on January 23, 2008
A very good choice for anyone interested in social or/and city matters. Saskia Sassen's (University of Chicago and London School of Economics) books are translated in 16 langueges and her comments have appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde Diplomatique and the Financial Times among others. She claims that cities have re-emerged as stategic places for a wide range of projects and dynamics.
on September 19, 2004
This is a sad book. History was very unkkind to this woman. Just when she thought she completed here masterpiece, a book that was supposed to ensure her tenure and fame and all the things that a sociologist may want, everything blew up in her face.
Her theory in the original version went like this; Why oh why are there huge concentration of functions in Tokyo, London, New York, when so much IT allows easier communication and remote office and all that? Why do these cities grow, when all the production and other functions gets shipped off to backwater countries?
Well, she said, IT allowed the separation of production and management/development. That's why managers remain in cities with their high pay, while actual sweat work goes to third world child labor under measly wages.
But why did the cities grow bigger? Well, because cities are the new production centers. Management and stuff requires a lot of legal services and accountants and other services etc that are much easily available in the cities. That's why all those management stuff accumulated in the city.
But aren't those activites just leeches to the actual job? They don't create any new value, do they? Aha, she says. But they do! Look at all those financial innovations, like hedge funds and derivatives and stuff! Look how much money they are making! They are not leeches, they are creating new values. You gotta throw away your old ideas about the economy! Only cities can produce that sort of new financial products, and that's why London, NY, Tokyo are growing!
There was another brownie point. Her theory went very well with shallow anti-globalism arguments. Managers stay in NY/London with high pays, while at the factories half way around the globe, workers suffer forever under low wage.
But exactly when the first edition came out, everything changed.
First was the collapse of the Japanese economy, that took down Tokyo with it. Her theory had nothing to prepare or explain this. What happened to the new production? What happened to all those financial innovation? Why didn't that work in Tokyo? In the book, Sassen tries to answer this using various ad-hoc excuses, but the more she does it, the less convincing the original proposition becomes. So it wasn't THAT important, after all? All those theories of yours were only subordinate to those other stuff that you never mentioned before?
And yes, what about those innovations? Collapse of LTCM and huge hedge funds etc. since the first edition made finance less glamorous. Arbitrage does increase some efficiency of the market, which does create some value. But they were not the major new "product" to sustain the world.
Her theory about the separation of production and management wasn't so hot afterall. Look at Asia, look at China! Concentration of production functions REQUIRED many management and design / development functions to go along with them. Also, the factories did make the workers richer, and as a result, much of Asia and China really became better off. There are dicrepancies, and differences in earnings, but its nothing like what Sassen had described.
It's amazing that NOTHING of here original theory remained. In this second version, she tries to pick up the pieces, but they are too completely destroyed to be picked up, and the effort is almost painful to read. I wonder why she even bothered with the second edition. It's not a book worth salvaging in 2001, and it's hardly worth reading, except as a sad but amusing look back at the strange ideas of the past.
on March 18, 2003
Sassen aims to - unpack the concept of "the city" (p. xviii) - as a unit of analysis in sociology and economics from a global perspective. The scope of this endeavor is quite staggering and she has to bring an number of different fields under the same conceptual umbrella in order to capture the elusive character of 'the city'. Her method is the painstaking analysis of a huge amount of data from a vast array of sources. This might seem unnecessary to some people who are more interested in bold visions of the future á la Manuel Castells or Antonio Negri. The thing about Castells or Negri though is that you need a leap of faith to interpret the world according to their views. Sassen is more boring to read but one can always rely on her providing the data leading up to her conclusions. This is crucial to anyone wanting to take a stab at the interdisciplinary phenomenon of the global city and use availible data for comparison. The thorough research foundation of the book makes it easy to link the issues to areas that otherwise would be quite far apart such as urban planning and service management. Personally I think the most important message is that place and location matters maybe even more nowadays than it used to when production and consumption was explicitly bound by the physical limitations of our world.
In all I think that this book is a must read for anyone even remotely interested i urban matters. It's a bit tough to get through though and the visual presentation of the data could have been better, hence rendering the book a four rather than a five star grade.
on July 2, 2000
This book is a profound empirical assessment of the changes that have taken place in the world economy since the sixties and the emerging role of core cities therein. One of the more significant changes in the world economy has been, according to the author, that manufacturing activities have been spatially dispersed while at the same time production-related services such as finance, accounting, and management have been spatially centralized. It is this 'combination of spatial dispersion and global integration [that] has created a new strategic role' [p. 3] for such cities as New York, London, and Tokyo. They have become global cities, i.e., 'postindustrial production sites' for a variety of command functions that integrate the global economy in the post Bretton-Woods era. An immense volume of data is presented to substantiate the hypothesis that these three cities, diverse as their historical, cultural, political and economic settings are, have undergone similar transformations: their economic base has shifted from manufacturing to services, in particular to producer services (chs. 5,7); agglomeration economies in favour of these global cities induced the urban hierarchy to become more top-heavy in the U.S., Great Britain, and Japan, respectively (ch. 6); and their urban social structure is characterized by increasing income and employment polarization since there is complementary expansion of jobs at the top-level and in the informal economy (chs. 8,9). Quantitative indicators, almost by definition, do not suffice to vindicate such far-reaching conclusions. Some of them rely on a questionable notion of what is normal, e.g., the indicators of these cities' 'disproportionate share' in worldwide capitalization of equities, due to their stockmarkets, or the 'overrepresentation' of the financial industries' assets and income in these cities [pp. 171-179]. But what is normal about the value of equities and banks' assets being proportional to city size? Other indicators do not necessarily support the hypothesis forwarded. The conclusion that 'the salient difference' between the three global cities and other major cities 'is the extent of concentration of the producer services and finance' [p. 326] is undermined by the observation 'that the producer services as a whole have grown rapidly over the last decade and that they have grown more rapidly in the countries as a whole than in these cities' [p. 138]. The evidence thus suggests that the 'salient difference' may be a temporary phenomenon and can hardly serve to characterize global cities in general. However, these are minor objections against some empirical arguments in favour of the Global City hypothesis. The author, Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University, provides much more qualitative and quantitative evidence to substantiate her case. It is the outcome of work for years, in collaboration with an impressive number of other reserachers and institutions. And apart from the attempt to empirical verification, there is also a theoretical framework which supports the Global City hypothesis. The study contributes to an emerging literature on' the social geography of advanced economies' [p. 251] in the classical tradition of political economy. It deviates from orthodox classical or Marxist theory in that the iron law of falling profits is modified by the notion of capitalist 'regimes' or 'models of growth' which are able to restore profit-generating opportunities on a global scale. Fordism has been the last fully articulated regime, charcterized by 'capital intensity, standardization of production, and suburbanization-led growth' [p. 331]. The present work on global cities thus amounts to search for the new 'form of economic growth' and its sustainability [p. 12], based on speculative finance, shift to a service economy, and inner city growth. Even if one does not share this theoretical background and the preoccupation with questions of how durable a particular phase of capitalism is, SASSEN's book proofs tiffs perspective to be a useful device to focus a study of rather complex issues. Moreover, there is abundance of material which should be of interest to the more orthodox-minded economist. Just to mention two examples: the paradox of financial market deregulation being motivated by the need of governments to finance ever larger deficits [pp. 88, 118]; or descriptions of processes in global labor markets [p. 31 ] and urban economics [p. 126] which extend COASE's logic of the firm, though not mentioned, to new fields of study. This is clearly an outstanding book, an authoritative study of the subject and yet stimulating reading for further theoretical and empirical research on major cities and the world economy.