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Powerful Multinational or Persecuted Foreigners: ‘Foreignness’ and Influence over Government

By Emma Aisbett

Abstract

One of the enduring themes of the globalization debate is whether international law should be strengthened to protect foreign firm from discriminatory host governments, or rather strengthened to protect host governments from powerful multinational firms. This paper uses firm-level data from the World Business Environment Survey (WBES) to lend some empirical evidence to the debate. In doing so it contributes to academic understanding of what a `foreign firm' is, and challenges the notion that institutional superiority makes OECD governments less prone to anti-foreign bias. Although the terms `foreign firm' and `multinational subsidiary' are often used interchangeably, in the WBES data the managers of only about half of the firms with more than ten percent foreign ownership view themselves as part of a multinational. This distinction between multinational and non-multinational foreign firms was important in regression analysis of self-reported influence over government. In non- OECD countries - where we find no evidence of anti-foreign bias - multinationals appear significantly more influential than other firms. Meanwhile, in OECD countries, foreign non-multinationals do appear at a disadvantage in terms of influence relative to domestic firms, but this `liability of foreignness' does not appear to extend to foreign-multinational affiliates.Multinational Firms, Foreign Firms, Political Economy, Government

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