Entangled chains of global value and wealth

Jennifer Bair, Stefano Ponte, Leonard Seabrooke, and Duncan Wigan.
DOI number


In recent decades multinational enterprises have developed ways to reorganize production and trade through Global Value Chains (GVCs), and to manage assets and liabilities through Global Wealth Chains (GWCs). This co-evolution has permitted the hyper-extraction of labor and natural resources through financial and legal technologies, entangling value creation and wealth accumulation. While scholars have separately acknowledged the role that GVCs and GWCs play in generating distributional outcomes, entanglements of production, trade, finance, and law are now so extensive that we need a sharper analytical lens to understand their interrelations. In pursuit of such a lens, we propose a research agenda focused on chain entanglements. We argue that GVCs and GWCs are not governed by firms as separate or even sequenced processes, but rather that value creation and wealth accumulation strategies are imbricated in ways that merit careful study. We develop a framework for analyzing entangled chains based on two dimensions: 1) the relative importance of intangible versus tangible assets; and 2) the orientation of firm strategy towards value creation or wealth accumulation activities. Drawing on sector-level examples, we see a general trend in GVC-GWC entanglements towards activities that leverage intangible value and assets for wealth accumulation. We also note how labor and civic activism can highlight the failures of extant regulatory and fiscal systems and intervene on distributional struggles along entangled chains.


Jennifer Bair

University of Virginia

Stefano Ponte

Copenhagen Business School

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