In 2016, a non-governmental organization by the name of Global Justice Now, based out of the UK, produced a report listing the largest governments and corporations by revenue. Their report stated that the “10 biggest corporations make more money than most countries in the world combined and that 69 of top 100 economic entities are corporations not countries.” The complete listing of governments and corporations is here.
An article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives by Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago provides the following commentary about corporations that rival the size of governments:
In some cases, these large corporations had private security forces that rivaled the best secret services, public relations offices that dwarfed a US presidential campaign headquarters, more lawyers than the US Justice Department, and enough money to capture (through campaign donations, lobbying, and even explicit bribes) a majority of the elected representatives. The only powers these large corporations missed were the power to wage war and the legal power of detaining people, although their political influence was sufficiently large that many would argue that, at least in certain settings, large corporations can exercise those powers by proxy.
The 2015 list produced by Global Justice Now consisted of 26 governments and 24 corporations in the top 50. Walmart was number 10, ahead of Spain, Australia and the Netherlands. I’ve updated the list for 2016 (see below). Walmart is now number 9 on the list, and there are 26 corporations in the top 50 in terms of revenue.
What does it mean when corporations are as large and economically powerful as governments? Is this a good thing? Governments can coerce people, while companies grow by persuading people to buy their products, unless businesses use their economic power and resulting political influence to suppress competition—a common practice in both the developed and developing world. But are governments a more effective and appropriate steward over the vast wealth they control than corporations? Politicians and government bureaucrats are not likely more altruistic or caring of people than business executives and managers. (This reminds me of an excellent interchange between the late Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize winning economist and academic at the University of Chicago, and talk show host Phil Donahue about the relative greed of people in business and government, here). Perhaps the more important question is whether appropriate checks and balances remain between business and government when businesses rival the size and economic power of governments. I don’t know. I’m just asking questions.
Here is the ranking of governments and corporations by revenue in 2016. Data on government revenue (not GDP) from the CIA World Factbook for 2016 and on business revenue from the Fortune Global 500 list.
|13||Corporation||State Grid (China)||315.2|
|17||Corporation||Sinopec Group (China)||267.5|
|18||Corporation||China National Petroleum (China)||262.6|
|21||Corporation||Volkswagen Group (Germany)||240.3|
|22||Corporation||Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands)||240.0|
|25||Corporation||Berkshire Hathaway (US)||223.6|
|28||Corporation||Exxon Mobil (US)||205.0|
|34||Corporation||United Health (US)||184.8|
|35||Corporation||CVS Health (US)||177.5|
|36||Corporation||Samsung Electronics (South Korea)||174.0|
|39||Corporation||General Motors (US)||166.4|
|43||Corporation||Ford Motor (US)||151.8|
|45||Corporation||Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (China)||147.7|
|50||Corporation||China Construction Bank (China)||135.0|