Source – andrewgavinmarshall.com
– “In short, they need to engage and integrate actively with the world of economic and financial diplomacy, interacting and building relationships with the policymakers of the rich and powerful nations, those who have the political authority necessary to implement policies that affect the Mafiocracy. Together, policy-makers, technocrats, financial diplomats and the Mafiocracy of oligarchs and dynasties are the central players in the game of global power politics, and are the key architects in the system of global economic and financial governance, the Empire of Economics”:
The President sat and listened to his closest adviser as they plotted a strategy to maintain Western domination of the world economy. The challenge was immense: divisions between industrial countries were growing as the poor nations of the world were becoming increasingly united in opposition to the Western world order. From Africa, across the Middle East, to Asia and Latin America, the poor (or ‘developing’) countries were calling for the establishment of a ‘New International Economic Order,’ one which would not simply serve the interests of the United States, Western Europe, and the other rich, industrial nations, but the world as a whole. It was on the 24th of May 1975 when President Gerald Ford was meeting with his Secretary of State and National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, easily the two most powerful political officials in the world at the time. Kissinger told the President: “The trick in the world now is to use economics to build a world political structure.”
Ford and Kissinger agreed that the United States could not accept a new ‘economic order’ that would undermine American and Western power throughout the world. Uprisings, revolutions and liberation movements across Africa, Asia and beyond had largely thrown off the shackles of European colonial domination, establishing themselves as independent political nation-states with their own interests and objectives. Chief among those goals was for economic independence to follow political independence, to take control of their own resources and economies from the Europeans and Americans, to determine their own economic policies and help to redistribute global wealth along equal and just lines.
The problem for the Western and industrial nations, with the United States at the center, was that formal colonial domination was no longer considered acceptable. In previous decades and centuries, the rich and powerful nations would directly colonize and control foreign societies, establishing puppet governments and protectorates, extracting resources, exploiting labour and expanding their own national power and international prestige. Following the end of World War II, such practices were no longer politically or publicly acceptable. The era of decolonization had taken hold, and the people of the world were failing to remain passive and obedient in the face of great injustices and inequality. War had become a bad word, colonialism was no longer en vogue, and belligerent political bullying by the rich countries increasingly risked a major backlash, threatening to unite the entire world against the West.
A new strategy for global domination had to be constructed. The West could not afford a direct political or ideological confrontation with the developing world, with many top American officials, including Henry Kissinger, acknowledging that if they were to pursue such a strategy they would be isolated and lost, with even the Europeans and Japanese abandoning them. Foreign ministers and heads of state could not appear to be attacking or seeking to dominate the developing world.
It was decided that the war would have to be waged largely in the world of economics and finance, where the conversation would change from that of colonialism and imperialism to the technical details of economic policy. The imperial interests and objectives of the powerful nations that had existed for centuries could no longer be articulated in a direct way. But those same interests and objectives would not vanish. Instead, they would be hidden behind bland, vague and technical rhetoric. The language of economics provides the appearance of impartiality, backed up by pseudo-scientific-sounding studies and ideologies, accessible only to those with the proper training, education and experience, otherwise inaccessible and incomprehensible to the general public. Empire was a thing of the past. In its place rose a new global economy, built by banks not bombs, expanding the reach of corporations not colonies, managing debt not dominions.
The “world political structure” which Kissinger described would not, however, make militaries and foreign ministers and diplomats irrelevant. They would still have a role to play in maintaining and expanding empire, though never calling it by its proper name, instead using words like ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘markets’. But the role of such officials would often become secondary to that of the financial and economic diplomats, who would increasingly become the first line of offense in constructing the “world political structure,” the Empire of Economics.
Two days after Kissinger articulated this strategy to President Ford, another meeting was held at the White House with several more high-level cabinet officials. The discussion was a follow-up on the U.S. strategy to construct such a system. Stressing that political diplomats and foreign ministers could not take on the developing world directly, Kissinger told the assembled officials, “it is better to have the Finance Ministers be bastards, that’s where I want it.”
This book is the story of how financial diplomats, politicians, bankers, billionaires, family dynasties and powerful nations have used economics to build a “world political structure,” engaging in a constant game of power politics with and against each other and the rest of the world to construct and maintain their Empire of Economics for the benefit of a small ruling class, the global Mafiocracy: a super-rich, often criminal cartel of global oligarchs and family dynasties.
It is a brutal, vicious world of secret meetings, behind-the-scenes intrigue, financial warfare and coup d’états, economic colonization and debt domination. It is the unforgiving world of empire, an immense concentration of global wealth and power, a parasitic system of world domination built on the impoverishment and exploitation of billions. And it is a world obscured and hidden behind the dry, dull and seemingly empty rhetoric of economics. It is a language in need of translation, a reality in need of elucidation, and an empire in need of opposition.
Power Politics and Empire
It was the largest and most powerful empire the world had ever known. It spanned the globe, across oceans and seas, countries and continents, enveloping much of the known world – and the people throughout it – within the domineering shadows of its political, economic, social, cultural and financial institutions and ideologies. Those who ruled were the wealthy and war-like family dynasties, individual oligarchs, kings of coin, titans of industry, and a religious priesthood of proselytizing propagandists. These rulers would engage in a constant game of ‘power politics’ with and against each other in the quest to gain title, money and influence.
They lie, cheat, steal, kill and conquer; they plant their flags and preach their gospels, serve their interests and those of their unknown (or sometimes) masters. It requires a constant cunning, managing an endless lack of trust for all those around you, fearful that on your way up, others might seek to cut you down. To play the game of power politics in the age of empires is to be pragmatic, strategic and ruthless; it requires no less, but frequently more. It is a practice passed down through families, institutions and ideologies. No, this is not ‘Game of Thrones’, but rather, the Game of Globalization in the Empire of Economics: power politics of the 21st century.
But the game itself has been with humanity as long as empire, and was always seen at the center of the system of power within every empire. Human systems – that is, what we call ‘civilization’ and ‘society’ – are, ultimately, human creations with humans in control. Thus, power – at its center – is always dependent upon the interactions, relationships and emotions of the few individuals and families who rule. When such people get angry or throw a tantrum – because the neighbor boy stole his toy (or Russia annexed Crimea, for example) – wars are waged, and the poor are sent to go murder or be murdered, cities burn to the ground, nations crumble into dust.
The game is not known to many, save for those who play it. The masses are left with simple images, rumours and speculation, if anything at all. A public persona of the more visible rulers must be carefully constructed so as to legitimize their authority. The people must be satisfied to the bare minimum, so that they do not rise up in resentment and fury against the few who live in the most obscene opulence and imperial impunity. If the consent of the population is not maintained, a ruler must seek to control them in other ways, which generally means seeking to crush them, to punish them into submission and subservience. Kill and conquer at home and you can kill and conquer abroad.
Control is based upon a mixture of consent and coercion. The people must be either willing to let the rulers rule, to accept their position in society without question, or they must be made to fear the reach and wrath of the rulers, to be punished and persecuted, segregated and isolated, beaten, raped and murdered. The rulers must be vicious, but appear virtuous. If, however, a choice must be made between acting ruthless and appearing righteous, it is better for the rulers to be wretched and murderous, for the game of power politics is never won by virtue alone, but being vicious can get you far enough without assistance.
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his book The Prince more than 500 years ago as an examination of power politics and methods through which one can achieve and maintain power within the old warring Italian city-states. Having long served as an adviser and strategist to various rulers, including princes, popes and dynasties, Machiavelli asserted that “it is desirable to be both loved and feared; but it is difficult to be both and, if one of them has to be lacking, it is much safer to be feared than loved.” He explained that this was so because “love is sustained by a bond of gratitude which, because men are excessively self-interested, is broken whenever they see a chance to benefit themselves.” On the other hand, “fear is sustained by a dread of punishment that is always effective.” Machiavelli has long been accused of being a cynic or pessimist in his interpretations of human nature, but this misses the point.
Machiavelli’s work was examining the attitudes, nature and actions of those who wielded significant power, which was always a small minority of the population. Indeed, far from a cynical interpretation, The Prince is rather a pragmatic and accurate interpretation of a deeply cynical world where every institution and individual wielding significant influence engages in a constant game of power politics designed to benefit themselves, maintaining or expanding their own power, often at the expense of others. It is a world where every relationship, title, position and even marriage holds strategic significance. For those individuals and families who rule, every decision must be made as a calculated attempt to preserve and expand their power. If this is not done, they will not remain rulers long, for this is how the game is played and won, and if one does not play by the rules, others will. Thus, the more cunning and ruthless a strategist, the more likely they are to elevate through the hierarchy because they will do what others will not, acting without hesitation to manipulate or crush others in order to rise higher.
It is a game – like that of all empires past – in which the few compete and cooperate with one another in the advancement of their own individual, familial, national or global interests, expanding their empires. It is a game in which the vast majority of humanity are – as they have long been – left to suffer the consequences, fight the wars, drown in debt, poverty, hunger and misery. On occasion, and increasingly often, groups of people – segments of the population – rise up in resistance, riot, revolt or even revolution. This is when the people are able to engage more directly in the game of power politics, because they change the game. Suddenly, all the key players at the top notice the building fury of the masses and so the game itself is put at risk. The key players will almost always – even in spite of their frequent competition and opposition to each other – work together if it means protecting the game itself.
A useful comparison is that of a Mafia crime network, in which the various heads of families may sit at the same table though they often feud with one another, working together to mutual benefit when possible, though occasionally whacking one another off when the competition grows fierce. It is a delicate balancing act of competition and cooperation, but when the criminal network is itself threatened, perhaps through the efforts of an ambitious district attorney or crackdown on organized crime, the various families will seek to unite in their efforts to protect the racket which benefits them all. If they remain divided in the face of growing opposition and potential external threats, they increase the risk that they will be conquered. When the game is threatened, the players must stand together or fall apart.
For successful rulers, the balance of competition and cooperation – vicious and virtuous – is present both in their relationships with other rulers, and with the larger populations. And so the rulers themselves – the oligarchs and dynasties – span both private and public realms: they are presidents and prime ministers, kings, queens and sultans, corporate chiefs, billionaires and bankers, consultants and advisers, academics and intellectuals, technocratic tyrants and plutocratic princelings. Their world is not our world. But it rules, wrecks and ravages our world and the people and life within it. It is a game that steers humanity toward certain extinction resulting from excessive environmental devastation, guided by that ever-present drive within those who have the most for more, more, more.
The game is little more, at its core, than basic gangsterism, its players little more than petty tyrants. Such personalities, egos and interests populate all sectors of society, all institutions, frequently appearing in inter-personal relationships. The more power they have, the greater the repercussions of the game. At the top of the global power structure are the personalities and families of immense wealth, political influence and prestige. With the same basic principles of a Mafia structure, the individuals and institutions that play the game of power politics in the age of globalization – in the Empire of Economics – are perhaps best understood as a global Mafiocracy. It makes no difference whether a nation is ruled by a monarchy, a dictatorship or democracy: the Mafiocracy is ever-present, and ever-expanding in its wretched reach.
The State of Empire
The world is defined and dominated largely by institutions, individuals and ideologies. The institution of the nation-state is perhaps the most obvious example, best represented by the world’s most powerful country, the United States of America. The government of the United States is composed of three separate branches (or institutions): the executive (President and Cabinet), legislative (Congress/Senate) and judiciary (the Supreme Court). The executive leads the government, while the role of the legislative and judiciary is (theoretically) designed to keep a check on executive power, preventing it from accumulating too much authority in one branch, threatening the potential for tyranny.
Since World War II, the executive branch has accumulated increased powers within the U.S. government, with a wide mandate to manage foreign and economic policies specifically, with little oversight and few checks from the legislative and judiciary branches. The executive is composed of a wide array of institutions itself, each with their own specific mandates, interests, and varying degrees of influence. These include the many cabinet departments, such as the Treasury Department, Defense Department (Pentagon), State Department, CIA, National Security Council (NSC), Department of Homeland Security, and many more. In addition, since 1913, the Federal Reserve has functioned as the central bank of the United States, operating with a large degree of independence from the other branches of government, including political independence from the executive branch (apart from the President’s ability to appoint the Chairman and Board of Governors), and no oversight from Congress (though the Fed chairman will occasionally testify to Congress).
Individually and collectively, these government departments and institutions manage hundreds of billions and even trillions of dollars in assets and funds, making them individually larger than most multinational corporations and banks in the world. These departments within the U.S. government are largely responsible for the maintenance and expansion of the American imperial system. Since the time of ancient Nubia and Egypt thousands of years ago, much of the world has been dominated by empires, rising, expanding and collapsing over centuries and millennia, running through ancient Greece, Rome, China, Aztec and Inca, Persian, Ottoman, and in the past five hundred years with the rise and demise of the European empires whose reach expanded the globe. For the most part, imperial systems have been dominated by families, often called royalty, sultanates, emperors or emirs. The essential interest and priority of all empires has been to protect and expand their empire, largely for the benefit of its ruling class or groups, with the imperial family at the center of power.
It is only a phenomenon of the post-World War II period that denial of the existence of empire is commonplace. Through the two World Wars of the 20th century, empires collapsed and faded into history. World War I led to the collapse of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. World War II led to the collapse of the Japanese and Nazi empires, and its aftermath resulted in the erosion of European colonial domination, as the British, French, and other European colonial powers had to adjust to a new global order under American hegemony. It was in the post-World War II period that the United States had achieved unprecedented economic and political power. With just over 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. controlled roughly half the world’s wealth. Citing this very statistic, the U.S. State Department (responsible for managing diplomacy and foreign policy) published a policy paper in which top officials acknowledged that the global inequality that existed between the U.S. and the rest of the world would lead to “envy and resentment.” The “real task” of the United States was “to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security,” doing away with “the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”
Europe was devastated by the war, and the United States occupied the West with the Soviet Union occupying the East of the continent. The European empires were crumbling, and the process of decolonization had begun to take the world by storm, with the U.S. attempting to manage the process on behalf of its Western European allies. In its strategy for world domination, the United States sought to rebuild its former war-time enemies – Germany and Japan – into economic powerhouses, with West Germany acting as the locomotive for European integration (into what is now the European Union) and Japan acting as a counterweight to the spread of Communism in East Asia. Western Europe, Japan and other allies depended upon the United States military to protect their ‘security’ interests around the world, arming favorable dictators, supporting coups, fuelling civil wars, undertaking large occupations and counter-insurgency operations targeting independence, anti-colonial and revolutionary movements around the world.
Despite the imperial realities of this system, there was an overwhelming tendency within the United States and its industrial allies to deny the existence of imperialism altogether. Instead, these nations were merely economically and technologically advanced democracies who sought to protect ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ around the world in a largely ideological confrontation with the Soviet Union, which presented itself as the image of socialism and communism in a struggle against the capitalist imperial powers of the West. The Soviet Union’s influence was dominant in Eastern Europe, with a few close allies scattered across the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. The United States and its Western allies, however, were the dominant powers across much of the rest of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America. The only real sense in which the Soviet Union presented a challenge for the United States was in its military and nuclear capabilities. This was the period known as the ‘Cold War’, though despite its confrontational rhetoric dividing East and West, communist states from capitalist democracies, it was largely a struggle waged against the rest of the world, the ‘Third World’, otherwise known as the developing world or ‘Global South’. It was in the poor, colonized nations and regions of the world where the majority of the world’s resources were located, and thus, where the Western imperial powers needed to maintain control.
While the United States rebuilt Germany and Japan into economic locomotives, becoming the second and third richest countries in the world, American economic power experienced a relative decline. This created strong allies for the United States, and while they remained militarily dependent upon their imperial patron, their growing economic power gave them increased leverage. With their increased economic power came increased potential to act independently of the U.S. and other rich nations. Competition between the great powers increased during the same period that newly independent nations of the developing world were increasingly uniting in opposition to a Western-dominated world order.
On May 1, 1974, the vast majority of the world’s nations voted in favour of the U.N. Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO), proclaiming that “the greatest and most significant achievement during the last decades has been the independence from colonial and alien domination of a large number of peoples and nations which has enabled them to become members of the community of free people.” Among the ‘principles’ adopted in forming the NIEO were “equality of States, self-determination of all peoples,” and the outlawing of war, seeking “the broadest co-operation” of all nations of the world in banishing the “prevailing disparities” and securing “prosperity for all.”
Each nation of the world would have the right “to adopt the economic and social system that it deems the most appropriate for its own development,” and establish control over their own natural resources. The people who continued to live under colonial domination, racial oppression and foreign occupation had a right “to achieve their liberation and the regain effective control over their natural resources and economic activities.” In 1974, this would include Israeli-occupied Palestine, South African apartheid, and U.S.-occupied Vietnam. The last line in the document stated that the Declaration should “be one of the most important bases of economic relations between all peoples and all nations.”
But Henry Kissinger had other plans. As Secretary of State and National Security Adviser, Kissinger was the chief imperial strategist in the United States, and remains one of the most influential foreign policy strategists in the nearly four decades since he left office. Kissinger’s “trick” to use economics in building a “world political structure” would largely be pursued through the finance ministries, central banks and international organizations (such as the IMF and World Bank) which are controlled by the rich and powerful nations. In the face of a growing threat, the rich nations banded together in various forums, conferences and diplomatic gatherings, the most notable of which came to be known as the Group of Seven, bringing together the U.S., Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada. Through these various institutions and initiatives, a “world political structure” would be incrementally constructed as the Empire of Economics.
A Family Affair
Empires don’t just happen; they are constructed, protected, expanded and destroyed. Empires need imperialists, even if they don’t refer to themselves as such. In the Empire of Economics, the imperialists are a diverse group, including the obvious presidents, prime ministers, chancellors and other heads of state; foreign, military and intelligence officials and ministries; finance ministers, central bankers and the heads of international organizations; the large banks, corporations and institutions that control the world’s wealth and resources, and the powerful individual oligarchs and family dynasties that lie behind these institutions.
As with most empires through history, the central unit of power is often that of a ‘family’, be it royal, financial, corporate or crime. After all, the first institution into which people are born and raised is very often that of the ‘family unit’. Power becomes hereditary, passed down through generations of children raised to take the place of their fathers and mothers in expanding the influence and protecting the legacy of the family. As with any imperial – or dynastic – family structures, they are plagued with rivalries, power struggles, tragedies, divisions and declines. The modern imperial family in the Empire of Economics – emanating from the vast industrial, corporate and banking fortunes established over past centuries – is no exception to the drama and decadence of earlier imperial dynasties.
Every nation has their dynasties, some better known than others. In the United States, over the past century, several names have become synonymous with wealth, power and prestige: Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Morgan, Harriman, Astor and Rockefeller. In 2006, roughly a third of the Fortune 500 companies (that is, the largest corporations in America) were family-run businesses, often performing better than ‘professionally’ managed companies. Among them is one of the largest corporations in the world, Wal-Mart, run and largely owned by the Walton family. In 2010, six of the top ten richest individuals in the United States had inherited wealth, meaning that the richest of the rich in America were not self-made billionaires, but members of wealthy dynasties.
Rich families are often able to preserve their dynastic wealth through a family ‘trust’, which allow the super-rich to provide for future generations of the family largely free of taxes and outside claims. The proliferation of family trusts has led to what one commentator in the New York Times referred to as “an American aristocracy.” Perhaps the most recognizable family trust – and most ‘royal’ of the American dynasties – is that of the Rockefeller family. In the 19th century, John D. Rockefeller amassed a vast fortune monopolizing the oil industry into Standard Oil. In the early 20th century, the company was broken up by the government into multiple smaller companies, some of which are known today as Exxon Mobil and Chevron, among others. The Rockefeller fortune expanded into other industries and banking, and with that came an increased role in founding universities, foundations and think tanks, which were central to the process of generating the institutional and ideological foundations for American imperialism in the 20th century.
The patriarch of the family today, David Rockefeller, is currently in his 100th year. On the occasion of his 90th birthday in 2005, then-President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he said, “it’s fair to say that there has been no other single family influence greater than the Rockefeller’s in the whole issue of globalization.”
As of 2014, Rockefeller Financial Services, the family investment company, held over $100 million in investments in several large American and foreign corporations, including JPMorgan Chase, Chevron, Microsoft, Oracle, Merck & Co., TD Bank, and Wells Fargo. Rockefeller Financial also maintains significant holdings in Honeywell International, Capital One Financial Corporation, Google, Exxon Mobil, Comcast, eBay, Wal-Mart, VISA, and Royal Dutch Shell, BP, IBM, McGraw Hill Financial, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, UPS, General Electric, Ford Motor Company, Apple, Intel, Boeing, Pfizer, The Walt Disney Company, Coca-Cola, Halliburton, U.S. Bancorp, Verizon and Goldman Sachs, among many others.
Not only does the Rockefeller family office invest in major banks and corporations (on behalf of the family and its clients), but some major banks have also invested in the family office itself. In 2008, one of France’s largest banks, Société Générale, purchased a 37% stake in Rockefeller & Co. In 2012, that stake was sold to another major financial dynasty, the Rothschilds, who purchased it through RIT Capital Partners, the investment arm of the London branch of the Rothschild family, overseen by Lord Jacob Rothschild. As Barron’s magazine noted at the time, the union of these financial dynasties “should provide some valuable marketing opportunities” in which “new wealth” around the world would want “to tap the joint expertise of these experienced families that have managed to keep their heads down and their assets intact over several generations and right through the upheavals of history.”
The Rothschild banking dynasty, which has its roots in late 18th century Europe, had established several branches of the family spread throughout major European nations and capitals, with two of the most prominent being the London and Paris arms. In 2012, the French and British Rothschild banks were planning to merge their assets into a single entity, under the name of Paris Orléans, headed by David de Rothschild. Upon the announcement of the merger, David de Rothschild explained that its purpose was to “allow the bank to better meet the requirements of globalization… while ensuring my family’s control over the long term.” David, one of the richest Rothschilds today, noted in a 2010 interview with Ha’aretz that as a member of the Rothschild family, “We have an obligation to continue the dynasty.”
The Rothschilds have a long history, marred with tragedies and rivalries so common to historical dynastic clans. In the 1990s, as the French and British branches of the family were increasing their cooperation under the leadership of Baron David de Rothschild and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, respectively, Sir Evelyn commented that, “The first important strength of the family is unity.” Evelyn viewed Jacob Rothschild – another member of the British family branch – as a potential rival in control over the British bank, N.M. Rothschild, but Jacob went off to found RIT Capital Partners. Jacob’s half-brother, Amschel Rothschild, was pressured by his father to join the family business, despite his lack of interest and talent for it. Shortly after the death of his mother in 1996, Amschel attended a business meeting in Paris, after which he went to his hotel room and hung himself at the age of 41. With his death, a crisis was seen in the future of the family dynasty, which prompted the closer connections between the British and French branches.
Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and his wife, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild (an American), count two prominent dynasties among their close friends: the Clintons and the British Royal Family. Lynn has long-standing ties to the Clintons, and considers Hillary to be “the woman she most admires,” while Sir Evelyn served as an usher at Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding. The couple spends occasional weekends with the Queen at Windsor Castle, and would also be frequent guests at the White House during the Clinton administration.
In Italy, the Agnelli family – presided over today by the young patriarch, John Elkann – has been considered Italian royalty for the past century. The previous patriarch, Giovanni (‘Gianni’) Agnelli, ruled the family empire from the 1960s until his death in the early 2000s. The Agnelli empire controlled the large auto-company Fiat, as well as managing a wide array of companies and investments “in shipping, oil refining, armaments, banking, insurance, retailing and manufacturing.” When the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, visited Italy, he singled out Gianni in a room filled with several Italian cabinet ministers and took the patriarch aside. “I want to talk to you,” said Khrushchev, “because you will always be in power.” The Soviet leader signaled to the cabinet ministers, adding, “That lot will never do more than just come and go.” By the late 1990s, the Fiat group was the largest employer in Italy, accounting for roughly 5 percent of the country’s gross national product (GNP), and, when combined with the other family’s holdings, the Agnelli family controlled roughly a quarter of the entire capitalization of the Milan stock market.
The Wallenberg family has dominated banking and industry in Sweden for over 200 years. In the mid-1990s, the New York Times referred to the Wallenbergs as “one of the most powerful business families in the world” and “Sweden’s answer to the Rockefellers.” For the post-war period, the business was under the leadership of Marcus Wallenberg Jr., who died in 1982 and had established “an industrial and financial empire of unprecedented scope,” with the family having controlling or influential shares in half of Sweden’s largest corporations, including Electrolux, L.M. Ericsson, Saab, and the Skandinaviska Enskilda Bank (SEB), one of Sweden’s largest multinational banks. By the mid-1980s, the family’s business empire accounted for roughly 30 percent of Sweden’s gross national product.
By the mid-1990s, the Wallenberg empire controlled companies accounting for 40 percent of the Swedish stock market, just as the fifth generation of the family was taking over the reins. Jacob and his cousin, Marcus Wallenberg, were to take over the business from Jacob’s father, Peter, determined on “making the empire a global one.” The family’s holding company, Investor AB, was valued at $6.4 billion, which was in turn owned by a foundation trust controlled by the Wallenberg family. As The Economist noted in 2006, “There is little that happens in Swedish business that does not involve the Wallenbergs,” with one prominent Swedish hedge fund manager commenting, “They are a bit like royalty.” Jacob Wallenberg told the Financial Times in 2014 that, “I think our family is very strong on tradition, it is very strong on responsibility, it is very strong on nation, and I should say family.”
In Canada, a quiet dynasty rules behind the scenes, with “undeniable” influence on provincial and federal politics, according to former U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, who discussed the Desmarais family in a diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks. The family’s economic empire goes by the name Power Corporation, based in the French-speaking province of Quebec and the city of Montreal. Through its various subsidiaries and shareholdings, the corporate and financial influence of the family reaches to all significant sectors of corporate Canada, as well as Europe, Asia and the United States.
The family was presided over by Paul Desmarais, Sr. from the time he began the business in the 1950s and 60s until his death in 2013, at which time the family empire was passed on to his two sons, Paul, Jr. and André Desmarais. As the Globe & Mail reported upon the patriarch’s death in 2013, “he knew and influenced, in small ways or large, every Canadian prime minister and Quebec premier over the past five decades.” Desmarais helped Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau open relations with China in the 1970s, and established the Canada China Business Council in 1978. Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin also maintained very close connections with Desmarais and the Power Corp. empire. Jean Chrétien’s daughter, France Chrétien, even married Paul’s son, André. Paul Martin worked for Desmarais at Power Corp. for 13 years before entering politics, eventually becoming finance minister and Prime Minister. Brian Mulroney, a close friend for nearly five decades, said of Desmarais, “I loved him like a brother… He was one of the most significant players in Canadian economic history.”
The Wall Street Journal referred to Desmarais as “one of Canada’s wealthiest and most powerful businessmen” who “was closely involved in the nation’s politics.” Canada’s current Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised Desmarais for his “leadership, integrity, global vision, and profound attachment to his country.” Among the patriarch’s friends were former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Asian nations are not to be outdone, with long traditions and new manifestations for family rule with powerful dynasties in the political and economic sphere, as well as a host of monarchs. As The Australian reported in 2014, “the big family business in Asia today is not running companies, but controlling countries,” noting that apart from the obvious in North Korea, many of Asia’s nations were “permeated with political leaderships that keep governance in the family.” The newly installed Chinese President, Xi Jinping, was a ‘princeling’ – a child of the Communist Party founders and bosses – whose father was a former Vice Premier. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, comes from a prominent political family. His grandfather was a Member of Parliament, his father was a foreign minister, and his mother’s father was a former Prime Minister. The President of Korea, Park Geun-hye, was the daughter of a previous president.
This pattern was repeated in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka, their own versions of names like Kennedy, Bush and Clinton in the United States. An associate professor at the University of Queensland, David Martin Jones, commented, “The rise of dynasticism within democracy is little understood, and fits with a loss of popular support for mainstream parties, while these dynastic figures fit with the media/celebrity culture and spin that has undermined politics as a mode of persuasion.”
Japan was, for many years, the world’s second largest economy after the United States. Today, it stands in third place, with China picking up the mantle at second. China began its economic ‘opening’ in 1978 under the leadership of Party leader Deng Xiaoping. As the world’s most populous nation increasingly embraced Western forms of ‘capitalism’, the Communist Party leadership which dominated the country acted as patrons and subsequently profiteers of China’s economic development. The highly efficient mixture of a single-party technocratic dictatorship and state-capitalism led to rapid economic growth and immense riches being accumulated by the nation’s new oligarchy. The princelings have become a rich and powerful class, using their political contacts to study at prestigious schools in Europe and America, taking control of large businesses inside China and rising up the Party apparatus. As Bloomberg reported, in China, “wealth and influence is concentrated in the hands of as few as 14 and as many as several hundred families.”
In Turkey, two families largely dominate the economy, Koc and Sabanci, having reached their third generations with interests in banking, energy, automobiles, retail and other markets. Together, Koc Holding and Sabanci Holding – and their various subsidiaries – “make up more than a quarter of the market capitalization of the Istanbul stock market.” The U.S.-based credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, gave Koc Holding a higher credit rating than Turkey.
In another ‘emerging market’ economy, South Africa, one family reigns supreme: Oppenheimer. Harry F. Oppenheimer, who died in 2000, was known as the “king of diamonds,” with an empire controlling most of South Africa’s diamonds, gold, uranium and copper, “wielding extraordinary power over some of the world’s strategic metals and minerals.” Through a complex web of corporate subsidiaries and shareholdings, the Oppenheimer family controlled the supply of the world’s diamonds through their monopoly of De Beers, which also held “vast holdings in banking, real estate, pulp and paper, bricks and pipe, coal and potash, locomotives and beer.” As head of Anglo American Corporation, Harry Oppenheimer spent twenty-five years as “the most powerful figure in his country’s economy as well as one of the richest men in the world,” noted the New York Times.
India, the world’s largest ‘democracy,’ second most populous country and one of the fastest-growing economies, is yet another example of a family business. Politically, India has long been dominated by the Gandhi and Nehru families, but behind the scenes, the families of old and new industrialists dominate the economy. Among India’s largest and most respected conglomerates is the Tata family, which has run the Tata Group for nearly 150 years. Ratan Tata took over the Tata Group in 1991, with its more than 100 companies operating in everything from steel to software. The Tata family had run the company for over a century, but was based almost entirely in India, which began opening its economy up to the West the same year Ratan took over the company. He turned the Tata Group into a global conglomerate, acquiring major British companies, including Tetley Tea, Jaguar Land Rover and Corus, a steelmaker. Ratan became, in the words of the Financial Times, “a pioneer in the country’s move toward globalization,” and both he and the Group “came to embody India’s own emergence as a world economic player over the course of the past decade.”
Germany, the second largest exporter in the world (after China) and the fourth largest economy in the world (after the U.S., China and Japan) is also no stranger to family dynasties and business empires. According to a 2012 study cited by Forbes, roughly 43% of all German exports in 2011 were accounted for by the country’s 4,400 largest family-owned firms. Many of the large companies that are not directly owned by families are often owned by foundations, which are in turn owned by prominent families. The archetypal head of a German business empire, the Financial Times explained in 2007, is “very wealthy but low-profile and frugal.” In other words, they’re rich, cheap and stay behind the scenes. Some of Germany’s wealthiest families and individuals stay so far out of the spotlight that there are few known photographs of them in existence. Susanne Klatten, daughter of the German industrialist Herbert Quandt, who built the BMW empire, is the 44th richest person in the world, with a very low public profile, even spending parts of her life operating under false names.
One reason for the publicity-shy nature of Germany’s corporate, industrial and financial elite could be due to the fact that many of them date back to Germany’s industrialization and prospered immensely through the Nazi era, where they frequently collaborated with Hitler’s murderous regime. Just as the Japanese industries and families of the imperial age were re-established to manage Japan’s post-war industrialization, so too was German industry rebranded after the Nazi era to lead Germany’s reindustrialization and rapid economic growth. The Quandt family behind BMW had collaborated heavily with Nazi Germany, with one German historian, Joachim Scholtyseck, noting, “The Quandts were linked inseparably with the crimes of the Nazis,” using some 50,000 concentration camp slave laborers at the company’s factories, building weapons for the Nazi war machine. “The family patriarch was part of the regime,” Scholtyseck added. The Quandt family also took over dozens of businesses which were seized from Jewish families.
Since the early 1970s, the Arab dictatorships – virtually all run by political dynasties – have accumulated massive wealth and influence, and have invested that wealth into Western banks and corporations. Saudi Arabia is the best example, but the Gulf monarchs include the families that run the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait. One such individual who has made a name for himself in the world of finance is the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who has been referred to as the “Arabian Warren Buffett,” having become one of the largest shareholders in Citicorp by the early 1990s. In 1999, the Economist noted that while the Saudi royals were “secretive, venal and backward,” Prince Alwaleed was “open, intelligent and successful.”
As of 2013, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was worth an estimated $27 billion, and was the second largest shareholder in the global media conglomerate, News Corp. (after the principal shareholders and owners, the Murdoch family), and is also a stockholder in Apple, TimeWarner, Citigroup, Motorola, Saks, AOL, eBay and EuroDisney, and even owns part of Twitter. Further, the Prince owns several luxury hotels in London, New York and elsewhere, partnering up with major banks and other billionaires like Bill Gates. The Prince has a fleet of some 300 cars, a 280-foot yacht which was originally built for a world famous Saudi arms dealer (Adnan Khashoggi), and a fleet of jets, one of which includes a golden throne. He became the subject of minor scandal when it was reported that at his desert encampment in Saudi Arabia, one of the Prince’s past-times is, literally, “dwarf-tossing.” But the Prince’s defenders were quick to reassure an American audience of “his great beneficence,” noting that dwarves were “outcasts” in the Saudi Kingdom, and so the Prince simply hired them as jesters, providing them with “a work ethic,” which included having them “dive for $100 bills in bonfires.”
Russia and several countries in Eastern Europe (notably Ukraine) are dominated by a handful of oligarchs, who concentrated control of resources and the economy in their hands following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
There are also individual oligarchs all across the world, and if they pass their fortunes on to their children they could establish new financial and corporate dynasties. One example in the United States is Warren Buffett, a billionaire investor who founded Berkshire Hathaway, which is a major shareholder in American Express, Coca-Cola, Exxon Mobil, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Moody’s Corporation, Munich Re, Procter & Gamble, U.S. Bancorp, Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo, among others. Buffet’s friend, fellow billionaire oligarch Bill Gates, is also a major shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway, through his own holding company, Cascade Investment.
These are just a few of the world’s major dynasties and oligarchs in the Empire of Economics, cooperating and competing with one another in what could be interpreted as globalization’s Game of Thrones. Individually, these family dynasties and oligarchs are able to exert significant and varying degrees of control over their respective national economies. Collectively, they wield immense global financial and economic power, largely unknown to outsiders. As banks and corporations became increasingly global in scope and size, so too did the interests of the individuals and families behind many of the world’s major companies. The world’s top banks and corporations, in turn, collectively own each other through shareholdings, as well as much of the rest of the network of global corporations.
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich published a study in 2011 of the ownership structure of the world’s largest 43,000 multinational corporations. The researchers traced the shareholdings of the companies to a small network ‘core’ of the largest 1,318 corporations, which collectively accounted for roughly 80 percent of the global revenues of the entire sample of 43,000 corporations. Within the ‘core’ is what the researchers called the ‘super-entity’, a grouping of roughly 147 closely knit companies – mostly banks and insurance companies – who own each other and collectively control 40 percent of the entire network of 43,000 companies. Thus, a global economic order in which less than 150 of the world’s top banks and financial institutions control not only each other but a large percentage of the world’s remaining corporations can hardly be said to be a “free market” of competition. In truth, the “super-entity” more closely resembles a cartel, the global financial mafia.
Among the top 50 companies of the ‘super-entity’ (as of 2008), were: Barclays, Capital Group Companies, FMR Corporation, AXA, State Street Corporation, JPMorgan Chase, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Bank of New York Mellon, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Société Générale, Bank of America, Lloyds TSB, ING Group and BNP Paribas, among others. As of late 2014, the list of top institutions within the super-entity has changed slightly, with some previous banks merging or collapsing as a result of the financial crisis, and with the rise of asset management firms such as BlackRock.
BlackRock is the world’s largest asset management company, with roughly $4 trillion of assets under management, standing as the single largest shareholder in one out of every five corporations in the United States, owning at least 5 percent of almost half of all corporations in the country. As the New York Times noted in 2013, BlackRock has “tremendous influence.” As the Financial Times noted in 2012, when one includes the assets which BlackRock advises on (on top of managing), the total sum that the company monitors amounts to roughly $12 trillion, almost the same size as the entire U.S. economy, putting the company “in an extraordinarily influential position.” Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock who started his career as “a prince of Wall Street,” rose to what the Financial Times called “the pinnacle of US finance,” where he “slips in and out of the offices of the world’s financial and political elite with ease.” Fink and BlackRock have extensive influence with the major American and European banks and corporations, as well as sovereign wealth funds in the Arab world and Asia.
Fink turned BlackRock from a virtually unknown entity in 2008 to “a global colossus” with its $13.5 billion purchase of Barclays Global Investors in 2009. Vanity Fair referred to Fink in 2010 as “the leading member of the country’s financial oligarchy.” Throughout the financial crisis, Fink and BlackRock played a role as key adviser to all of Wall Street’s top CEOs, as well as the heads of the Federal Reserve System, Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the U.S. Treasury Department, playing a central role in the major bailouts and mergers that marked the crisis. One senior bank official referred to BlackRock as “almost a shadow government.” Another bank executive commented, “Larry has always wanted to be important… And now that he’s more important than he ever dreamed of, he’s loving it.” Fink also maintained very close ties to the two U.S. Treasury Secretaries who served tenures during the financial crisis, Hank Paulson (former CEO of Goldman Sachs) and Timothy Geithner (former President of the New York Fed), whom Fink referred to as “two of our best Treasury secretaries.”
This interconnected and interdependent network of the global financial mafia is in turn controlled by the shareholdings of individual oligarchs and family dynasties. After all, most mafias are ultimately family businesses, and the world of finance is no exception. But there are other key players as well, including sovereign wealth funds (state-run investment companies), central banks, and other investment vehicles. The use of the term ‘mafia’ or Mafiocracy is not simply rhetorical, as the banks and corporations which sit at the heart of this network – the “super-entity” – are repeatedly caught, fined and slapped on the wrist for excessive criminal behavior, including massive fraud and the formation of illegal cartels designed to manipulate prices and increase profits.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the financial sector, plagued by multiple scandals since the financial crisis, including the role of banks in creating the crisis in the first place. In addition to that, however, a small network of banks has been found to function as a criminal cartel in manipulating interest rates (specifically, the LIBOR rate) and the foreign exchange (forex) market. In addition, the world’s major banks also reap immense profits (and commit grave crimes) through the laundering of billions of dollars in drug money, terrorist financing and providing other services to organized crime. And this is to say nothing of the economic and financial support that corporations and banks provide for dictators, tyrants, mass murderers, war mongering and state violence, environmental degradation and the physical plundering of the planet for short-term profit.
But the global financial mafia – and the oligarchs and dynasties who sit at its core – cannot wield significant influence without the political legitimacy that comes with state power. Successful financial dynasties (with the Rockefellers as perhaps the best example) establish complex networks of influence, building institutions and supporting ideologies that in turn influence the state and shape the minds and careers of those who rise through it. The Rockefeller family established the University of Chicago and have long been patrons of Harvard. They created philanthropic foundations which provided strategic funding to universities, research centers, think tanks and international forums, having a lasting impact on the shaping of the social sciences (notably Political Science and Economics). The Rockefeller name has made its imprint on some of the most influential American and international think tanks and forums, including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg meetings and the Trilateral Commission, which was founded by David Rockefeller in 1973 in an effort to encourage cooperation between the ‘trilateral’ regions of North America, Western Europe and Japan.
The effect of these networks – which are replicated to varying degrees by members of the global financial mafia in their respective nations – was to create a new elite class of technocrats and professionals, strategists and policymakers whose ideologies and interests aligned with that of the Mafiocracy. For dynasties and oligarchs to exert influence over economic and political policies and society at large, they need much more than a large economic share of corporate, banking and stock market capitalization. More than anything, they need access to policymakers: presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, finance ministers, central bankers, technocrats and the leaders of international organizations.
In short, they need to engage and integrate actively with the world of economic and financial diplomacy, interacting and building relationships with the policymakers of the rich and powerful nations, those who have the political authority necessary to implement policies that affect the Mafiocracy. Together, policy-makers, technocrats, financial diplomats and the Mafiocracy of oligarchs and dynasties are the central players in the game of global power politics, and are the key architects in the system of global economic and financial governance, the Empire of Economics.
Machiavelli to the Mafiocracy
Dynastic control of corporations and banks, while supporting long-term influence and interests, has obvious downsides, since talent and skills are not hereditary, and thus, there is no guarantee that family members and descendants will be as savvy or effective in their management of the family business. For this reason, many oligarchs and dynasties turn to individuals outside of the family to manage their companies, advise on their wealth management strategies, and run the day-to-day business of the family empire. Such advisers, confidantes and interlocutors exist in the world of financial dynasties well beyond the scope of the family business, but help to manage the family’s social and political interests and relationships as well.
Some five hundred years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli advised Popes, princes and other rulers, writing The Prince as a dedication to the first modern financial dynasty, the Medici family of Florence. If Machiavelli were writing The Prince today, he would likely still dedicate it to the major family dynasties, Rockefeller, Rothschild, Wallenberg or perhaps the Agnelli family of Italy and other modern Medicis. With few exceptions, however, the modern imperial families of finance do not die.