Linking Wealth and Power. The Role of the Super-rich in the Transnational Capitalist Class and its Lobby

Hans Lukas Richard Arndt


The exceptional concentration of wealth in western democracies during the past five decades has by now become common knowledge in the study of social stratification. Among other implications, this brings to the spotlight families and individuals who possess extraordinarily high levels of wealth. In the normative debate surrounding this finding, the claim is regularly made that wealth concentration is related to a concentration of power towards the wealthy, there are only scarce empirical attempts to analyze the interrelation between economic resources and political power. This research draft proposes to analyze one channel through which economic and political power could be related. Namely, this is the relationship between those who concentrate a lot of economic resources - wealthy individuals and families - to those individuals and corporations concentrating a lot of economic power – assessed through corporate networks. This closely relates to an old question: can the rich be located in a (transnational) capitalist class, and in how far does this class exist in itself and for itself? For this purpose, the position of global super-rich individuals and families in corporate networks are analyzed in a first step. Second, the relationship between super-rich control and network centrality of corporations in two different networks, facilitating economic power and unity, shall be combined with data on lobbying organizations. This way, the following research question is pursued: Is there a transnational capitalist class including the super-rich which shows unity in political action at the EU level? This project draws on ideas from the Sociology of Elites, as well as (neo-)Marxist class analysis, from family firm research and corporate political action, and tries to deliver a synthesis of these ideas. More concretely, the project‘s main contribution is the analysis of two kinds of networks, based on data for about the 1 million largest firms globally from a company database (Orbis), merged with novel data on the global super-rich. The first type of network follows up on the long tradition of the analysis of interlocking directorates of corporations. The second type of networks analyzes the ownership relations of individual shareholders as well as corporations, thereby enabling the analysis of corporate control within the global economic system. Both of these networks can be seen as indicators for (concentrated) economic power. Mapping the super-rich within these networks therefore unveils where concentrated economic resources meet concentrated economic power – or where and how wealth and power are linked. In a final step, the project therefore aims to analyze in how far firms EU lobbying activity can be explained based on their network positions and super-rich involvement. For this purpose, an official EU lobbying database is exploited. The attempted analysis also touches upon several other relevant theoretical fields. Among others, these are the integration of the super-rich into a sociological scheme of social class, in how far super-rich families are involved in strategy making of their firms, or in how far all these things can add to our understanding of what explains corporate political action.

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