chapter  9
26 Pages

The global elite, public-private partnerships and multilateral governance


It is a long-standing criticism of multilateral organizations that they are the product of a highly unequal distribution of power in the world. Because of their failure to adequately represent poor countries, they are also ill-equipped to address problems of inequality and poverty. This criticism has been more commonly launched against the international financial institutions (mainly the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF), because of the fact that the votes on their boards are distributed according to financial contributions. The skewed distribution of power within these institutions is viewed as partly responsible for their promotion of a neoliberal global order and their alignment with the interests of the richest countries as well as holders of capital. According to their critics, they are, as a result, aligned with structures that sustain an unequal distribution of resources in the world (see, for example, Peet, 2003; Toussaint, 2008). For many years, UN organizations that are based on a different struc-

ture of governance have escaped this critique. Their governance structure is based on the principle of one country-one vote. Because of this, they were seen as an arena for the making of policies aimed at countering the skewed distribution of resources in the world, through attempting to regulate capital flows and companies as well as changing the structure of the world economy. However, over the last years, the relationship between UN organizations and business has changed. One major expression of this change is the formation of public-private partnerships (PPPs) between UN organizations and transnational corporations. The establishment of PPPs has opened up UN organizations to

increased criticism. PPPs have been argued to threaten their legitimacy and make them increasingly directed toward serving the interests of business, rather than the goals of humankind as defined in international democratic forums. The purpose of this chapter is to analyze whether PPPs change the representativeness of the UN organizations,

and whether that-in turn-impacts on their ability to adequately address issues important for the reduction of poverty and inequality. I argue that PPPs cover a vast array of different arrangements with quite different implications for the governance of the institutions. The chapter makes the crucial distinction between, on the one hand, PPPs that are initiated by officials of UN organizations, governments or business themselves with the aim of fulfilling a specific task or resolving a problem. Such partnerships are typically organizationally located within the UN organizations, and they involve limited resources. Indeed, research shows that in spite of their name they are mostly funded by governmental contributions. While they are expressions of an ideological shift in the multilateral system toward favoring market-oriented solutions and business partners, they have few implications for how to understand the governance of the institutions. On the other hand, there are PPPs that are initiated by individuals belonging to a “global elite.” The elite-initiated PPPs tend to be large-scale and organizationally located outside formal organizations. The formation of such PPPs is an expression of a more fundamental change in the distribution of wealth and power in the world that is also leading to a profound change in global governance: a trend away from formal, legal decision-making and fixed democratic procedures, and toward a more flexible, ad hoc way of making decisions about the day-to-day functioning of the multilateral organizations. In exploring the changing nature of formal global governance and

the changing patterns of elite dominance, I examine the re-articulation of inequalities of representation away from those based on state/governmental representation to those of individual members of the global elite. The starting point of the analysis is a neo-Gramscian view of the multilateral organizations as emerging out of a specific political-economic order. Several authors within this perspective have analyzed how changing patterns of production and accumulation have changed the context of the multilateral organizations in ways that are crucial for their functioning. Among other things, they point to the formation of a transnational capitalist class that dominates the agenda of the organization. This chapter agrees that although wealth concentration is an important driving factor in the formation of a global elite, not only owners of capital, but a variety of individuals related to the holders of capital in different ways, currently belong to a global elite. It is composed of the elites within business and finance, but also politicians and heads of state, as well as celebrities from cultural life and outstanding leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or executive heads of multilateral organizations. Yet, although their formal current (or past)

position matters, they are member of the elite as individuals, not necessarily representing countries or organizations. These are increasingly setting the agenda for the multilateral organizations, and directly and indirectly make decisions for their operation. The impact of this remains to be seen. However, we may suspect that

although the global power elite has shown a concern for issues related to poverty and environmental challenges, it is not likely to support a system that aims to address the power inequalities upon which their own power is premised. The chapter unfolds as follows. First, it discusses the governance of

the multilateral system, focusing on the evolution of its elitist character. Second, it discusses the notion of PPPs and the wide spectrum of initiatives that is covered by the term. In this section a distinction is made between the PPPs that result from “elite initiatives” and those that are better characterized as “partnerships of convenience.” The third section discusses the implication of this new elitism for the multilateral system in general. The chapter concludes by discussing possible implications of new trends in wealth concentration for the multilateral organizations.