Unleashing global finance

The second shift is in the power of different parts of business. In the Bretton Woods period finance was tamed through direct controls on the movement of money around the world, and the major corporations in the global economy were those associated with manufacturing, in particular oil companies and car manufacturers. The regulatory rules were designed to enable manufacturers to flourish - for example the fixed exchange rate system that removed a key source of uncertainty for investors. Neoliberalism aimed to set finance free and stimulated an extraordinary expansion of global financial markets. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, followed by other governments in response, deregulated financial markets, removing controls on the movement of money as well as on who can operate in different types of financial markets.

This has had well-known consequences in terms of global volatility - the various currency crises induced by speculation, for example in Brazil, Russia and East Asia - and crises of corporate governance, the classic case being Enron and more recently the sub-prime mortgage crisis. But the other key element that becomes important to understand climate politics is the shift in the power amongst different parts of business. While in the 1970s the key corporations in the global economy were oil companies and car manufacturers, by 2000 or so the key companies were in finance and information technology less.

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