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Article from Socialist Register 2014: Registering Class
The new configuration of the capitalist classes over the last thirty years took place in the context of two prominent changes. First, the consolidation of finance capital operated through three main channels that radically shifted the trajectory of capitalism. At the macroeconomic level, the debt trap that initially plagued the developing countries, and since 2007 the core countries, reflected the victory of lenders over debtors, and created massive and permanent flows of revenues for creditors. In terms of the firm, ‘shareholder value’ became the main operational objective for corporations (‘shareholder value’ being quite distinct from, and possibly at odds with, the creation of ‘added value’). And at the level of individual social agency, international and national government policies contributed to the ‘commodification’ of social relations, undermining existing systems of social security and steadily replacing them with schemes that made individuals increasingly dependent upon financial markets.
Second, the continual process of the internationalization of capital since the Second World War gained momentum over the last few decades. Globalization provided capital with the opportunity to act with a maximum of freedom at the world level. Money-capital, for example, was made hyperliquid due to the deregulation of institutions and financial innovations. This was also true for large non-financial transnational corporations (TNCs), which have, in reality, become world-scale financial groups with industrial activities. They form a global web, with a mix of collusion and competition, structuring commodity chains and controlling a significant share of the world production of value and trade. The combined effects of outsourcing and offshoring, with the associated pressures on second- and lower-tier supplier firms, have aggravated the imbalance of power and distribution of value between capital and labour.
This essay documents the considerable increase in the concentration of income and wealth by a tiny share of the population. The major role played by rentier incomes and the financial sector is then connected to the new configuration of the capitalist class. The political economy of the contemporary capitalist class is then analyzed demonstrating that, as social relations are territorially bounded and politically built, the realization of a transnational capitalist class (TCC) is still a long way off even in the case of the European Union (EU
THE NEW CONFIGURATION OF THE CAPITALIST CLASS There has never been a strict correspondence between the different functions of capital in the reproduction of the circuit of capital (namely, banking, landed, industrial and commercial capital) and the fractions of the ruling class in their corporate and political organization. Already in the nineteenth century, the organizational fluidity between different fractions of capital was visible. The ascent and domination of finance capital at the turn of
yet very deep.44 Even in Europe, THE NEW CONFIGURATION OF THE CAPITALIST CLASS 149 the increase in national diversity within boards of TNCs, in key countries like Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, is a slow and often difficult process.45 As Figure 2 shows, board internationalization is a development mostly confined to North America and Europe. Unsurprisingly, the TNCs of the ‘smaller’ European economies are more internationalized, but a majority of foreign directors still come from the
through interlocking directorates cannot be separated from the national and regional political background. The Franco-German relationship, for example, stands as the backbone of this Europeanization of interlocking vis-à-vis their exchanges, leading one careful study to find that ‘unsurprisingly, the majority of transnational interlocks are structured between the CAC and the DAX companies’.75 For example, German and French business elites deploy a European network strategy that bolsters the
WITH RULING CLASSES In the new pattern of accumulation and distribution that has taken hold over the last three decades, pre-eminence has been given to the class owning financial (and real estate) assets. The rentier features of the capitalist class as finance capital have thus been reinforced, and this has, in turn, led to the mass concentration of income and wealth in the top 1 per cent. While this has been a global trend, this does not mean that one can identify – let alone speak of – a single
unified TCC ruling the world. Globalization does not mean de-territorialization as no space disappears in the course of accumulation and internationalization. As Ellen Wood argues: ‘Capital reproduces and benefits from the fragmentation of political space, so the current association of capitalism and the territorial state with all its attendant contradictions – is not just a historical relic but is reinforced by the essential dynamics of capitalism’.82 The anchoring of capitalist relations THE