The nationality of multinationals

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Historical evidence shows that a great deal of international business in the nineteenth century was not easily fitted into national categories. The place of registration, the nationality of shareholders, and the nationality of management often pointed in different directions. During the twentieth century such cosmopolitan capitalism was replaced by sharper national identities. The interwar disintegration of the international economy also led to the national subsidiaries of multinationals taking on strong local identities. Over the past two decades, as the pace of globalization quickened, ambiguities increased again. Yet in the early twenty first century, ownership, location and geography still mattered enormously in international business. They may matter more than in the past.

That’s HBS's Geoffrey Jones in the new Nationality and Multinationals in Historical Perspective.

Also see Moises Naim discussing the rise of microplayers capable of constraining their mega-sized rivals:

This trend, where players can rapidly accumulate immense power, where the power of traditional megaplayers is successfully challenged, and where power is both ephemeral and harder to exercise, is evident in every facet of human life. In fact, it is one of the defining and not yet fully understood characteristics of our time. Today, scholars are arguing whether the international system, once divided in half by the Cold War, is transitioning into a unipolar one where the United States is the sole superpower, or whether we may be moving toward a multipolar system centered on the United States, China, and other powerful nations. It may be neither. What may be coming—and in some ways is already here—is a hyper-polar world where many large, powerful actors coexist with myriad smaller powers (not all of which are nation-states) that greatly limit the dominance of any single nation or institution.

And IBM's Sam Palmisano on the end of the multinational, as reported by the Financial Times.

[T]raditional multinational companies need to abandon their almost colonial approach to operations outside their home country. He cites as examples of this old-style method the way GM, Ford and his own company built factories in Europe and Asia but kept all the research and development in the US. Instead, he argues they need to move towards full global integration of their operations so as to stop the current unease about the forces of globalisation turning into an all-out assault on big business.

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