Handmaidens of States: The National Basis for the Political Power of Global Corporations

Stream: Panel 65 - International Relations: Global Political Economy 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 9.00 am – 10.30 am


There has long been debate about the desirability of markets. With the rise of what has often been characterised as ‘neoliberal globalisation’, this debate has been held in the shadow of pronouncements about their inevitability. However, the demise of the prevalence of small, competitive, entrepreneurial firms and the rise of global corporations means a conceptual focus on the disembodied power of markets, as opposed to the power embodied in these corporations, is problematic. Those who focus on the political power of global corporations tend to lie on a spectrum between viewing them as global political actors in their own right, to seeing their influence as an extension of the power of their home states. How should the power of global corporations be best conceived? In this paper I present data on their transnationality, foreign direct investment trends, and mergers and acquisitions to demonstrate that the latter view remains more accurate. I also consider the institutional basis for their political power to argue that although they are increasingly international in their interests, nevertheless global corporations also remain intrinsically nationally and regionally focussed and, in operational terms, increasingly nationally and regionally concentrated. Therefore, global corporations are best conceived as nationally and regionally embedded political actors with power motivations, rather than global economic actors driven by global material market interests. As they ‘go global’ they are an extension of their home states’ power, so that rather than universally undermining states, they transform how their home states’ power is exercised.


John Mikler (Presenter), University of Sydney
My research focusses on the interactions between multinational corporations and states, international organisations and civil society. I take a comparative institutionalist perspective to the way in which economic actors are regulated, or exercise private authority, especially in respect of the social and environmental impacts of their instrumentally-motivated actions. I have published three books: ‘Greening the Car Industry: Varieties of Capitalism and Climate Change’ (Edward Elgar 2009); ‘The Handbook of Global Companies’ (Wiley-Blackwell 2013); and (with Neil Harrison) ‘Climate Innovation: Liberal Capitalism and Climate Change’ (Palgrave Macmillan 2014). I am currently writing a book on ‘The Political Power of Global Corporations’.