How top executives lived in 1955

An archival post from Fortune Magazine, looking at how top executives lived in 1955.  Much of it is juxtaposed with wistful memories of the Gilded Age 25 years earlier, before the war, at the beginning of the Depression.  It’s a bizarrely fascinating portrait, and makes it clear that today’s world is far similar to 1929 than 1955.

Corporate Spy Agencies and NGO Spies

A vast signals intelligence industry exists, and will sell its wares (including satellite data interception and undersea fiber-optic cable tapping) to any and all comers.  Ironically, they were infiltrated by agents from Privacy International, a London-based NGO.  Apparently the industry isn’t yet using its own technology to defend against critics.  One has to wonder how long that situation will last.

PLoS ONE: The Network of Global Corporate Control

The Network of Global Corporate Control, as revealed by a research group at ETH Zurich (kind of the Swiss MIT).  Their core finding: a densely connected “super entity” of 147 corporations, about 75% of which are financial intermediaries, has an amount of control which is ~10 times as great as their economic scale would suggest.  They are all majority owned by by other members of the super entity, and so have co-incident interests, and are likely to act as a bloc to protect themselves and each other, and to be subject to simultaneous group failure when under duress.  Not like this is a huge surprise or anything, but it’s nice to see it described in a quantitative framework.

The capitalist network that runs the world

A team at the Swiss equivalent of MIT has revealed a dense knot of power and ownership interconnections within a particular subset of the world’s transnational corporations.  It will come as no surprise that these companies are overwhelming financial firms… but this is the first time that anyone has really been able to lay out the structure of this network of power that runs the world in detail, accounting for all of the subsidiary ownerships and mutual shareholding.  Tyler Durden would be inspired.  The research paper will be published in PLoS One here Real Soon Now.

Links for the week of June 11th, 2010

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Nils Gilman and Deviant Globalization: The Graying of the Markets

We watched a Long Now talk last night by Nils Gilman, entitled Deviant Globalization.  I first ran across Gilman in a shorter talk from a couple of years ago about the global illicit economy — black markets.  He describes deviant globalization somewhat differently.  Trade can be perfectly legal, and still deviant.  He used the example of US men arranging trysts with 14 year old girls in Canada… which amazingly could still be considered legal until 2008, since 14 was the nationwide age of consent.  Sure, it was legal, but who really thought it was okay?  So deviant globalization represents a kind of moral arbitrage.  Demand exists for goods and services which are proscribed in different ways, to different degrees, in different places.  Sometimes they’re socially taboo, and sometimes they’re outlawed, but in all cases there exists a kind of moral disequilibrium gradient that can be exploited.

What united all these extralegal commodity flows […] was the unsanctioned circulation of goods and services that either because of the way they are produced or because of the way they are consumed violate someone’s ethical sensibilities.

One of his main points is that the steepness of that moral or regulatory gradient translates pretty directly into profit margins.  Cocaine increases in value by 1400% when you bring it across the US border.  This creates incredible incentives to get around the rules, even at great risk.  This is why Prohibition rarely works as a policy.  Any attempt at eradication financially empowers those who are willing to continue taking the risks you’re able to impose.

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