Riccardo Petrella – Another step by the powerful towards the financialisation of life and the break-up of the state of public commons and universal rights

BlackRock has announced the purchase of Global Infrastructures Partners, seizing yet more control of the planet’s natural resources.

Riccardo Petrella is an Italian political scientist and economist. He is currently honorary professor at the Catholic University of Louvain.

Cross-posted from Other News

Picture by Alpha Photo

On 14 January, the world’s No. 1 private equity giant Black Rock announced the purchase of another infrastructure giant, Global Infrastructures Partners (GIP). In cash and shares, according to a stock exchange agreement valuing GIP at 12.5 billion dollars. The company is the world’s largest independent infrastructure manager, with assets in excess of $100 billion in the energy, digital infrastructure, water and waste sectors.  100 billion is the figure that the world’s rich countries agreed at COP21 in Paris to allocate every year from 2020 onwards in the form of aid (loans!) to developing countries (DCs) for their action against climate change. Obviously, the developing countries have yet to see even a billion dollars arrive. It would appear that the implementation of this commitment should begin in 2024.

GIP’s notable investments include renewable platforms such as Cleanway Energy, Vena, Atlas and Eolian, Gatwick, Edinburgh and Sydney airports, data centre developer Cyrius One and global water and municipal waste services giant Suez (in which it holds a 40% stake). In other words, we are talking about very large and powerful global companies, which increasingly have a direct influence on what happens to people, and by buying GIP, Black Rock is putting a heavy hand on the capital of Suez and therefore on its strategic choices. 

According to Black Rock’s boss, who heads an investment fund with $9,425 billion ($9.4 trillion!) under management in June 2023 – making Black Rock the world’s third-largest financial power after the United States and China – the large infrastructure sector offers enormous opportunities for profitable investment. It has one of the highest growth rates in the world and is destined to become a business of gigantic proportions on a global scale. Just think of the port infrastructure that needs to be developed to handle the unloading of a ship with more than 20,000 containers! The ships have become so huge that there is no place to put the containers and no cranes to move them. They sometimes wait more than six days before docking in port!  Gigantism is one of the (not so healthy) birth defects of the capitalist market economy, as we have seen in the race to build very large dams around the world. According to the World Bank, more than 19,000 old dams now pose major safety problems and enormous costs, even for their eventual destruction or renovation.

The appropriation of GIP by Black Rock confirms the response given by technocrats and financiers to the ongoing process of reconfiguring infrastructures and services on a planetary scale, which, in their view, are necessary if we are to move towards the efficient and profitable organisation of a global economy integrated by markets and investments. Their response is centred on “large systems”, whose main characteristics and dominant modes of operation no one yet knows.

One thing, however, is certain. Reconfiguration in the light of gigantism means, above all, reinforcing the concentration of power that the last 50 years have confirmed to be perverse, misguided and, ultimately, ineffective. Concentration, especially financial concentration, is taking place according to the principles, objectives and interests of the wealthiest financial and technocratic subjects (including the wealthy social fringes of China and India).  The fundamental rights to life and well-being of the peoples of Africa, Latin America and Asia are increasingly being ignored.

In the past, roads, bridges, aqueducts, ports, airports, railways, hospitals, schools, local public transport, electricity grids, public utilities, gas distribution and even, in most countries, oil production and distribution, were functions/responsibilities of general interest that fell to the community and, therefore, to the institutions of the State, the provinces, local authorities and public organisations. “Civil engineering” was by definition “public engineering”, and infrastructure and related services were the res publica, common goods essential to life for all. Today, they are all privatised, commoditised and monetised. The new period of concentration of power on a global scale means, for some, an institutional reinforcement of the monopolisation of power and violence and, for many, a worsening of exclusion, rejection and inequality.

As we all know, Black Rock’s decision on 14 January followed that of 7 December 2020, also prompted by Black Rock, by the CEM group (Chicago Exchange Mercantile), the world’s largest commodities exchange. The Chicago exchange opened up its most speculative derivatives market to financial transactions in water futures, making water a financial asset in its own right. Then came the NYSE, the New York Stock Exchange, better known as ‘Wall Street’. At the end of September 2021, it took a giant step in the wrong direction, in favour of the total financialisation of nature. It created a new class of financial assets, natural capitals (any element of the natural world is treated as an asset) and gave birth to a new category of companies, the Natural Capitals Corporations, listed on the stock exchange, to which the management of natural capitals is entrusted. To this end, under the umbrella of the Natural Capitals Coalition, Wall Street has proposed that 30% of the world’s natural capital, including 30% of the most devastated, be taken over by NCCs for care and restoration by 2030. This proposal became a resolution approved almost unanimously by the participating states at COP15-Biodiversity, held in Montreal in December 2022. COP15 consecrated the total financialisation of nature according to the principles and modalities of the global capitalist economy.  Of course, the world of business and finance was extremely pleased with the outcome, but what is surprising is that even many of the NGOs present in Montreal welcomed the resolution.

The period from 7 December 2020 to 14 January 2024 is one of the darkest pages in the recent history of humanity, under the dual domination of conquering technology and predatory finance. In 3 years and 38 days, the dominant powers have sounded the death knell of the citizens’ state, the state of universal rights and the global public commons (or what was left of them). Instead, they have strengthened the role of the power state, the state of violence, the state of repression (the army state, the police state, the hunter state, etc.). For these roles, ‘public’ finances can flow without limit and be used at the discretion of the powerful, and even taken out of the budget.  What a perverse ‘sense’ of the State!

The most critical and, in many respects, dramatic aspect of the history of the last 50 years is the abdication of the tasks, responsibilities and powers which the public authorities were, in general, the legitimate holders of as elected representatives of the citizens, the peoples. Thirty years ago, we were already talking about the State being thrown out of office; today, the State in the West is no longer the symbol of the democratic, liberal and social constitutionalism of the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Scandinavian Welfare Revolution.

If you’re interested, take a look at the stocks below

§ Global X launches clean water ETF

§ Tortoise Index launches water infrastructure and management ETF

§ Smart beta water ETF launched on New York Stock Exchange

§ Water ETFs | Investment opportunities in the water sector

§ Investing in water: how investors can get involved in the fight against water scarcity

§ The case for investing in water

§ Global X launches UCITS ETFs for renewable energy, clean water, data centres and lithium batteries

You will see a private (as well as public, but at the wheel of the former) financial world boiling over water and other resources essential to life, in the process not only of seizing sovereign power over the value of water and life, but also of building a planetary economy at the service of a totalitarian society under the domination of a small number of new “lords of life” because “masters” (owners) of planetary science, technology and finance.

PS. As a European citizen who has been a convinced federalist since my youth, I wonder whether the progressive forces of the European left (Christian, socialist, communist, ecologist, democratic, etc.) could not together take advantage of the forthcoming elections to the new European Parliament to raise public awareness of the unacceptable transformation of global society into the great chains of financial value. These chains are in the process of shaping à la carte “global” markets, detached from the rights and aspirations of the majority of the world’s population, and whose resources, goods and services will be accessible only to the inhabitants (them) of the richest and most militarily powerful “archipelagos of the planet” (private armies, among others).

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