In December 2011, I was enrolled in GEOG428: Urban Geography – Cities in a Globalizing World at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The paper is its original form is too shameful to post; I actually quoted my own professor’s syllabus in the introduction. But I digress and will share the content in an updated format.
The rapid globalization of the world’s economy, society, and culture has involved the contemporary transformations of cities around the world. John Friedmann, professor of city planning and urbanization, wrote about “the spatial organization of the new international division of labor” in his The World City Hypothesis. Friedmann proposes seven theses based on his research to explain how the global market functions.
The first five claims describe the spatialized production of products/goods/services (PGS): specific countries specialized in the production of a particular PGS. Though this is not a new phenomenon, the geographic striation that this system of production creates could be. Friedmann explains that world cities are both major citrus for the concentration and accumulation of wealth, and are point of destination for large number of migrants. The economy of countries after World War II and industrialization were focused on high-skilled labor.
This has created a dichotomized labor force: on the one hand, a high percentage of professionals specialized in control functions and, on the other hand, a vast army of low-skilled workers engaged in manufacturing, personal service, and the hotel, tourist and entertainment industries that cater to the privileged classes for whose sake the world city primarily exists (Sassen-Koob) (Friedmann)
Corporate headquarters and management teams are often located in these “core” world cities, while the production is outsourced to their associated “semi-periphery” city, which could be thousands of miles away.
Friedmann’s final two points focus more on the social effects of this system. It is these two points to which the Occupy movement seems to be reacting. The sixth point reads “world city formation brings into focus the major contradictions of industrial capitalism – amount them spatial and class polarization.”
It is the familiar story of spatially segregating poor inner-city ghettos, suburban squatter housing and ethnic working-class enclaves. Spatial polarization arises from class polarization. And in world cities class polarization has three principal facets: huge income gaps between transnational elites and low-skilled workers, large-scale immigration from rural areas or from abroad and structural trends in the evolution of jobs.
In many areas across the global, notably in the American South, this spatial-class polarization is also a radicalized process, a manifestation of the area’s political and social history. Friedmann’s final thesis is seemingly the apex of the Occupy movement: world city growth generates social costs at rates that tend to exceed the fiscal capacity of the state. In other words, social welfare and state-run programming can’t save us. The
Global Recession Financial Crisis of Capitalism of 2008 resulted in the weakening of the American government’s fiscal capability and the American people’s need for aid at an all time high.
The main Occupy Wall Street webpage boldly claims that it “is a leaderless people powered movement for democracy that began in America on September 17 with an encampment in the financial district of New York City… We vow to end the monied corruption of our democracy.” Friedmann seems to reference corruption in saying “state budgets reflect the general balance of political power. Not only are corporations exempt from taxes; they are generously subsidized in a variety of other ways as well.” The Occupy movement aims to deconstruct the capitalist infiltration of the American political system.
The overall result is a steady state of fiscal and social crisis in which the burden of capitalist accumulation is systematically shifted to the politically weakest, most disorganized sectors of the population. Their capacity for pressing their rightful claims against the corporations and the state is further contained by the ubiquitous forces of police repression.
Over time, the increasing globalization of the world’s economy, society, and culture has produced an American society that systemically benefits a very small, easily characterized, percent of the population at the gross expense of the “melting-pot” masses, dominating in numbers but not power. In 2005, the late George Carlin had an prophetic warning.
You know something? [Wall Street] will get it. They’ll get it all from you sooner or later, ‘cause they own this f***ing place. It’s a big club, you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club… The table is titled, folks. The game is rigged. And nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care. Good, honest hardworking people… continue to elect rich c***suckers who don’t give a f*** about them.
The future reaction that Carlin refers to is happening now. The task taken on by the Occupy movement is no easy feat. Taking on an entire system of a Super Power like America is no small undertaking, but the pioneers of the movement are the ones that, as the late Steve Jobs put it, “push the human face forward… because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”