Multinational Monitor

JUN 1999
VOL 20 No. 6


The Carbon Kingpins: The Changing Face of the Greenhouse Gas Industries
by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists
the U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Falling for AES's Plan? Uganda Debates Damming the Nile
by Stephen Linaweaver

Corporate Goliaths: Sizing Up Corporations and Governments
by Charles Gray

The More Things Change ... The World Bank, Cameroon and the Politics of "Governance"
by Korinna Horta


The Corporation and Democracy
an interview with
Peter Kellman


Behind the Lines

The Case for a Do-Nothing Congress

The Front
FDA's Blank Check for Biotech - Bank Privacy Sold Out - Sen. Shelby: Radical Leftist? - High Tech Goes to DC

Book Review
Democracy is Power

Names In the News


Corporate Goliaths: Sizing Up Corporations and Governments

by Charles Gray

Corporations are now bigger than countries and governments.

Thanks to the work of Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies [see "Corporate Empires," Multinational Monitor, December 1996], the factoid that 51 that of the 100 largest economic entities in the world are corporations is now commonplace.

But this statistic, which compares the revenues of corporations with the gross domestic product of countries, exaggerates the power of nations and minimizes the power of corporations.

As a measure of economic power, comparing corporate revenues with the GDP of nations is misleading because most wealth represented by GDP remains in private or corporate hands -- not in the hands of government or any single decision-making body, and thus is not available as a counter to corporate power.

A better measure of corporate power compares government budgets with gross corporate revenues. This comparison concludes that of the world's 100 largest corporations and national governments, 66 are corporations and only 34 are national governments. Only 7 national governments outrank the richest corporations, not 22, as in the Anderson/Cavanagh study.

The giant corporations have greater economic power than all but a few of the world's governments. Each of the top three, Exxon-Mobil, General Motors and Ford -- has more annual revenue than all but 7 of the 191 national governments of the world.

The top 6 companies -- Exxon-Mobil, General Motors, Ford, Mitsui, Daimler-Chrysler and Mitsubishi -- together have more annual revenues than any national government except the United States. The top six have bigger gross receipts than the combined budgets of 64 governments representing 58 percent of the world's population. These nations include India, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Mexico.

The revenues of the top 14 corporate giants, taken together, surpass the revenues of the U.S. government.

The analysis here covers all corporations of the Fortune 500 for 1998 -- now 490 because of recent mergers. To qualify as one of the 490, a corporation had to have $9 billion or more in annual revenue. The analysis includes the 191 nations of the world (also a number subject to fluctuation).

Of the top 200 entities, 161 are corporations, just over 80 percent. Only 57 national governments are even in the same ball park as the Fortune 500 companies, with budgets of $9 billion or more.

And any of the Fortune 500 outrank 134 of the governments of the world. Admittedly, some of these governments are in nations with small populations, but some of them are large -- Bangladesh, with a population of 128 million; Vietnam, with 76 million people; Ethiopia, with a population of 58 million; Congo, with 49 million citizens. Together these 134 nations make up almost a fifth of the people of the world. None of the governments has as much economic power as even the poorest of the Fortune 500. Eighty-five percent of these companies are headquartered in just five nations which contain only 10 percent of the world's population: the United States, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Total revenue of the 490 corporations is $11.5 trillion -- $4 trillion more than the 191 national governments of the world. These 490 corporations' revenues represents about a 35 percent share of the world's GDP.

Charles Gray is a writer in Portland, Oregon.

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