One of the world’s most famous intellectuals detailing the facts of inequality and threats to existence.
By conventional measures, in 1945, the United States had reached the peak of global dominance—nothing like it in history. It had perhaps 50 percent of total world’s wealth. Other industrial countries were devastated or destroyed by the war, severely damaged. The U.S. economy had gained enormously from the war, and it was in—and the U.S., in general, had a position of dominance with no historical parallel. Well, that, of course, couldn’t last. Other industrial countries reconstructed. By around 1970, the world was described as tripolar: three major economic centers—a German-based Europe, a U.S.-based North America and the Northeast Asian area, at that time Japan-based, now China had moved in as a partner, conflict then partner. By now—by that time, U.S. share in global wealth was about 25 percent. And today it’s not far below that.
Well, all of this is highly misleading, because it fails to take into account a crucial factor, which is almost never discussed, though there’s some interesting work on it. That’s the question of ownership of the world economy. If you take a look at the corporate—the multinational corporations around the world, what do they own? Well, that turns out to be a pretty interesting matter. In virtually every—this increasingly during the period of neoliberal globalization of the last generation, corporate wealth is becoming a more realistic measure of global power than national wealth. Corporate wealth, of course, is nationally based, supported by taxpayers like us, but the ownership has nothing to do with us. Corporate ownership, if you look at that, it turns out that in virtually every economic sector—manufacturing, finance, services, retail and others—U.S. corporations are well in the lead in ownership of the global economy. And overall, their ownership is close to 50 percent of the total. That’s roughly the proportion of U.S. national wealth in 1945, which tells you something about the nature of the world in which we live. Of course, that’s not for the benefit of American citizens, but of those who own and manage these private—publicly supported and private, quasi-totalitarian systems. If you look at the military dimension, of course, the U.S. is supreme. Nobody is even close. No point talking about it. But it is possible that Europe might take a more independent role. It might move towards something like Gorbachev’s vision. That might lead to a relaxation of the rising and very dangerous tensions at the Russian border, which would be a very welcome development.
Well, there’s a lot more to say about the fears and hopes and prospects. The threats and dangers are very real. There are plenty of opportunities. And as we face them, again, particularly the younger people among you, we should never overlook the fact that the threats that we now face are the most severe that have ever arisen in human history. They are literal threats to survival: nuclear war, environmental catastrophe. These are very urgent concerns. They cannot be delayed. They became more urgent on November 8th, for the reasons you know and that I mentioned. They have to be faced directly, and soon, if the human experiment is not to prove to be a disastrous failure.