am 2. Juli 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.