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Are Multinationals Eclipsing Nation-States?

In the absence of government action to address today’s most pressing global problems, multinational corporations are stepping up to offer their own solutions. As in the seventeenth century, when European joint-stock companies built private empires, the future of sovereignty is at stake.

BRUSSELS – When much of the world’s business elite gathered in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos last week, the assembled CEOs, hedge fund managers, and other business titans pontificated on many issues, except one: the extent to which they are wielding powers once reserved for governments. At a time when the capacity of governments to deliver for their constituents is shrinking, large corporations’ political clout is expanding, sometimes dramatically so, as in the case of Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google.

In the face of today’s most urgent challenges – including cybersecurity, climate change, geopolitical turmoil, and migration – nation-states seem incapable of marshaling both the will and the resources to mount an adequate response. Will big business be the solution, or is it part of the problem?

Consider the issue of election security. In response to the growing threat of foreign interference, Google recently unveiled a plan to prevent online meddling with the upcoming European Parliament elections. To compensate for the absence of an EU framework governing the process, the company announced that it was “creating a pan-European policy” of its own. Likewise, Facebook and Twitter used last November’s midterm elections in the United States to test new technologies for detecting and removing fake news and misinformation from their platforms.

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