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Bank Crimes Pay: Under the Thumb of the Global Financial Mafiocracy

Bank Crimes Pay: Under the Thumb of the Global Financial Mafiocracy

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

27 November 2015

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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On Nov. 13, the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced it was charging 10 individual bankers, working for two separate banks, Deutsche Bank and Barclays, with fraud over their rigging of the Euribor rates. The latest announcement shines the spotlight once again on the scandals and criminal behavior that have come to define the world of global banking.

To date, only a handful of the world’s largest banks have been repeatedly investigated, charged, fined or settled in relation to a succession of large financial scams, starting with mortgage fraud and the Libor scandal in 2012, the Euribor scandal and the Forex (foreign exchange) rate rigging. At the heart of these scandals, which involve the manipulation of interest rates on trillions of dollars in transactions, lie a handful of banks that collectively form a cartel in control of global financial markets – and the source of worldwide economic and financial crises.

Banks such as HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS anchor the global financial power we have come to recognize as fraud. The two, after all, are not mutually exclusive. In more explicit terms, this cartel of banks functions as a type of global financial Mafia, manipulating markets and defrauding investors, consumers and countries while demanding their pound of flesh in the form of interest payments. The banks force nations to impose austerity measures and structural reforms under the threat of cutting off funding; meanwhile they launder drug money for other cartels and organized crime syndicates.

Call them the global Mafiocracy.

In May, six major global banks were fined nearly $6 billion for manipulation of the foreign exchange market, which handles over $5 trillion in daily transactions. Four of the six banks pleaded guilty to charges of “conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged.” Those banks were Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, while two additional banks, UBS and Bank of America, were fined but did not plead guilty to the specific charges. Forex traders at Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and other banks conspired to manipulate currency prices through chat room groups they established, where they arrogantly used names like “The Mafia” and “The Cartel.”

The FBI said the investigations and charges against the big banks revealed criminal behavior “on a massive scale.” The British bank Barclays paid the largest individual fine at around $2.3 billion. But as one trader at the bank wrote in a chat room conversation back in 2010, “If you aint cheating, you aint trying.” The total fines, while numerically large, were but a small fraction of the overall market capitalization of each bank – though the fine on Barclays amounted to some 3.4% of the bank’s market capitalization, the highest percentage by far among the group.

Despite the criminal conspiracy charges covering the years 2007 through 2013, the banks and their top officials continue to lay the blame squarely at the feet of individual traders. Axel Weber, the former president of the German Bundesbank (the central bank of Germany), who is now chairman of Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, commented that “the conduct of a small number of employees was unacceptable and we have taken appropriate disciplinary actions.”

Looking at the larger scale of bank fines and fraud in the roughly eight years since the global financial crisis, the numbers increase substantially. In addition to a 2012 settlement for mortgage-related fraud in the U.S. housing market, which amounted to some $25 billion, several large banks paid individual fines related to mortgage and foreclosure fraud – including a $16 billion fine for Bank of America, and $13 billion for JPMorgan Chase. Added to these are fines related to the rigging of the Libor rate (the interest rate at which banks lend to each other) and the Forex rigging, as well as money laundering, violating sanctions, manipulating the price of gold, manipulating the U.S. electricity market and assisting tax evasion, among other crimes.

According to a research paper published in June, the total cost of litigation (fines, penalties, settlements, etc.) paid by 16 major global banks since 2010 has reached more than $300 billion. Bank of America paid the most, amounting to more than $66 billion, followed by JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds, Citigroup, Barclays, RBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, BNP Paribas, Santander, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, UBS, National Australia Bank, Standard Chartered and Société Générale.

Virtually all of these banks also appear on a list of data, compiled through 2007, revealing them to be among the most interconnected and powerful financial institutions in the world. This core group of corporations forms part of a network of 147 financial institutions that Swiss scientists refer to as the “super-entity,” which, through their various shareholdings, collectively controland own each other and roughly 40% of the world’s 43,000 largest transnational corporations.

In other words, the big banks – along with large insurance companies and asset management firms – do not simply act as a cartel in terms of engaging in criminal activities, but they form a functionally interdependent network of global financial and corporate control. Further, the banks work together in various industry associations and lobbying groups where they officially represent their collective interests.

The largest European banks and financial institutions are represented by the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), whose membership consists of the CEOs or Chairmen of roughly 25 of the top financial institutions on the continent, including Deutsche Bank, AXA, HSBC, Allianz, RBS, ING, Barclays, BNP Paribas, UBS, and Credit Suisse, among others.

In the United States, the Financial Services Forum (FSF) represents the largest American along with some European banks and financial institutions. The Forum’s membership consists of less than 20 executives, including the CEOs or Chairmen of such firms as Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, UBS, HSBC, AIG, Bank of New York Mellon, State Street Corporation, Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo, among others.

And on a truly global scale, there is the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the premier global association representing the financial industry, with a membership of nearly 500 different institutions from more than 70 countries around the world, including banks, insurance companies, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, central banks, credit ratings agencies, hedge funds and development banks.

In addition to these various groups and associations, many of the same large banks and their top executives also serve as members, leaders or participants in much more secretive groups and forums – for example, the International Monetary Conference (IMC), a yearly meeting of hundreds of the world’s top bankers hosted by the American Bankers Association, which invites selected politicians, central bankers and finance ministers to attend their off-the-record discussions. In addition, there is the Institut International d’Etudes Bancaires (International Institute of Banking Studies), or IIEB, which brings together the top officials from dozens of Europe’s major financial institutions for discussions with central bankers, presidents and prime ministers in “closed sessions” with virtually no coverage in the media.

These financial institutions are major owners of government debt, which gives them even greater leverage over the policies and priorities of governments. Exercising this power, they typically demand the same thing: austerity measures and “structural reforms” designed to advance a neoliberal market economy that ultimately benefits those same banks and corporations. The banks in turn create the very crises that require governments to bail them out, racking up large debts that banks turn into further crises, pressuring economic reforms in return for further loans. The cycle of crisis and control continues, and all the while, the big banks and financial institutions engage in criminal conspiracies, fraud, manipulation and money-laundering on a massive scale, including acting as the financial services arm of the world’s largest drug cartels and terrorists organizations.

Welcome to the world governed by the global financial Mafiocracy – because if you’re not concerned, you’re not paying attention.

Global Power Project, Part 8: Banking on Influence with Wells Fargo

Global Power Project, Part 8: Banking on Influence with Wells Fargo

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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Part 1: Exposing the Transnational Capitalist Class

Part 2: Identifying the Institutions of Control

Part 3: The Influence of Individuals and Family Dynasties

Part 4: Banking on Influence with JPMorgan Chase

Part 5: Banking on Influence With Goldman Sachs

Part 6: Banking on Influence With Bank of America

Part 7: Banking on Influence with Citigroup

Just recently, in late July, Wells Fargo surpassed the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) as the world’s largest bank by market capitalization. This followed Wells Fargo reporting a 19% increase in profits over the second quarter as the bank has been busy consolidating the housing market while other big banks have retreated from it. Wells Fargo had amassed a share of almost 40% of the U.S. mortgage market by early 2013.

Now, let’s put this in context with the company’s other recent activities.

Wells Fargo, which acquired Wachovia in the wake of the financial crisis, controlled roughly 28.8% of all home loans issued across the United States in 2012, compared to 11.2% of the market it controlled in 2007, just before the housing implosion. In 2012, the bank paid a $175 million settlement following revelations that “mortgage brokers working with Wells Fargo had charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers across the country than they had to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk.”

In the settlement, the world’s largest bank “admitted no wrongdoing,” noting in a press release that the bank simply wanted “to avoid a long and costly legal fight.” Then, in 2013, Wells Fargo agreed to a further $42 million settlement because “it neglected the maintenance and marketing of foreclosed homes in black and Latino neighborhoods across the country.” Again, of course, the bank admitted no wrongdoing.

But that’s just the tip of things. A civil mortgage fraud suit was filed against Wells Fargo in late 2012 for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over “reckless mortgage loans” made by the bank for over a decade in the lead-up to the financial crisis. Even in light of the massive settlement in 2012 over mortgage fraud, which simultaneously forced big banks to adhere to new rules regarding the mortgage market, it was found that both Bank of America and Wells Fargo had “flagrantly violated those obligations,” increasing foreclosure risks for Americans. Also, this past May, Wells Fargo agreed to pay a $105 million settlement in a fraud case brought by Orange County, which also implicated Bank of New York Mellon to the tune of a $114 million settlement.

It gets better. In 2010, Wachovia – which was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008 – paid a settlement of $160 million for laundering over $100 million in drug money for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. Further, the bank admitted that it had failed to “apply the proper anti-laundering strictures” regarding the bank’s handling of $378.4 billion in currency exchanges with Mexico between 2004 and 2007. A federal prosecutor commented, “Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” as tens of thousands of Mexicans were killed in an exponentially violent drug war.

Thus, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, not only did the big banks receive sprawling government bailouts (Wells Fargo got $25 billion from the U.S. government), but according to the UN, proceeds pouring in from the global drug trade ultimately helped keep Wells Fargo and others afloat as “the only liquid investment capital” available to them during the crisis. But Wells Fargo didn’t just profit from laundering money for major drug cartels — it also profited, and continues to profit, at the other end of the drug war as a major investor in the prison-industrial complex, specifically with heavy investments in the GEO Group, the second largest private prison company in the United States.

As the largest bank in the world, Wells Fargo is deeply connected with some of the most powerful U.S. and international institutions to ensure that no matter how many crimes it commits — fraud, illegal foreclosures, money laundering, you name it — it will continue to consolidate markets, grow larger and presumably get away with its criminal activities for relatively small fines. The Global Power Project examined a total of 26 individuals on the executive committee and board of directors at Wells Fargo to assess their institutional affiliations. The most represented institutions (with three individual affiliations each) are the Council on Foreign Relations and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), followed by Harvard, Citigroup, Chevron, the Financial Services Roundtable and Target Corporation (with two individual affiliations each).

Meet the Elites

Elaine L. Chao, who sits on the board of Wells Fargo, was formerly U.S. Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush administration, from 2001 to 2009. She was a Distinguished Fellow of the Heritage Foundation from 1996 to 2001 and has resumed that position since 2009. She was also the President and CEO of the United Way of America from 1992 to 1996, Director of the Peace Corps from 1991 to 1992, and Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1989 to 1991. Chao is a member of the board of directors of Dole Food Company, News Corporation, Protective Life Corporation, the Institute of Politics of Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a member of Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors, as well as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

John S. Chen, also on the board of Wells Fargo, is a senior adviser to Silver Lake Partners, a director of the Walt Disney Company, a member of the Board of Overseers Emeriti of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, a former member of the President’s Export Council, a member of the board of trustees of the Brookings Institution, chairman of the U.S.-China Policy Advisory Roundtable at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Wells Fargo board member Enrique Hernandez, Jr. is the president and CEO of Inter-Con Security Systems, and sits on the boards of Chevron, Nordstrom, McDonald’s Corporation, and the board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame. He is a member of the Harvard College Visiting and Harvard University Resources Committees and is a member of the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation.

Federico F. Peña, on the Wells Fargo board, was a U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Secretary of Energy during the Clinton administration, and previously a member of the Colorado House of Representatives and a former mayor of Denver. More recently, he has been a senior adviser to Vestar Capital Partners, on the board of Sonic Corporation and a member of the Diversity Advisory Board of Toyota North America. A former national board member of the Obama-Biden Transition Team, Peña is also former National Co-Chair of Obama For America and currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

John G. Stumpf, the president and CEO of Wells Fargo, is a member of the board of directors of the Financial Services Forum and chairman of the board of the Financial Services Roundtable, and is also on the boards of Target Corporation, Chevron, and on the board of trustees of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

For a mega-money laundering, drug war profiteering, prison-industry enlarging global bank like Wells Fargo, the evidence is obvious: it helps to have affiliations with individuals and institutions that make up the U.S. and increasingly the international power elite. Like the other big banks, Wells Fargo is too big to fail, too big to jail, too criminal to control — and too tumorous to tolerate.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com‘s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

Global Power Project, Part 6: Banking on Influence With Bank of America

Global Power Project, Part 6: Banking on Influence With Bank of America

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

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Part 1: Exposing the Transnational Capitalist Class

Part 2: Identifying the Institutions of Control

Part 3: The Influence of Individuals and Family Dynasties

Part 4: Banking on Influence with JPMorgan Chase

Part 5: Banking on Influence With Goldman Sachs

This July, Bank of America was expecting to report an earnings increase of 32% from last year. The Washington Business Journal declared the bank among the top 10 “most improved brands” of the year. Bank of America is the second-largest bank in the United States following JPMorgan Chase.

So why does this bank deserve such an “improved” reputation? Perhaps it’s worth looking at a little of the bank’s record for some clarity.

During the first year of the global financial crisis, which the big banks helped to create and which they profited enormously from, the government stepped in to bail out Bank of America. They rewarded the bank $20 billion for its massive financial crimes, as well as a special guarantee for nearly $100 billion of potential losses on the balance sheets of Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America acquired during the crisis.

As it turns out, Bank of America and other big banks continue to get “backdoor bailouts” through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which acts as a legal guarantor and protector of the Wall Street chain gang of criminal conglomerates. The bank was recently added to a list, compiled by a corporate watchdog group, of the “dirty dozen” criminal financial institutions for its role deceiving investors, committing mortgage and foreclosure abuses and engaging in municipal bond rigging and illegal payments.

When Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone that Bank of America was “a hypergluttonous ward of the state whose limitless fraud and criminal conspiracies we’ll all be paying for until the end of time,” he wasn’t exaggerating. The bank foreclosed on tens of thousands of Americans through a “mass perjury” scheme and pushed worthless mortgages on pension funds and unions. As several big banks – including BofA, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup – agreed to pay a $25 billion settlement with the government over “abusive mortgage practices,” the Department of Justice granted the banks what amounted to legal immunity “from civil government claims over faulty foreclosures.” In January, Bank of America settled to pay $11.6 billion to the government-controlled mortgage company Fannie Mae in response to a legal battle over “bad loans.”

In June of 2013, six former BofA employees and one contractor issued sworn statements in which they accused the bank of lying to homeowners, fraudulently denying loan modifications and paying bonuses to staff who pushed people into foreclosure. One of the whistleblowers commented, “we were told to lie to customers.” Employees that pushed ten or more homeowners per month into foreclosure would receive a $500 bonus, and the Bank also “gave employees gift cards to retail stores like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond as rewards for placing accounts into foreclosure.”

Further, anyone who “questioned the ethics” of the bank’s practices was summarily fired – a policy that led to a lawsuit in which homeowners accused the bank of racketeering “to defraud homeowners who sought modifications and then acted as the kingpin of that [racketeering] enterprise.”

Of course, it doesn’t end there. Bank of America, along with multiple other big banks, has been accused of laundering money for Mexican drug cartels. The FBI confirmed that BofA was involved in laundering drug money for the Los Zetas drug cartel in Mexico. However, in a twist of fine news for the bank, U.S. government regulators indicated they would not hold the bank responsible for its actions.

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Banking on Influence

So how does a massive criminal enterprise engaging in large-scale fraud, racketeering and money laundering get a free pass from the U.S. government? The bank’s financial clout in the economy certainly plays a part. But so too do its affiliations with dominant national and international organizations, institutionalizing the bank within the larger global power structures and the elites who run them.

Research conducted for the Global Power Project found 28 individuals at Bank of America, including executives and members of board of directors, with institutional affiliations. Four of the individuals who hold leadership positions at BofA are also affiliated with the major foreign-policy think tank in the United States: the Council on Foreign Relations. Three individuals are connected to Morgan Stanley, another major financial institution, while two affiliations exist with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (promoting big business “solutions” to environmental crises), the Business Council, Catalyst, Duke University, Stanford University, and BlackRock.

The following institutions each also hold one individual affiliated with Bank of America: Royal Dutch Shell, DuPont, Deere & Company, the World Wildlife Fund, the President’s Export Council, Harvard, the World Economic Forum, Brookings Institution, Sara Lee Corporation, Monsanto, CBS Corporation, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Walt Disney Company, President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the Rockefeller Foundation, Business Roundtable, Financial Services Forum, PepsiCo, Carlyle Group, Booz Allen Hamilton, Goldman Sachs, the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait.

Meet the Elites

Bank of America’s CEO, Brian T. Moynihan, was a former executive vice president at Fleet Boston and director of BlackRock. He is currently a member of the Business Roundtable and Vice Chairman of the Financial Services Forum, as well as being a member of the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Charles O. Holliday, Jr. is the Chairman of the Board of Bank of America and a director of Royal Dutch Shell, and was the CEO of DuPont from 1998 to 2009. He was the former Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Business Council, Catalyst, the Society of Chemical Industry, and is a founding member of the International Business Council. Holliday is a director of Deere & Company, a member of the board of Planet Forward, Climate Works Foundation, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, and is a member of the board of directors of the National Geographic Education Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Mukesh D. Ambani is a member of the board of Bank of America and is the Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries. He is a member of the Global Board of Advisors of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry for the Government of India, a member of the board of governors of the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi, and a member of the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group. Ambani is also a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, a member of the Indo-U.S. CEOs Forum, a member of the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait, Vice Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and a member of the Advisory Council of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. Additionally Ambani is a member of the Business Council, the India-Russia CEO Council, Co-Chair of the Japan-India Business Leader’s Forum, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Management, and is a member of the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institution.

Monica C. Lozano is Chairman and CEO of ImpreMedia and CEO of La Opinion, as well as a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company. She is also a member of the Board of Regents of the University of California, a Trustee of the University of Southern California and a director of the Weingart Foundation, as well as a member of the board of directors of the Commission of the 21st Century Economy. Lozano was a member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board from 2009-2011, and has since been a member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness as well as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Charles O. Rossotti is a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group and was the Commissioner of the IRS from 1997 to 2002, also sitting on the board of directors of Booz Allen Hamilton, Quorum Management Solutions, Primatics Financial and AES Corporation. He too is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Linda P. Hudson, who sits on the board of BofA, is the President and CEO of the military contractor BAE Systems, and former Vice President of General Dynamics. Hudson sits on the board of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and on the executive committee of the Aerospace Industries Association. She is a member of the University of Florida Foundation Board and the International Women’s Forum.

Anne M. Finucance, who is the Global Strategy and Marketing Officer at Bank of America, is also a director of Partners HealthCare System, CVS Caremark Corporation, a trustee of Stonehill College and Carnegie Hall, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Finucance sits on the boards of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the American Ireland Fund, the International Center of Journalists, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

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Banking on America?

Bank of America is, in short, a profound symbol of much that is wrong on Wall Street: massive fraud, money laundering, racketeering, conspiracy, and weighty influence in Washington and beyond. Surely it’s comforting to know that a woman who sits on the board of BofA, Monica Lozano, also sits on President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, advising the president as to how to appropriately manage the economic “recovery”. In terms of the media reporting on Bank of America’s crimes, Lozano, as CEO of a media company and board member of the Walt Disney Company, along with BofA board member Charles K. Gifford — who sits on the board of directors of CBS Corporation — signal that a “fair” portrayal of the bank’s activities aren’t exactly what the public should expect.

What is clear is that Bank of America, like all big banks in our era, isn’t merely a financial institution but simultaneously acts as an influential institution in the media, military industrial complex, think tanks, chemical companies and government circles.

The bank is too big to fail. Too big to jail. And too connected to change.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, the research director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast with BoilingFrogsPost.

Global Power Project, Part 2: Identifying the Institutions of Control

Global Power Project, Part 2: Identifying the Institutions of Control

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

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The following is Part 2 of my exclusive research series for Occupy.com

Part 1: Exposing the Transnational Capitalist Class

The Global Power Project, an investigative series produced by Occupy.com, aims to identify and connect the worldwide institutions and individuals who comprise today’s global power oligarchy. In Part 1, which appeared last week, I provided an overview examining who and what constitute the global ruling elite – often referred to as the Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC). In this second part, I will attempt to identify some of the key, dominant institutions that have facilitated and have in turn been supported by the development of this oligarchic class. This is not a study of wealth, but a study of power.

In an article for the journal International Sociology, William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe Sapinski examined the relationship between the corporate elite and the emergence of a “transnational policy-planning network,” beginning with its formation in the decades following World War II and speeding up in the 1970s with the creation of “global policy groups” and think tanks such as the World Economic Forum, in 1971, and the Trilateral Commission, in 1973, among many others.

The function of such institutions was to help mobilize and integrate the corporate elite beyond national borders, constructing a politically “organized minority.” These policy-planning organizations came to exist as “venues for discussion, strategic planning, discourse production and consensus formation on specific issues,” as well as “places where responses to crises of legitimacy are crafted,” such as managing economic, political, or environmental crises where elite interests might be threatened. These groups also often acted as “advocates for specific projects of integration, often on a regional basis.” Perhaps most importantly, the organizations “provide bridges connecting business elites to political actors (heads of states, politicians, high-ranking public servants) and elites and organic intellectuals in other fields (international organizations, military, media, academia).”

One important industry association, according to researchers Carroll and Carson in the journal Global Networks (Vol. 3, No. 1, 2003), is the International Chamber of Commerce. Launched by investment bankers in 1919, immediately following WWI, the Paris-based Chamber groups roughly 7,000 member corporations together across 130 countries, adhering to largely conservative, “free market” ideology. The “primary function” of the ICC, write Carroll and Carson, “is to institutionalize an international business perspective by providing a forum where capitalists and related professionals… can assemble and forge a common international policy framework.”

Another policy group with outsized global influence is the Bilderberg group, founded between 1952 and 1954, which provided “a context for more comprehensive international capitalist coordination and planning.” Bringing together roughly 130 elites from Western Europe and North America at annual closed meetings, “Bilderberg conferences have furnished a confidential platform for corporate, political, intellectual, military and even trade-union elites from the North Atlantic heartland to reach mutual understanding.”

As Valerie Aubourg examined in an article for the journal Intelligence and National Security (Vol. 18, No. 2, 2003), the Bilderberg meetings were organized largely at the initiative of a handful of European elites, with heavy financial backing from select American institutions including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the CIA. The meetings incorporate leadership from the most prominent national think tanks, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment and others from across the North Atlantic ‘community.’

Hugh Wilford, writing in the journal Diplomacy & Statecraft (Vol. 14, No. 3, 2003), identified major philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie foundations as not only major sources of funding but also providers for much of the leadership of the Bilderberg meetings, which saw the participation of major industrial and financial firms in line with those foundations (David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan is a good example). Bilderberg was a major force in helping to create the political, economic and strategic consensus behind constructing a common European market.

With the support of these major foundations and their leadership, the Bilderberg meetings became a powerful global tool of the elites, not only in creating the European Union but in designing the process of globalization itself. Will Hutton, a former Bilderberg member, once referred to the group as “the high priests of globalization,” and a former Bilderberg steering committee member, Denis Healey,once noted: “To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair…we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing.”

The large industrial foundations have played a truly profound – and largely overlooked – role in the shaping of modern society. The ‘Robber Baron’ industrial fortunes of the late 19th century – those of Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harriman, Vanderbilt, etc. – sought to shape a new order in which they would maintain a dominant influence throughout society. They founded major American universities (often named after themselves) such as Vanderbilt, or the University of Chicago which was founded by John D. Rockefeller.

It was through their institutions that they sought to produce new elites to manage a new society, atop of which they sat. These universities became the harbingers of modern social sciences, seeking to “reform” society to fit the needs of those who dominated it; to engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. It was in this context that the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation and others were founded: as engines of social engineering. One of their principal aims was to shape the development of the social sciences – and their exportation around the world to other industrial and imperial powers like Great Britain, and beyond. The social sciences were to facilitate the “scientific management” of society, and the foundations were the patrons of “social control.”

The Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford foundations were instrumental in providing funding, organization and personnel for the development of major American and international think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, which became essential to the emergence of a dominant and entrenched U.S. business class linking academia, political, strategic, corporate and financial elites. The Rockefeller and Ford foundations in particular constructed the field of modern political science and “Area Studies” with a view to educating a class of people who would be prepared to help manage a global empire.

They were also prominent in developing the educational system for black Americans designed to keep them relegated to labor and “vocational” training. They helped found many prominent universities in Africa, Asia and Latin America to train indigenous elites with a “Western” education in the social sciences, to ensure continuity between a domestic and international elite, between core and periphery, empire and protectorate.

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Another major policy planning group is the Trilateral Commission, created out of the Bilderberg meetings as a separate transnational think tank and founded by Chase Manhattan CEO (and Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations) David Rockefeller along with academic-turned-policymaker Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1973. The Trilateral Commission linked the elites from Western Europe, North America and Japan (hence “trilateral”), and it now also includes members from China, India and a range of other Pacific-East Asian countries.

Consisting of a membership of roughly 350 individuals from finance, corporations, media, think tanks, foundations, academia and political circles, the Trilateral Commission (TC) has been immensely influential as a forum facilitating the development and integration of a “transnational elite.” The aim of the TC was “to foster closer cooperation among these core industrialized areas of the world with shared leadership responsibilities in the wider international system.”

The most famous report issued by the Trilateral Commission in the mid-1970s suggested that due to the popular activism of the 1960s, there was a “crisis of democracy” that it defined as an “excess of democracy,” which needed to be reduced in order for “democracy to function effectively.” According to the Trilateral Commission, what was needed was increased “apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups” to counter the “crisis” being caused by “a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society.”

Moving elsewhere, the World Economic Forum, founded in 1971, convenes annually in Davos, Switzerland and was originally designed “to secure the patronage of the Commission of European Communities, as well as the encouragement of Europe’s industry associations” and “to discuss European strategy in an international marketplace.” The WEF has since expanded its membership and mandate, as Carroll and Carson noted, “organized around a highly elite core of transnational capitalists (the ‘Foundation Membership’) – which it currently limits to ‘1000 of the foremost global enterprises’.” The meetings include prominent individuals from the scientific community, academics, the media, NGOs and many other policy groups.

Another major policy planning group emerged in the mid-1990s with an increased focus on environmental issues, called the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which “instantly became the pre-eminent business voice on the environment” with a 1997 membership of 123 top corporate executives, tasked with bringing the “voice” of big business to the process of international efforts to address environmental concerns (and thus, to secure their own interests).

Among other prominent think tanks and policy-planning boards helping to facilitate and integrate a transnational network of elites are many nation-based organizations, particularly in the United States, such as with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), among many others. The advisory boards to these organizations provide an important forum through which transnational elites may help to influence the policies of many separate nations, and most importantly, the world’s most powerful nation: the United States.

The Council on Foreign Relations, founded in 1921, refers to itself as “an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher,” with roughly 4,700 members. It is largely based in New York with affiliate offices in Washington D.C. and elsewhere. The CFR is, and has been, at the heart of the American foreign policy establishment, bringing together elites from academia, government, the media, intelligence, military, financial and corporate institutions.

The CFR worked in close cooperation with the U.S. government during World War II to design the post-War world over which America would reign supreme. The Council was active in establishing the “Grand Areas” of the American Empire, and in maintaining extensive influence over the foreign policy of the United States.

As Carroll and Carson noted, there is a prominent relationship between those individuals who sit on multiple corporate boards and those who sit on the boards of prominent national and transnational policy-planning groups, “suggesting a highly centralized corporate-policy network.”

Studying 622 corporate directors and 302 organizations (five of which were the major policy-planning groups: ICC, Bilderberg, Trilateral Commission, World Economic Forum and World Business Council for Sustainable Development), Carroll and Carson assessed this network of transnational elites with data leading up to 1996, and concluded: “The international network is primarily a configuration of national corporate networks, integrated for the most part through the affiliations of a few dozen individuals who either hold transnational corporate directorships or serve on two or more policy boards.”

Out of the sample of 622 individuals, they found roughly 105 individuals (94 “transnational corporate linkers” and 11 others “whose corporate affiliations are not transnational but who sit on multiple global policy boards”) making up “the most immediate structural contributions to transnational class formation.” At the “core” of this network were 17 corporate directors, primarily European and North American, largely linked by the transnational policy groups, with the Trilateral Commission as “the most centrally positioned.” This network, they noted, “is highly centralized in terms of the individuals and organizations that participate in it.”

In undertaking a follow-up study of data between 1996 and 2006, published in the journal International Sociology (Vol. 25, No. 4, 2010), Carroll and Sapinski expanded the number of policy-planning groups from five to 11, including the original five (ICC, Bilderberg, TC, WEF, and WBCSD), but adding to them the Council on Foreign Relations (through its International Advisory Board), the UN Global Compact (through its advisory board), the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), founded in 1983, the EU-Japan Business Round Table, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, and the North American Competitiveness Council.

The results of their research found that among the corporate directors, “policy-board membership has shifted towards the transnationalists, who come to comprise a larger segment of the global corporate elite,” and that there was a growing group of elites “made up of individuals with one or more transnational policy-board affiliations.” As Carroll and Sapinski concluded:

“The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders; its organizational core includes the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Conference, the European Round Table of Industrialists and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, surrounded by other policy boards and by the directorates of leading industrial corporations and financial institutions based in capitalism’s core regions.”

Organizations like the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) are not think tanks, but rather, industry organizations (exclusively representing the interests and individuals of major corporations), wielding significant influence over political and social elites. As Bastiaan van Apeldoorn wrote in the journal New Political Economy (Vol. 5, No. 2, 2000), the ERT “developed into an elite platform for an emergent European transnational capitalist class from which it can formulate a common strategy and – on the basis of that strategy – seek to shape European socioeconomic governance through its privileged access to the European institutions.”

In 1983, the ERT was formed as an organization of 17 major European industrialists (which has since expanded to several dozen members), with the proclaimed objective being “to revitalize European industry and make it competitive again, and to speed up the process of unification of the European common market.” Wisse Dekker, former Chairman of the ERT, once stated: “I would consider the Round Table to be more than a lobby group as it helps to shape policies. The Round Table’s relationship with Brussels [the EU] is one of strong co-operation. It is a dialogue which often begins at a very early stage in the development of policies and directives.”

The ERT was a central institution in the re-launching of European integration from the 1980s onward, and as former European Commissioner (and former ERT member) Peter Sutherland stated, “one can argue that the whole completion of the internal market project was initiated not by governments but by the Round Table, and by members of it… And I think it played a fairly consistent role subsequently in dialoguing with the Commission on practical steps to implement market liberalization.” Sutherland also explained that the ERT and its members “have to be at the highest levels of companies and virtually all of them have unimpeded access to government leaders because of the position of their companies… So, by definition, each member of the ERT has access at the highest level to government.”

Other notable industry associations include the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), formerly called the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI), a group comprised of Canada’s top 150 CEOs who were a major force for the promotion and implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The CCCE remains one of the most influential “interest groups” in Canada.

In the United States there are prominent industry associations like the Business Council, the Business Roundtable, and the Financial Services Forum. The Business Council describes itself as “a voluntary association of business leaders whose members meet several times a year for the free exchange of ideas both among themselves and with thought leaders from many sectors.”

Likewise, the Business Roundtable describes itself as “an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with more than $7.3 trillion in annual revenues,” which believes that “businesses should play an active and effective role in the formation of public policy.”

Finally, the Financial Services Forum proclaims itself to be “a non-partisan financial and economic policy organization” which aims “to pursue policies that encourage savings and investment, promote an open and competitive global marketplace, and ensure the opportunity of people everywhere to participate fully and productively in the 21st-century global economy.”

These are among some of the many institutions which will be researched and examined in greater detail throughout the Global Power Project. In the next installment, I will be examining not only the societal and economic results of these dominant institutions of power, but the specific individuals — and in some cases family dynasties — that wield significant influence nationally and globally.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and host of a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.