I first noticed the phenomenon that forms the basis of this post years ago when I was working with supplier data for General Electric. Based on its supply lines and distribution lines, as well as its massively interlocking and tiered systems of subsidiaries, wholly or partially owned, divisions, sub-divisions, branches, plants, and so on, General Electric must have one of the largest corporate social networks in the world.
When I say "social network" in this case, I mean by that all the other companies and organisations to which GE is connected by formal or informal ties as described above.
I got re-interested in the subject thanks to my researches on streetcars (see here
, and here
, for instance), which inevitably leads one into a byzantine web of transit companies owned by holding companies influenced by suppliers and manufacturers. Inevitably, no matter what happens, you're going to come back to another one of those nearly-identically-named titans of US industry, General Motors. I became interested in trying to map the social network of General Motors the corporation
because it seemed that everywhere you turn when researching transit and transportation in the last 110 years or so, there they are.A Brief Aside on Nomenclature:
Based on cursory examinations, I think there are grounds for suspicion of any
company whose name begins with "General," my prime examples being General Motors, General Electric, General Dynamics, and General Mills (founded by extreme right-wing Christian anti-sex zealots, incidentally). Anyhow...
A couple of days ago, through comments at No Capital
, I found an interesting entry by the author of an equally-interesting blog, Memetix
. Slomo at Memetix did a series of graphics showing the Social Network of 9/11
(September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US). He has also helpfully provided me with information to get started doing my own analyses of GM's social networks.
To show you some of the scope of what I'm dealing with, in terms of a data set, I've organised my list (and it is basically a list, at this point) by Organisation (Name), Type (ie. Subsidiary, Division, Foreign Office/Plant, etc.), Place (ie. US, UK, Canada, Worldwide), Date of Acquisition/Formation, and Industry (ie. Auto Parts, Automotive, Rail, Transit). I've also got a Notes column, which contains entries such as "dissolved 1919," "liquidated 1922," and so on. Most of my information is taken from GM's Corporate History
pages, but I have also used other sources, including other pages on the GM website as well. (Hmm, they have a page on Who Killed the Electric Car?
, helpfully captioned "Read GM's Response: Learn what really happened to GM's EV1 electric car program. Get the facts!" Estimations of the factuality or the truthiness
of GM's official line on the subject I leave up to the Constant Reader.)
I must say this
for GM: Thank you so much for helpfully providing all that information
. (Don't bother even thinking about scrubbing your site, should it cross your mind; I've saved copies of the relevant information.)
information? My guaranteed-incomplete list of companies falling within GM's social sphere of influence, mostly focusing on the years between 1900 and 1960, has 122 entries right now, and includes companies such as Frigidaire, Vauxhall, DuPont, Eastern Air Transport (the forerunner of Eastern Airlines), and The Hertz Corporation (Hertz Rent-a-Car). It spans industries including the obvious (car, truck, and other vehicle manufacturing) to rail, transit, auto parts, auto sales and service, oil, aviation, farm and heavy equipment, insurance, finance, and education.
Keep in mind that by no means
is GM an anomaly; they're just particularly good at it. Most companies of any size are tied into an intricate web of connections to other companies that create certain constraints in the marketplace. Modern "vertical integration" of supply chains, where companies will own or invest in their own suppliers (also a key indicator of a monopolising tendency in a sector) is quite common.
The heavy interdependence of corporations (which is still going on) make me even more suspicious of the seemingly top-down enforced anomie
and "rugged individualism" that is preached in modern Western culture (particularly the US, but also in Canada and the UK to a certain degree) as one of the main (if not the only) acceptable ways in which lifestyles can be framed. That is to say, even if you don't believe that "everyone for themselves" is the ideal way to live, you are, in this political discourse, sometimes left without ways of expressing contrary ideas without evoking those notions. (Even many of the hard-core conservatives self-identify, cynically, as "Libertarians" these days.)
That makes me wonder: Divide and conquer, versus consolidate and rule?