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California at the Crossroads

Abe Lowenthal's Global California offers Californians and Americans a vision for the future.

California at the Crossroads

Abe Lowenthal, the first Robert F. Erburu Professor of Ethics, Globalization and Development and professor of international relations in USC College, is beginning to garner local and national interest in his latest book Global California: Rising to the Cosmopolitan Challenge, which will be published by Stanford University Press on March 10.

As founding president of the Pacific Council on International Policy, an independent forum affiliated with USC, Lowenthal has worked closely with leaders in business, labor, politics, the media, academia, foundations, governments, and both international and non-governmental organizations. His book is aimed at opinion-influencers and decision-makers as well as the attentive public, but every Californian and American can benefit from learning why California is at the crossroads of globalization and why people need to change their mindset from parochialism to international engagement.

In a recent speech delivered to the L.A. World Affairs Council, USC President Steven B. Sample stated that Los Angeles can legitimately lay claim to being the capital of the Pacific Rim. He noted that Lowenthal was one of several USC faculty members for whom he is relying on for excellent research in this area.

Lowenthal argues that California was born with international DNA, became more insular during the first half of the 20th century, and has become much more globally integrated again since the 1960s, but without yet adopting an international mindset or policies.

“California is at the cutting edge of the high-tech economy and dominates cinema, television, music and multimedia. Ten of California’s universities are considered among the world’s top 50, and its main research laboratories are recognized global leaders,” Lowenthal explained. This includes USC, which enrolls more international students than any other university in the United States.

California is the national trendsetter in both demographic transformation and international engagement. Silicon Valley and Hollywood depend on California’s international markets, talent and capital.

“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,” Lowenthal added.

Lowenthal makes the case that global questions are central to the local concerns of all California’s distinct regions, but that the state lacks an overall international outlook or strategy. He underscores the importance of California as a whole adopting an international vision and a good process for shaping one.

Lowenthal urges Californians, as they respond to the current economic and fiscal crisis, not to lose sight of what will be important in the medium and long-term: preparing Californians to be successful in an ever more interconnected world.

“Californians got by during the 20th century without concerning ourselves much with foreign policy or international relationships,” Lowenthal said.  “In the 21st century, it will be crucial to better understand and meet the challenges of international engagement. Doing this will ultimately pay off in jobs, income, security and welfare.”

Lowenthal does not skirt the difficult issues. He tackles major challenges that California needs to address: globalization, trade, infrastructure, immigration, energy and the environment, climate change, and California’s relationship with neighboring Mexico and the dynamic Asian economies.

Rather than simply recapitulating California’s problems without offering viable solutions, Lowenthal recommends concrete actions, so that Californians can identify and promote their interests in a rapidly changing world.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa highly recommends Global California “as a blueprint for thought and action by business, civic and community leaders throughout our state.”

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson says that “policy-makers and opinion-shapers throughout the American West and beyond will find much of interest and importance in this engaging and innovative book.”

Lowenthal is an internationally recognized authority on Latin America, U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. He founded and directed three prestigious institutions—the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American Program, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Pacific Council. He is a non-resident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, where he is preparing another book on U.S.-Latin American relations.