Author: Alexis Montambault Trudelle
While sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) are making significant incursions into global financial markets, various countries are increasingly establishing funds geared towards national development. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the fastest-growing SWF, with most of its assets deployed domestically. Beyond restructuring the economy, deploying the PIF intrinsically implies balancing political and business interests. Yet, there has been little reflection on how socio-political relations with socioeconomic actors shape sovereign wealth allocation. Who gets access to SWF resources, and how? What kind of power relations are maintained or established in the process of SWF development? This article unpacks PIF activities to argue for a microfoundation of how domestic politics influence SWF decision-making. To do so, I introduce a sociology of SWFs using the tools of social network analysis. I find that the PIF mainly targets companies linked to family-owned conglomerates connected to merchant elites with long-standing personal connections to the Saudi state. This article contributes to rentier state debates and broader political economy scholarship by showing how beyond decision-making and asset allocation models, state investment funds also hinge on ancillary networks of social institutions, often generated from ingrained formal and informal interactions between states and society.