Abraham F. Lowenthal


On his book Global California: Rising to the Cosmopolitan Challenge

Cover Interview of June 07, 2009

The wide angle

Global California discusses what Californians can do to identify and promote their own interests in a rapidly changing world.  It takes up such thorny issues as globalization, trade, infrastructure, immigration, energy and the environment, climate change, and California’s ties with neighboring Mexico and the dynamic Asian economies.

These issues are important to Californians because California is a megastate with the dimensions and power of a nation.  California is more populous than Canada, Chile, Peru or all of Scandinavia.  California’s economy is greater than that of all but six or eight nations, depending on the year and the exchange rate—larger, for example, than the economy of Canada, Mexico, India, Russia, Brazil or Korea.  California is the biggest US producer of both agricultural and manufactured goods, and the nation’s principal exporter, importer, tourist attraction and locus of foreign investment.

California is at the cutting edge of the high tech economy.  With its dominance of cinema, television, music and multimedia, California exerts great international influence.  Ten of California’s universities are considered among the world’s top fifty, and its main research laboratories are recognized global leaders.  More Nobel Prize winners reside in California than in any country of the world but the United States.  Four of the country’s ten largest foundations are now in California.

California is also the national trend-setter in demographic transformation and international engagement.  Twenty-seven percent of California’s residents were born abroad; more than half were either born abroad or have at least one parent who was.  California’s economic dynamism rests on immigrants, both highly skilled and less skilled.  And California has led the nation in expanding international trade and investment.  Both Silicon Valley and Hollywood depend on international markets, capital and talent.

California today lacks ideas, policies and institutions commensurate with its global stakes and clout.  Despite the state’s size, strength and international engagement, Californians still have habits of thought and structures that date from the mid-twentieth century when the state was turned inward.

My career as a founder and builder of think tanks at the nexus between the worlds of ideas and actions gave rise to this book.  Colleagues and I established the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles to help build the international policy infrastructure the West Coast lacks and needs.  As we did so, I began to consider how much Californians could contribute to and gain from improved national policy on a number of important questions if they were to engage them from their own vantage point and perspective.

Upon leaving the Pacific Council’s presidency in 2005, after twelve years, I focused on researching the international connections, stakes and interests of Californians and analyzing what Californians could do to identify and promote their interests.Although this is a big and in some ways obvious topic, it had not been the subject of any previous book or even extended essay.  With the help of several research assistants, I conducted a great deal of primary research (the book contains sixty pages of detailed notes).