James B. Glattfelder, a physicist and researcher at a Swiss hedge fund, gave a very interesting TED talk about the science of complexity and its relevance to our understanding of economics. The science of complexity looks at a complex system as a whole rather than as individual parts — you look at the interactions between separate parts, create rules for the interactions, helping you understand and predict future outcomes of the system.
The science of complexity has been used to better understand things from ant colonies, flocks of birds, all the way to the workings of the human brain. Glattfelder asks: why not use the science of complexity in order to better understand the human race and their interactions?
While I myself believe that the science of complexity could be used to better understand the fundamentals behind what motivates human beings, Glattfelder looks at the complexity involved in capitalism and the economy itself.
Right after the recent economic crisis you have many prominent figures in the fields of finance and economics that criticized our economic models’ apparent over-simplicity. J.C. Trichet, Governer of the ECB (European Central Bank), 2010, is quoted as saying, “When the crisis came, the serious limitations of exiting economic and financial models immediately became apparent.” The Chairman of the UK FSA (Financial Service Authority), Lord Turner, even mentions that, “there is also a strong belief…that bad or over-simplistic and overconfident economics helped create the crisis.”
Gattfelder and his colleagues tried a different, more complex approach to understanding economics. People love the idea of simplification; we are often told that the best answer is usually the simplest one. How this can possibly be true for even most cases is difficult for me to understand. Most things in life are not simple, but complex.
Most situations or topics that one can look into have hundreds, thousands, millions or even billions of variables that play their part in directing the direction of the entire system. Gattfelder’s approach to the complexity of economics starts by looking at Ownership Networks. Who owns what on the global economic level — in other words, who has the control? When a person owns a share in a company, they are given a voting right — the more shares you have, the more weight your vote carries.
The study looked specifically into companies that functioned transnationally and have investments on a global scale (TNCs). What was found is that 36% of the TNCs make up 95% of the operating value of all TNCs. Narrowing the network control down further, it turns out that 737 individuals (people, not companies) have potential control of 80% of the TNCs’ total value. If we narrow down even further, we will notice that in the center of this complexity, we have 146 individuals that potentially control 40% of the total operating value of all companies doing business on a global scale.
The way that it works is that one individual will have a large amount of shares in a single company, which in turn will have shares in another larger company. In the end, while it may seem that the system has hundreds of thousands of players, in reality it will only have a handful — 0.024% of the total to be exact. Why is this important? Because when you have such a small amount of people in control of such a large amount of shares and voting power, then their will literally decides the future of our global economy.
This means that 146 people are basically in control of the world at this very moment. How so? They are in a position of power and control over the companies that affect millions of people and have the financial backing to have done as they wish. This becomes even scarier when you stop to consider the fact that many of these individuals are likely to not even realize the impact that they have in the grand scheme of things. Or, even scarier still is the thought that they do realize the power they have and have been using it to make the world go round in the direction they see fit.
Using this science of complexity one can plan a takeover of the world. Of course, like everything else, it will take a formidable amount of money to get the job done — but the job can be done. You study the current network in place between financial institutions on a global level. You then find the best point of entry onto the scene — a point where you can remain entirely inconspicuous. You set up several companies, preferably in entirely separate industries, that go on to invest in other companies.
You continually grow your base of investing companies, making sure to always keep at least 51% of the shares. You start to layer on the companies, investing your bottom layer companies into larger companies that you already control. You then begin to make your way to companies that are already existent, buying up smaller shares with dozens of companies that you already have control in. You continue to expand this network — doing all that you can to mask your identity and keep your anonymity — until you have hundreds of companies that have, when linked back to you, a majority of votes in all the largest TNCs in the world.
Of course, your actual approach will need to be much more complex than the picture I painted above. The amount of money that you will need backing you will have to be substantial and your business skills will need to be impeccable — but it can be done; at least, in theory. Whether or not an individual will be capable of accomplishing such a feat is questionable — but then again, likely to happen sooner or later.
For all I know, it could already be the case. It’s feasible that one person out there in the world has his hands in so many pockets and has influence over enough of those thought to be ‘top dogs’ that he or she is actually the one controlling the global economy, and with it, the world. This is a scary thought.
However, what if that one person were a genius philanthropist that aimed to better the human race as a whole? What if that one person that did have control of the world was a modern-day Jesus Christ? In fact, if such a person would exist, he is more likely to have the good of the whole in mind rather than herself as an individual; it may be easy to fool a few people into thinking that they have it good while in reality they don’t, but making the whole world believe that is impossible.
If, on the other hand, you would find yourself in such a position of power over humanity and use it to actually improve the living quality of us all, then you would certainly remain in power because no one would bother questioning your existence. If the global economy were doing great, then there would be no reason to point any fingers. If there’s no reason to assign blame, then there will be no questioning of power distribution on such a global scale. To summarize: it’s possible to take over the world and to do so without anyone ever knowing it.
Photo courtesy Tumblr