The Global Power Elite: A Transnational Class
Peter Phillips, the author of the book, “Giants: The Global Power Elite,” examines the roles and networks of the world’s richest and most powerful. This class is no longer bound to national concerns, only to the expansion of its own power, says Phillips
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert.
Global inequality continues to intensify unabatedly. The richest one percent of people now have an estimated worth that is greater than half of all humans on Earth. But who are they and what role do they play in the fate of the planet? This is something that a recently published book, titled Giants: The Global Power Elite, aims to explore. The book’s author is Peter Phillips, who joins us now from Sonoma County, California. Peter is Professor of Political Sociology at Sonoma State University and the former director of Project Censored. Thanks for joining us today, Peter.
PETER PHILLIPS: Greg, thanks for having me on.
GREG WILPERT: So in the introduction of your book, you talk about the emergence of a transnational capitalist class. What is this, what do you mean by that and how is this different from the global elite, or elites in general, that used to exist before the emergence of this class?
PETER PHILLIPS: Well, C. Wright Mills did his book The Power Elite back in 1956, and that was about elites in the U.S., military, political and corporate. In that sixty, seventy year period now, we’ve seen a globalization of power and wealth in the world so that capital is concentrated in very, very few hands, the hands of what I call the giants, these are the transnational investment companies. Seventeen of them have over a trillion dollars in assets collectively, seventeen controlled forty-one trillion dollars in 2017. They represent and are the investment, literally the investment banks and investment advisers, for the two thousand plus billionaires and the thirty-six million millionaires in the world who put their money into investment capital where they want to get a return, annual return. And that’s been concentrated, the wealth has concentrated even greater now, it’s like eight people have control over half the wealth in the world.
But what it boils down to is eighty percent of the people in the world live on less than ten dollars a day, half of the people in the world live on less than three dollars a day, and about a quarter live on less than two. So there’s massive inequality. 30,000 people a day die from starvation and malnutrition, so there’s this ongoing massacre of people. When there’s more than enough food in the world, a third of it’s thrown away because it’s just not profitable to sell it. So this whole system is pretty much non-humanitarian, based upon gaining profit and capital concentration, and of those seventeen giant investment firms, there’s only 199 people that manage those firms. So they’re deciding how wealth will be invested, fifty trillion dollars worth now, and making those kinds of decisions. And their biggest problem is they’ve got more capital than they’ve got safe places to put it in.
So governments try to accommodate them by pressuring third world countries and other nation-states to allow capital penetration and development and guarantee for returns and debt collection. But still, there’s much more profit than they have, so they’re buying up public resources around the world; water rights, freeway systems, whatever they can buy up to get a return. So they’re privatizing the world. And even still, there’s too much capital. So what we’re seeing now, particularly in the last twenty years, is permanent war. So the war is very profitable for capital, they get a return on it. The biggest investment companies are all invested in Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman and those that make profits from war. So permanent war, buying up of public resources and speculative investments like the subprime mortgage system that almost collapsed us in 2008, they’re still doing those kinds of speculations. So very concentrated, very small number of people impact us all.
GREG WILPERT: So give us an overview of what this global power elite is like in terms of what they do. I mean, you identify various sectors such as financial power, which you already mentioned, but then there’s also a managerial power, policymaking power, military, which you mentioned, and media and public relations. What are each one of these functions and who are their main players?
PETER PHILLIPS: Well, we identify 389 people in the book by name and get bios on their background, where they went to school, and their net worth and the stocks they own, the corporate boards they’re on, and the policy groups. So this is private capital. So this is non-governmental policymaking. So these 199 elites in capital, they’re the ones managing 50 trillion dollars worth of wealth worldwide. But governments and the military intelligence agencies, policy groups, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, work on their behalf so that they are trying to protect capital, allow it to continue to grow and expand, and continue to see privatization and the buying up of the world’s resources held by a very small number of people. This is ongoing.
Now, they facilitate this by creating policy groups that are non-governmental, like the Council of Thirty, this is what I call the executive committee of global capitalism. They’re based in Washington, DC, million dollar budget, paid staff, and they’re thirty central bankers, economists, some of the top thinkers in the world. There’s thirty-two people, thirty-one men, one woman, and they put out policy reports that are seen as instructions by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and governments from that perspective. The other big policy groups that are private are the Trilateral Commission, which is some 400 people, non-governmental people–if you’re in government, you can’t be in the Trilateral Commission–from forty countries all over the world, Asia, Europe and the U.S. and other countries, where they put out policy reports. They were the ones that made the recommendations to do more containment with Russia and were promoting regime change there, trying to get rid of Putin.
The third one is the Atlantic Council, which is made up of nations of NATO. And these are people that meet in in Washington, there’s around thirty-five on their executive committee. They’re all high level security people and/or investment advisors, and they are in the process of protecting global capital. They’re the ones that made the recommendations to Facebook as to who to drop last year, who did they think was not supporting capitalism and global capital. That’s essentially the criteria for people to get dropped. They’ll call and say they’re not truthful or they’re lying or something like that. But they’re the ones making policy recommendations for regime changes in Venezuela or Iran, Russia, and pressuring China in a variety of factors as well.
GREG WILPERT: So do all of these sectors have the same interests and ideology or do their interests and ideologies diverge? Or another way of asking this, do they share a common kind of class interest and do they see themselves as a class, so to speak, that acts more or less in unison, or their differences?
PETER PHILLIPS: Well, class is defined as culture, as families intermarrying, as common values, similar education systems. So yes, if you look at the biographies of these people, they’re going to private elite schools, they’re wealthy, they’re in policy groups, they live in major cities around the world and they interact at Davos every year in Switzerland or other policy groups in various capacities. We’ve really been talking about transnational capitalist class only for about twenty years. So there’s more research that needs to be done in terms of a class-like nature of who these folks are. It’s quite clear that their primary motivation, their main involvement is capital; capital investment, free flow of capital anywhere in the world, no resistance from governments.
So they’re looking for governments–and they can work with dictatorships or democracies, either one, as long as the elites in those countries are facilitating allowing capital penetration, allowing returns on investment and are police-wise and military-wise life able to restrict their populations from resistance. So nation-states are all tied into global capital. The elites of nation states, they get wealthy in many places that people are quite poor, but they’re contained. So nation-states are literally population containment zones for global capital use.
GREG WILPERT: So finally, I mean one of the things one could say is perhaps that certainly here at The Real News we’re always reporting about the various crises that we’re facing, and one of the big ones of course is the climate crisis. And the question is, or the issue is that perhaps this global power elite is contributing towards this crisis, clearly in various ways. And so, it behooves of those who are not part of this to do something about this tremendous inequality, not only in terms of the inequality but also the other crises that we might be heading towards. But what can and should be done to basically reverse some of these trends and assert some semblance of democracy on a national or global scale?
PETER PHILLIPS: Well, I think it’s important to recognize that these seventeen giants, and then other near giants, are the center of global capital. They are making decisions where capital is invested. And so, whether it’s military or oil companies and police states, whatever can return a profit, they’re engaged in it. Now, this is, of course, destroying the world, not only militarily but in terms of the environment. And we’re on a very short timetable now to reverse CO2 emissions in the world or we will see a complete change on how humans survive on this planet, or even maybe possible extinction. So it’s a crisis. And William Robinson, who does the introduction to Giants, wrote a book called The Crisis of Humanity. And he talks about the massive inequality, and of course the environmental destruction that we’re all facing. So we’re appealing to these elites, and that’s why we name them and we say this is who they are.
And we have a letter at the back signed by ninety professors and associates and friends of mine who are saying to these power elites, look, you guys have to fix this. If you don’t fix it, the world’s going to face financial collapse and economic destruction. So if you think your grandchildren are going to have grandchildren, you really need to rethink what you’re doing and engage in policies that instead of trying to have a trickle down, which doesn’t happen, but there’s a river of resources that goes to every child, every family in the world so that people can survive and live and build an economy from the bottom-up. We’re telling them this not in the expectation that they’re going to see the light and do something, some might, but in the expectation that we will be also politically forcing them, through social movements and political actions, that they have to make changes or we’re going to be faced with economic collapse and environmental destruction worldwide in which millions if not billions of people will die.
GREG WILPERT: Well, there’s so much more to discuss about this on this issue, and perhaps we can get back to you sometime. But we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Peter Phillips author of the book Giants: The Global Power Elite. Thanks for having joined us, Peter.
PETER PHILLIPS: Thank you very much, Greg, I like doing it.
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