Thirty years of hyperglobalization, according to the report, have led to sharp increases in global market concentration and a proliferation of rentierism, whereby the world’s largest corporations attempt to protect their market power through a variety of rent-seeking activities, such as lobbying or systematic abuse of intellectual property laws. While many of these companies are headquartered in the United States, the “endemic rent-seeking that stems from market concentration, heightened corporate power, and regulatory capture” has spread much further, leading to the emergence of “global rentier capitalism.”
In the past two decades, the authors find, the world economy has seen a sharp increase in both surplus profits and market concentration. Concentration has increased markedly in terms of revenues, assets (both physical and non-physical), and market capitalization: in 2015, the combined market cap of the world’s top 100 firms was 7,000 times that of the bottom 2,000 firms, whereas in 1995 the same multiple was 31. At the same time, the share of surplus profits grew significantly for all firms in the database, from 4 percent of total profits in 1995–2000 to 23 percent in 2009–2015. For the top 100 firms, the share of surplus profits grew from 16 percent of total profits in 1995–2000 to 40 percent in 2009–2015.
The trend toward concentration, the authors note, has not extended to employment. Between 1995 and 2015, as the market cap of the world’s top 100 firms quadrupled, their share of the job market didn’t even double—a finding that echoes the results of previous studies that linked the decline of labor’s share to the rise of market power. This, they argue, lends support to the view that market concentration strongly contributes to inequality and leads to “profits without prosperity.”
Market concentration, regulatory capture, and rents are incontrovertibly connected, the authors argue. As firms become bigger and more profitable, they are able to hire vast armies of lobbyists and capture regulators and elected representatives, securing generous government subsidies and lax antitrust enforcement, which in turn allow them to become bigger and more profitable. They are also better able to use intellectual property laws in their favor, extending the life of patents to protect their market domination, and hire better lawyers to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. These mechanisms, the authors argue, have essentially made the world’s biggest firms into a “rentier class.”