In the web of power

I’ve had some pleasant lunches with Peter Spearritt, who heads the Brisbane Institute[1], a local thinktank for which I do occasional odd jobs, such as speaking engagements and commissioned papers.

In all of this I never suspected that Peter was at the centre of Brisbane’s Web of Power. But that’s what Malcom Alexander of Griffith University has concluded, after performing an ‘interlocking directorships’ analysis of the kind popularised by C Wright Mills in The Power Elite. The most connected connectors are those who sit on the board of the Institute.

Among the features of interest are the small size of the elite. On the generous criterion of two board memberships, it contains only 314 people. From my interactions with them[2], it does seem that, within this group, everyone does indeed know everyone else. Brisbane is still that kind of place.

The other notable feature is the dominance of the public sector. Thanks to the ‘global city’ phenomenon, few large private corporations have head offices in Brisbane these days. All the noted by Alexander as being at the core of the affiliation network are in the public sector, with the exception of the Queensland Council of Unions. However, many of the members would also be directors of locally-based corporations.

To generalize this point, if, like me, you’re concerned about the concentration of power in global cities, and the potential for crony capitalism that it creates, this is an additional argument in favour of public ownership.

fn1. For those interested, I’d classify the Institute as non-partisan but mildly left of centre on balance. Its backers are more concerned with promoting Brisbane (and Queensland more generally) as an intellectual and cultural centre than they are about a particular policy agenda. As Australian readers will know, Queensland is in need of such promotion to offset the ‘Deep North’ image built up during decades of government by rural conservatives, and reinforced by the Pauline Hanson outbreak a few years ago.

fn2. I’m on the periphery of the Web,, being on the board of the Queensland Competition Authority which regulates, among other things, prices for infrastructure monopolies.

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