Trading Nations, Fighting Firms (First Notes)

Exxon Mobil, the US oil giant, had recent annual revenues of $438 Billion. It’s Samsung’s apparent goal to become the world’s first company to have an annual revenue topping $1 Trillion. In this context, Exxon Mobil’s annual revenues already exceed the GDP of Nigeria and Belgium (both about $414 Billion). Samsung’s target revenue would exceed the current GDP of all but 16 of the world’s largest economies, and today would fit in between Turkey (16th largest at about $1.1 Trillion) and Iran (17th, $991 Billion).

Today, I can go and buy shares in Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) and thereby both participate in that firm’s fortunes and in the governance of the firm (albeit, at my scale, that’s a faint voice). Samsung, in contrast, is more difficult for me to invest in, since its shares (005930.KS, Seoul) aren’t traded as much outside Korea, and the combine’s common stock shareholders have a much weaker voice in governance. It’s the largest part of the Korean economy – by far, creating considerable sensitivity about broad international trading of this national asset and the potential implications for the nation’s economic health should it be broadly traded elsewhere.

In these notes, I’m going to explore a few threads:

  • That the roles generally ascribed to firms and to nations will evolve
  • The potential for firms, as opposed to nations, to initiate hostilities – including wars.

  • The implication for firms, instead of countries, setting the standards for social compacts

  • The idea that shares in countries, and not just their bonds, could be traded on stock exchanges.

NOTE: Source data on national GDPs from Wikipedia, current as of February 2nd, 2013; data on company gross revenues from Forbes’ annual ranking of the 2,000 largest public companies,