California at the boundary between international and domestic affairs

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In a nutshell

Global California addresses how the citizens of a megastate with the dimensions and power of a nation are affected by international trends and challenges, and what they can do, within constitutional constraints, to identify and promote their interests in a rapidly changing and ever more interconnected world.

California is global because of its demographic, economic and cultural ties around the world. California’s population is America’s most internationally diverse, its economy the most globally connected, and California exerts the greatest influence on popular culture worldwide. Hollywood and Silicon Valley, cutting-edge sectors, depend on international markets, capital and talent.

The cosmopolitan challenge California faces is to make its vision, attitudes, policies and institutions commensurate with its international stakes and potential influence.

Californians need to change their mindset: from living in a parochial place with the dimensions of a nation to participating in a truly global center. Providing leadership in the twenty-first century will take concerted action by California’s state and local authorities, its representatives in Congress, and many non-governmental actors—ranging from corporations to trade unions, foundations to faith-based organizations, universities and research institutions to the media and the professions.

Global California comprises unique data, original analysis and concrete recommendations. I was honored by the praise of the state’s foremost historian and public intellectual: Professor Kevin Starr called the book an “impressive work of scholarship” and “a manifesto, a program and a call to action.”

“Leadership in the twenty-first century will take concerted action by California’s state and local authorities, its representatives in Congress, and many non-governmental actors.”

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).

June 8, 2009

A close-up

Global California should be of interest to national, state and local government officials, corporate and trade union executives, officers and active members of non-governmental organizations, civic and religious leaders, the media and the broad attentive public. It will also be of interest to scholars and students who are concerned with the growing role of non-central government actors in the making of international policy; to those working on the “intermestic” issues at the boundary between international and domestic affairs; and to those around the world who seek to understand how the United States is changing and what role will be played in the twenty-first century by California and the U.S. West Coast.

An excerpt from pages 101 – 102 illustrates well the book’s substance and style—here are some broad principles to formulate a California perspective on immigration:

“First, there is overwhelming consensus in California (as elsewhere) that current U.S. immigration policies are badly flawed. They tend to reinforce labor shortages; interfere with scientific and technical progress; keep families separated for extended periods; provide income to criminal people-smugglers; cause risks and even deaths to immigrants; facilitate labor exploitation; allow what often seem like sudden and uncontrolled surges of immigration; present severe fiscal challenges to locales and states with large clusters of unauthorized immigrants; lower the average educational level and productivity of the workforce; and significantly contribute to eroding the rule of law. These results are the opposite of what Californians want.

Second, because of its aging population as well as the increased educational level of its residents, California in the coming years will probably require more immigrant labor, both skilled and unskilled, not less. The evolving demography of Mexico, in turn, means that Mexico will face strong pressures to export workers for another decade or so, but that within about fifteen years the number of Mexicans entering the workforce may well begin to fall. The creation of jobs in Mexico should increase, and the pressures for migration should begin to diminish. In California and nationally, the policy challenge in dealing with Mexican immigration—the largest, most visible, and most controversial flow—is essentially how to manage this issue until migration pressures predictably subside within fifteen years.

Third, Californians with divergent perspectives share an interest in transferring to the federal government more of the costs of providing education, health, and other social services to unauthorized immigrants. As unauthorized immigrant concentrations spread to several other gateway states, it should be possible to build a winning multistate coalition in support of such transfers. California’s political leaders should be aggressively exploring that prospect.

Fourth, most Californians appreciate that all will benefit if those immigrants who do establish long-term residency, whether authorized or not, can become healthy, educated, English-speaking, taxpaying, credit-worthy, property-owning and law-abiding naturalized citizens, contributing positively to the state’s development and welfare. The successful incorporation of immigrants into the economic, social, political, and cultural future of California, in turn, requires investing in the education of immigrants and their children at all levels; expanding efforts to support English language instruction; promoting naturalization, voter registration, and suffrage; facilitating immigrants’ access to credit and other financial services; and supporting community-based agencies providing social services to immigrants.

These issues should be high on California’s agenda, not mainly out of charity but mostly from enlightened self-interest. California’s economic competitiveness and social cohesion for decades to come will depend significantly on the educational and vocational achievement of its foreign-born immigrants and their children and on their identification with and commitment to the communities where they reside.

Fifth, a viable approach to national immigration policy must be balanced and pragmatic. It should foster regularization of the volume and composition of immigrant flows so that they mesh more closely with labor market requirements, family unification, and other goals. Policymakers should try to maximize the benefits and mitigate the adverse consequences of a deep and powerful current that is ultimately responsive mainly to family and market considerations and thus cannot be simply turned on or off by government policy at any level, much less by mere rhetoric and symbols.”

“Too much is at stake for Californians to leave thinking and acting on international affairs to the federal government and to East Coast think tanks.”


This book shows Californians how they can promote their international interests: by better mobilizing their potential influence on federal policy, especially through the state’s powerful Congressional delegation; by taking full advantage of the scope allowed by the courts for state and local action on issues ranging from infrastructure to education, integrating immigrants to health care, procurement and investment policies to border management; and, perhaps most importantly, by building cosmopolitan capacity: the ability of citizens, firms, labor unions and other non-governmental organizations to better understand and pursue their own global interests.

Too much is at stake for Californians to leave thinking and acting on international affairs to the federal government and to East Coast think tanks. Global California is aimed at decision-makers and opinion shapers in California and throughout the United States, who understand that globalization is now a fact, and that our real choices are therefore not whether to cheer or condemn it, but how to think strategically and act effectively in response. Californians and all Americans need to learn how to gain as much as possible from international engagement—from trade, investment and migration—while managing, mitigating and compensating for its risks and costs.

© 2009 Abraham Lowenthal
Lowenthal, Abraham Global California: Rising to the Cosmopolitan Challenge Stanford University Press 240 pages, 9 x 6 inches ISBN 978 0804762267 ISBN 978 0804762274

Abraham F. Lowenthal is professor of international relations at the University of Southern California and president emeritus of the Pacific Council on International Policy. He has combined two intersecting careers, publishing a dozen of well-regarded scholarly books on Latin America, inter-American affairs, and US foreign policy, and founding several think tanks at the nexus between the worlds of ideas and action, including the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington and the Pacific Council, a West Coast leadership forum.

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June 8, 2009