Global Cities in International Relations Essay

The process of economic globalization creates cultural links between core capitalist countries and their peripheries through other means besides military intervention. In many cases, these cultural links are longstanding, reflecting a colonial past in which core countries established administrative and educational systems that mirrored their own in order to govern and exploit a peripheral region. Citizens of Senegal, for example, learn French, study at lycées and use a currency directly tied to the French franc in economic transactions. Likewise, Indians and Pakistanis learn English, take British-style degrees, and join with others in a transnational union known as the British Commonwealth. Even in the absence of a colonial past, the influence of economic penetration can be profound: Mexicans increasingly study at US universities, speak English, and follow American consumer styles closely.

These ideological and cultural connections are reinforced by mass communications and advertising campaigns directed from the core countries. Television programming from the USA, France, Britain, and Germany transmits information about lifestyles and living standards in the developed world, and commercials prepared by foreign advertising agencies inculcate modern consumer tastes within peripheral peoples. The diffusion of core country languages and cultural patterns and the spread of modern consumption patterns interact with the emergence of a transportation/communication infrastructure to channel international migration to particular core countries, and core international cities.

The world economy is managed from a relatively small number of urban centers in which banking, finance, administration, professional services, and high-tech production tend to be concentrated (Sassen, 1998). In the USA, global cities include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami; in Europe, they include London, Paris, Frankfurt, and Milan; and in the Pacific, Tokyo, Osaka, and Sydney qualify. Within these global cities, a great deal of wealth and a highly educated workforce are concentrated, creating a strong demand for the services of unskilled workers (gardeners, waiters, waiter’s assistants, hotel workers, domestic servants). At the same time, the shifting of heavy industrial production overseas; the growth of high-tech manufacturing in electronics, computers, and telecommunications; and the expansion of service sectors such as health and education create a bifurcated labor market structure with strong demand for workers at both the upper and lower ends, but with relatively weak demand in the middle. Poorly educated natives resist taking low-paying jobs at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy, creating a strong demand for immigrants.

Meanwhile, well-educated natives and skilled foreigners dominate the lucrative jobs at the upper tier of the occupational distribution, and the concentration of wealth among them helps to fuel the demand for the type of services immigrants are most willing to meet. Native workers with modest educations cling to jobs in the declining middle, migrate out of global cities, or rely on social insurance programs for support. World systems theory thus argues that international migration follows the political and economic organization of an expanding global market, a view that yields six distinct hypotheses:

(1) International migration is a natural consequence of capitalist market formation in the developing world; the penetration of the global economy into peripheral regions is the catalyst for international movement;

(2) The international flow of labor follows international flows of goods and capital, but in the opposite direction. Capitalist investment foments changes that create an uprooted, mobile population in peripheral countries while simultaneously forging strong material and cultural links with core countries, leading to transnational movement;

(3) International migration is especially likely between past colonial powers and their former colonies, because cultural, linguistic, administrative, investment, transportation, and communication links were established early and were allowed to develop free from outside competition during the colonial era, leading to the formation of specific transnational markets and cultural systems;

(4)Since international migration stems from the globalization of the market economy, the way for governments to influence immigration rates is by regulating the overseas investment activities of corporations and controlling international flows of capital and goods. Such policies, however, are unlikely to be implemented because they are difficult to enforce, tend to incite international trade disputes, risk world economic recession, and antagonize multinational firms with substantial political resources that can be mobilized to block them;

(5) Political and military interventions by governments of capitalist countries to protect investments abroad and to support foreign governments sympathetic to the expansion of the global market, when they fail, produce refugee movements directed to particular core countries, constituting another form of international migration;

(6) International migration ultimately has little to do with wage rates or employment differentials between countries; it follows from the dynamics of market creation and the political structure of the global economy.

One of the most successful attempts to analyze immigration processes occurred in twentieth century has been done by world systems theory, which yields several relatively straightforward and testable propositions, the first of which is that international flows of labor follow international flows of capital, only in the opposite direction. According to Sassen (1998) and others, emigrants are created by direct foreign investment in developing countries and the disruptions that such investment brings. Thus, we should observe that streams of foreign capital going into peripheral regions are accompanied by corresponding outflows of emigrants. This basic migratory process should be augmented by the existence of ideological and material ties created by prior colonization as well as ongoing processes of market penetration. If one were to specify a model of international migration flows to test world systems theory, therefore, one would want to include indicators of prior colonial relationships, the prevalence of common languages, the intensity of trade relations, the existence of transportation and communication links, and the relative frequency of communications and travel between the countries.

In addition, world systems theory specifies not only that international migration should flow from periphery to core along paths of capital investment, but also that it is directed to certain ‘global cities’ that channel and control foreign investment. Although the theory does not provide specific criteria for defining a ‘global city’, a set of operational criteria have been developed from information about capital assets and corporate headquarters (Friedmann 1986). Having identified global cities, one could then examine the relative frequency of movement to them, as opposed to other places within developed nations.

World systems theory argues that international migration follows directly from the globalization of the market economy. As capitalism extends outwards from core nations in Europe, North America, Oceania, and Japan, and as market relations penetrate countries of the developing and former communist world, non-capitalist patterns of social and economic organization are disrupted and transformed. In the process of market penetration, however, large numbers of people are displaced from secure livelihoods as peasant farmers, family artisans, and employees of state-owned industries, creating a mobilized population prone to migrate, both internally and internationally.

The expansion of the market economy into ever-farther reaches of the globe is directed and coordinated from a relatively small number of global cities (Sassen, 1998). These sites manage production processes that are increasingly decentralized and scattered, with labour-intensive operations being located in low-wage countries and capital-intensive processes being allocated to high-wage areas. This geographic division of labour emerged gradually after the Second World War, but accelerated after 1973, when profit margins fell and capital accumulation stagnated as a result of recession and inflation in core capitalist nations (Harvey 1990). The globalization of production, in turn, put downward pressure on wages, working conditions, and employment levels among workers with limited skills and educations. Although low-skill workers saw their prospects dim as a result of economic globalization, those of high-skill workers brightened. Managing a global economy generates a strong demand for expertise in electronics, education, telecommunications, banking, finance, insurance, law, government, and science, and highly educated workers migrate to global cities to fill this demand. The congregation of high-income workers and wealthy capitalists in global cities creates a demand for ancillary workers in restaurants, hotels, construction, maintenance, and personal services. Since natives are reluctant to accept onerous jobs at low pay, and since service jobs cannot easily be shifted overseas, employers recruit immigrants into these positions. Once immigrant communities become established, they create their own jobs that further accentuate the demand for immigrant labor.

Although immigrants are drawn to global cities because of a demand that is built into the structure of the international economy, their movement is facilitated by lines of transportation and communication that arise to connect global cities to production sites and markets overseas, and by cultural links that stem from the penetration of capitalist cultural products and social attitudes into peripheral societies. Thus, processes of economic globalization at once creates a pool of mobile workers in developing countries and simultaneously connects them to labour markets in particular cities where their services are demanded.

The functioning of a global market economy is predicated on the existence of a stable international system conducive to capitalist social and economic relations. The process of capital accumulation that drives economic growth in core nations benefits greatly from unhindered access to markets and natural resources scattered around the globe. In the past, this need for access and stability led European powers to impose colonial regimes on much of Asia, Latin America, and Africa. More recently, Europe, and especially the USA, have pursued diplomatic and military means to preserve the integrity of the international system, and thereby to protect overseas investments, ensure continued access to natural resources, defend lanes of transportation and communication, support political allies, and maintain sympathetic procapitalist regimes (Rumbaut, 1992).

The colonial systems established by Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries proved not to be politically viable after 1945, and in the ensuing wave of decolonization, international migrants were created in large numbers (Zolberg et al. 1989). Some of these migrants were colonialists and their descendants who returned to Europe; others were refugees who sought to escape sectarian violence and ethnic persecution by fleeing to a neighbouring country; and still others were colonial subjects who sought to settle in the core power because of close ties stemming from prior military service, government employment, foreign education, or intermarriage.

Although decolonization and national consolidation were particularly disruptive and prone to the production of immigrants, other political events associated with the preservation and maintenance of the global political economy have also contributed to the international flow of migrants. Foreign policies and military interventions frequently go awry, leading to new flows of refugees directed to core capitalist nations. Even in the absence of military or political setbacks, the deployment of military personnel around the world creates social and economic connections that promote immigration to core countries (Rumbaut, 1992).

Although considerable empirical information has been presented in association with world systems theory, the data marshalled to date tend to be illustrative rather than analytic. Theorists have presented facts consistent with the world systems model, yet key propositions generally have not been subject to systematic tests against competing hypotheses. With a few exceptions, analysts have not sought to link the ebbs and flows in the volume of immigration across time or between countries to indicators of market penetration in developing regions, nor to the emergence of world cities in industrial nations, nor to military or political entanglements overseas.

Although their study is rooted in neoclassical economics, Hatton and Williamson (1994) carry out an analysis that is relevant to hypotheses derived from world systems theory. They analysed data from eleven European countries during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and examined the relationship between annual emigration and four theoretical variables: the share of each country’s male labour force working in agriculture (an indicator of industrialization); the ratio of real wages at home and in destination countries (an indicator of the size of the wage gap); the rate of natural increase two Jecades earlier (an indicator of demographic pressure); and the relative number of emigrants already in the destination country (an indicator of network effects).

They found that most European countries experienced an ’emigration cycle’ characterized by an upswing in out-migration rates followed by a leveling off and then a downswing. Different variables predominated in explaining emigration at different phases of the cycle. Out-migration early in the cycle was caused by industrialization acting upon large cohorts of new workers. As out-migration grew, this effect was reinforced by a rising stock of migrants living abroad. During the plateau and downswing phases of the cycle, the forces of industrialization and demography weakened and fluctuations in the flow of emigrants became linked to the size of wage gap between sending and receiving countries.

Additional evidence linking economic development to emigration comes from contemporaneous studies carried out in Mexico. Roberts (1982) examined four agrarian communities located in different regions and found that the effects of agricultural development depended on the distribution and quality of farmland. When commercial crops and capital-intensive methods were introduced into areas with good soil, irrigated land, and an even distribution of farmland, rural incomes rose, risks to household income fell, and outmigration decreased; but when market-oriented development was introduced into regions with poor soil, irregular rainfall, and an unequal distribution of farmland, rural incomes fell and risks rose, leading families to diversify their incomes through international migration.

Sassen (1998) and other world systems theorists have argued that the establishment of export-processing zones contributes to international migration by producing goods that compete with those made locally; by feminizing the workforce without providing factory-based employment opportunities for men; and by socializing women for industrial work and modern consumption without providing a lifetime income capable of meeting these needs. The result is the creation of a population that is socially and economically uprooted and prone to migration. When Davila and Saenz (1990) examined the effect of maquiladora employment on the monthly flow of Mexican undocumented immigrants to the USA, however, they found a negative relationship: employment growth in the maquila sector was followed by a reduction of undocumented migration one month later.

None of the foregoing studies has examined the theoretical notion of global cities, a key element of world systems theory. Friedmann (1986) has put forth a set of theoretical criteria by which such cities might be identified empirically: the existence of a major financial centre, the presence of a transnational corporate headquarters, the presence of an international organization, the rapid growth of business services, the importance of the city as a manufacturing centre, its importance as a transportation node, and its population size. When he applied these criteria to the USA, he identified three primary global cities (New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles) and three secondary global cities (Miami, Houston, and San Francisco).

Circumstantial evidence clearly suggests a strong link between these six global cities and immigration to the USA. New York received more immigrants in 1992 than any other metropolitan area in the USA, followed in rank order by Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Houston. In other words, the three primary global cities identified by Friedmann were ranked 1, 2, and 4 in terms of immigration, and the three secondary global cities were ranked 3, 5, and 7. The flow of immigrants into these six metropolitan areas averaged 14,000 during 1992, but the average number of immigrants going to the remaining metropolitan areas was under 2,300. In the USA, therefore, immigration is overwhelmingly directed to global cities.

The only global city that Friedmann (1986) identified in Canada was Toronto, which he classified as a secondary global city. Toronto attracted some 30 per cent of the nation’s 214,230 immigrants. After Toronto, the next largest cities are Montreal and Vancouver, which attracted 12 per cent and 11 per cent of all immigrants, respectively. Thus, roughly a third of all immigrants go to Canada’s only recognized global metropolis, and another third go to the second- and thirdranked cities. Obviously, Canadian immigration is directed towards those urban areas most strongly linked to the international economy.

Walker et al. (1992) analyzed patterns of internal and international migration to the USA in an effort to confirm the labor market dynamics hypothesized by world systems theorists. If high-paying blue-collar jobs are being reallocated to low-wage regions abroad, and labour markets within global cities are bifurcating into low-wage and high-wage sectors, then we should observe immigrants and white-collar workers entering global cities in large numbers as blue-collar workers depart. Further down the urban hierarchy, we should observe the entry of blue-collar workers and the out-migration of white-collar workers combined with little or no immigration.

This pattern is essentially what Walker and his colleagues observed in their analysis of internal and international migration from 1975 to 1980 across urban areas of the USA. Immigration flows were directed towards metropolitan areas that were experiencing a rapid growth in value-added (i.e. global cities), but the arrival of immigrants and the rapid growth in high value-added production were associated with a strong out-migration of blue-collar workers. The migration of white-collar workers was, in turn, linked to a high growth in value added but was not strongly affected by the rate of immigration. Comparable results were obtained by Wright et al. (1997) in their analysis of 1985-90 flows. Wright et al. (1997) concluded that the out-migration of native workers and the in-migration of foreign workers both stemmed from the same underlying factor: industrial restructuring.

These patterns correspond closely to state-level results reported by Frey (1994), who found that six key US states – California, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, and Massachusetts – attracted large numbers of international migrants and skilled native white workers but lost poor whites. Florida contradicted the general pattern of immigrant-receiving states by attracting all kinds of movers, immigrants as well as white- and blue-collar native workers.


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