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This is probably as good an introduction to Sassen's work as any, as she covers most of her major ideas with relative brevity. The title is rather misleading (as is the case of Stiglitz's (later published) work of the same name)--she focuses on the dynamics and effects of globalization and does not discuss organized resistance by social movements to it. Sassen sees three macro-level phenomena at work--the hypermobility of capital, the "unbundling" of state sovereignty, and the rise of global cities. It is the last of these ideas for which she is probably best known. She does not really get into an analysis of the hypermobility of capital here, but many other authors have covered that matter. Her analyses of the unbundling of state sovereignty and the rise of global cities are far more original. Against the background of these macro-phenomena, Sassen also analyzes the rise of the service economy, immigration patterns, and the changing roles of women.
I'm not sure how to fairly summarize Sassen's ideas in a brief review. To hit the high points, she argues that as systems of international law grow, the traditional sovereignty of the state is transformed, with its pieces of it being unbundles and some elements being transferred to international organizations, such as the UN and WTO. There are actually two distinct international law regimes--the human rights regime and the more powerful neoliberal regime, enforced by the likes of the WTO and IMF. This neoliberal regime has enabled the rise of the global economy.
Contrary to all the hype about globalization, the internet, and a "dematerialized" economy though, Sassen argues that the politics of place remain as important ever. This brings her to her analysis of global cities. If we are to have the high speed communications created by the internet, we need a physical infrastructure for it, fiber-optic cables and all that--a seemingly obvious point, but one often overlooked. This infrastructure is not evenly distributed either internationally or nationally. It is in fact concentrated in global cities, most of which are, not coincidentally, in the first world. The three chief global cities are, in fact, New York, London, and Tokyo. These global cities are at the heart of the new service sector that is so important to the global economy. As corporations' operations are more globally decentralized, power--control of these operations--has become more centralized in the global cities, which have the telecommunications infrastructure to do all the necessary coordinating of information.
Much of this coordination is in fact outsourced to specialized corporations providing services to the other corporations, in such fields as accounting, insurance and--the truly dominant force in gloablization--finances. These corporations are staffed by a new professional class, which has moved to the city, abondonning the suburbs, demanding upscale services. The downside of this is the shrinking of the traditional middle-class and the old economy based on mass production, mass consumption, and mass prosprity. Instead what is growing is a poor working class of workers providing personal (as opposed to corporate) services (such as house-cleaning, child care, janitorial services, or retail), often to the professionals who work doing corporate services. Thus there is a growing economic divide in the global cities. A disproportionate number of the people working in the poorly paid personal service sector are women and immigrants.
Sassen notes that, not only is globalization responsible for the rise of the poorly paid service sector, but immigration as well. Contrary to popular myths that the best way to stop immigration is to encourage foreign investment in immigrant-sending countries and create jobs there, Sassen actually argues that this creates more immigration, not less. Current patterns of foreign investment tend to exacerbate poverty, not cure it. And by working for foreign companies, workers gain some familiarity with the cultures of the US, Europe and increasingly Japan. This familiarity makes it easier for them to then immigrate to the first world in search of work. And there are a lot of other ideas I'm leaving out.
So, if I think this book is so brilliant, why am I only giving it four stars? Poor writing. As a previous reviewer noted, all the essays in this book were previously published elsewhere. I don't think this makes this book worthless (and therefore worthy of only one star)--it is convenient to have them gathered all in one place--but it does make the book somewhat disjointed and repetitive. But original works by Sassen, such as /Global City/, have the same problem. The fact is, despite her intellectual brilliance, she is a poor writer. Mind you, she is not like some writers, such as Hegel or Baudrillard, who seem to revel in their own incomprehensibility. She can be understood, but her writing is often something of a slog. She needs a good editor or some writing lessons.
Despite that, this book is definitely worth reading if you want to explore in-depth some important, unorthodox ideas about globalization.