(sciencnews.org) Conventional wisdom says a few sticky, fat fingers control a disproportionate slice of the world economy’s pie. A new analysis suggests that the conventional wisdom is right on the money.
Diagramming the relationships between more than 43,000 corporations reveals a tightly connected core of top economic actors. In 2007, a mere 147 companies controlled nearly 40 percent of the monetary value of all transnational corporations, researchers report in a paper published online July 28 at arXiv.org.
The analysis is a first effort to document the international web of relationships among companies and to examine who owns shares — and how many — in whom. Tapping into the financial information database Orbis, scientists from ETH Zurich in Switzerland examined transnational companies, which they defined as having at least 10 percent of their holdings in more than one country. Then the team looked at upstream and downstream connections, yielding a network of 600,508 economic actors connected through more than a million ownership ties.
This network takes on a bowtie shape, with a large number of diffuse actors in the wings and a few major players tangled up in the tie’s knot. So while it’s true that ownership of publicly held corporations is broadly distributed, says complex systems scientist James Glattfelder, a coauthor of the new work, “take a step back and it’s all flowing into the same few hands.”