companies controlled others through shareholding networks, coupled with each company's operating revenues, to map the structure of economic power.
The work revealed a core of 1318 companies with interlocking ownerships. 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.
The top 50 of the 147 superconnected companies
1. Barclays plc 2. Capital Group Companies Inc 3. FMR Corporation 4. AXA 5. State Street Corporation 6. JP Morgan Chase & Co 7. Legal & General Group plc 8. Vanguard Group Inc 9. UBS AG 10. Merrill Lynch & Co Inc 11. Wellington Management Co LLP 12. Deutsche Bank AG 13. Franklin Resources Inc 14. Credit Suisse Group 15. Walton Enterprises LLC 16. Bank of New York Mellon Corp 17. Natixis 18. Goldman Sachs Group Inc 19. T Rowe Price Group Inc 20. Legg Mason Inc 21. Morgan Stanley 22. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc 23. Northern Trust Corporation 24. Société Générale 25. Bank of America Corporation 26. Lloyds TSB Group plc 27. Invesco plc 28. Allianz SE 29. TIAA 30. Old Mutual Public Limited Company 31. Aviva plc 32. Schroders plc 33. Dodge & Cox 34. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (*) 35. Sun Life Financial Inc 36. Standard Life plc 37. CNCE 38. Nomura Holdings Inc 39. The Depository Trust Company 40. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance 41. ING Groep NV 42. Brandes Investment Partners LP 43. Unicredito Italiano SPA 44. Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan 45. Vereniging Aegon 46. BNP Paribas 47. Affiliated Managers Group Inc 48. Resona Holdings Inc 49. Capital Group International Inc 50. China Petrochemical Group Company
* Lehman still existed in the 2007 dataset used