Advances in Applied Sociology
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 127-134
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Strategic Dimensions of Neoliberal Globalization: The Exporting
of Labor Force and Unequal Exchange
Raúl Delgado Wise, Humberto Márquez Covarrubias
Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Zacatecas, México
Received March 13th, 2012; revis ed Apr i l 1 6th, 2012; accepted April 27th, 2012
In addition to environmental degradation and financial speculation, neoliberal globalization has created a
complex strategy of capital internationalization led by large multinational corporations that is driving la-
bor costs down to extreme levels. This strategy is based, on the one hand, on the establishment of global
commodity chains based on outsourcing schemes and intra-firm trade, which operate in peripheral nations
and in the form of enclaves; on the other, it employs international labor migration as a means to lower la-
bor costs in central countries. Both mechanisms comprise a new rung in the international division of labor:
the export of labor. This process has led to new forms of unequal exchange that are much more predatory
than those involved in the exchange of raw materials for industrial products. This has led to a reintegra-
tion of a subordinate periphery to the center, increasing asymmetries between countries and pushing so-
cial inequality to unprecedented levels. The purpose of this paper is to empirically and conceptually ana-
lyze these fundamental aspects of contemporary global architecture.
Keywords: Labor Export; Unequal Exchange; Uneven Development; Neoliberal Globalization; Crisis
In the early 1970s, labor constraints were listed as one of the
main obstacles to global capital accumulation (Harvey, 2003).
The big challenge in order to overcome this obstacle was to
lower the cost of labor. The concomitant strategies employed
by large multinational corporations (MNCs) under the govern-
mental support of the world’s most powerful countries, led by
the United States and international agencies headed by the
World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and
the World Trade Organization (WTO), have triggered a pro-
found process of capitalist restructuring. That is, the so-called
neoliberal globalization, which is characterized by:
1) The internationalization of capital. The global economy’s
expansion strategy is based on a profound restructuring of the
global economic framework through the establishment of out-
sourcing and/or intra-firm trade among big corporations, the
influence of which extends across the world. This form of ex-
pansion seeks the economic reinsertion of peripheral countries
with abundant and cheap human and natural resources; here,
new export platforms operate in the form of enclaves. Currently,
between 55 million (Robinson, 2008) and 66 million workers in
the southern hemisphere (Singa Boyenge, 2007) work in this
type of plants. The operating agents behind this strategy are
large manufacturing, financial, agricultural, trade and services
corporations (Robinson, 2008).
2) Financialization. Financial capital generates speculative
strategies that channel investment funds, sovereign funds and
social surplus toward new financial instruments that offer high
profit margins in the short term but risk causing recurring crises
and massive fraud, all of which obstructs and affects the func-
tioning of the real economy (Foster & Magdoff, 2009; Bello,
3) Environmental degradation. Biodiversity, natural resources
and community and national assets are being privatized for the
benefit of big corporations who favor profits over social and
environmental costs. This results in increased environmental
exploitation, pollution, famine and disease. It is also leading to
changes in climate (global warming and more frequent and
intense extreme weather events) that endanger the symbiosis
between human society and nature (Foladori & Pierri, 2005).
4) The restructuring of innovation process. Technological
advances in computing, telecommunications, biotechnology,
new materials and nanotechnology cater to the needs of large
corporations in search of higher profits. Scientific and techno-
logical work is restructured via mechanisms such as outsourc-
ing and offshore-outsourcing, which enable these corporations
to have a mass of southern hemisphere scientists at their service
while capitalizing on benefits and transferring risks and respon-
sibilities by amassing patents. This leads to an unprecedented
commodification of scientific work under a short-term view and
with little social concern (Freeman, 2005; Lester & Piore,
5) Labor precarization. One of the main forces behind the
new capitalist architecture is the cheapening of labor costs.
Massive oversupply of labor from underdeveloped countries in
Africa, Latin America, Asia and the former communist bloc
supports this dynamic. This leads to the increasing transnation-
alization, differentiation and precarization of labor markets. As
a result, new divisions within the working class are fostered
through the introduction of national, racial and cultural labor
hierarchies that enable large corporations to enjoy havens of
cheap and flexible labor (Harvey, 2007; Schierup, Hansen, &
Castles, 2006).
6) The new migration dynamics. While migration is a his-
torical process that has always exhibited certain continuities, it
is changing drastically in the context of neoliberal globalization,
acquiring a new profile and dynamic. On the one hand, it is
characterized by: a) strong pressure to emigrate in the main
sending areas given the absence of job opportunities, and b) the
increased vulnerability of these new labor migrants, who are
subjected to extremely exploitative conditions. On the other,
new migration patterns mainly flow from the southern to the
northern hemisphere (82 million) and within the south (74 mil-
lion), with a significant degree of internal migration (750 mil-
lion). All of this reconfigures the map of labor in a context of
precariousness and turns migration into a key element of the
capitalist restructuring process as a whole (UN, 2004, 2006 and
2010; Delgado, Wise & Márquez, 2007 and 2009).
In short, the restructuring process that characterizes capitalist
neoliberal globalization has nothing to do with a “free market”
ideology but a growing monopolization of production, services
and global trade, accompanied by progressive labor exploitation
and environmental degradation; taken together, these comprise
an exploitative, parasitic, rentier-based and predatory phase of
global capitalism (Petras & Veltmeyer, 2000; Stiglitz, 2002).
Starting from these fundamental issues, the purpose of this
study is to examine two essential features of neoliberal globali-
zation: the export of labor and unequal exchange. As we shall
see in the following sections, they are both linked to the dy-
namics of uneven development that characterize contemporary
capitalism and are the basis for its poor, inconsistent and un-
sustainable performance.
Notes on the Performance of Contemporary
The following data and indicators highlight the unique pat-
tern that characterizes neoliberal globalization and are also
intended to expand theoretical and conceptual perceptions of its
nature. We are primarily interested in drawing attention to some
core aspects of its performance, mainly in the field of produc-
tion living aside the financial and environmental aspects. We do
not seek to deny or dismiss the ingrained dialectic relationship
between the latter two dimensions and the first but unravel what
happens in the field of the so-called “real economy” by using
the method of political economy, placing special emphasis on
the transformations taking place in capital/labor interactions.
The Massive Overs u pply of Labor1
With the incorporation of the former Soviet Union, China
and India to the global capitalist market, labor supply for the
system essentially doubled, increasing from 1.46 to 3 billion
(Freeman, 2005). To this we must add the violent and over-
whelming liberalization of the labor force that has taken place
in peripheral economies as a result of structural adjustment
programs which, as discussed below, have served to dismantle
these economies and promote their asymmetric and subordi-
nated reintegration into neoliberal globalization.
The Growing Precarization of Labor
Massive labor oversupply has led to a drastic shift in dyna-
mics and labor market performance. Instead of an upwards
“win-win” convergence between the wages earned in developed
and underdeveloped (or peripheral) nations and as stipulated by
neoliberal precepts, we are experiencing the exact opposite: a
process of increasing economic polarization between countries
accompanied by progressive deterioration and a downward
convergence in the living and working conditions of the entire
working class. It is enough to point out that, currently: 1) 1530
million workers (just over half of the world’s labor force) work
in conditions of vulnerability that include no job security or
access to minimum labor rights, and 2) 630 million workers
(one in every four) earn less than $1.25 dollars per day, which
places them a conte x t of extreme poverty (ILO, 2011).
The Increase in South-North and South-South Labor
Given the massive oversupply of labor and the growing dete-
rioration of living and working conditions for the bulk of the
working class, migration—particularly that from peripheral to
central countries—has become a necessity and not merely an
option for family subsistence. For this reason, it is increasingly
turning it into forced displacement.
Under these circumstances, the amount of migrants (mostly
from the periphery) has grown considerably over the past three
and a half decades, from 84 million in 1975 to 214 million in
2010 (see Figure 1). Moreover and in the name of “national
security,” migrants are increasingly subject to exploitative con-
ditions, extreme vulnerability and social exclusion (Delgado
Wise, Márquez, & Puentes, 2009).
The North-South flow of remittances has been increasing at
an even more significant rate, rising from 57 billion dollars in
1995 to 325 billion dollars in 2010 (World Bank, 2010) (see
Figure 2). This has led to the reintegration of a subordinated
periphery to the center, increasing asymmetries between coun-
tries and pushing social inequality to unprecedented levels.
Some international organizations like the WB and the Inter-
American Development Bank (IDB) disregard the actual nature
of remittances (i.e., a fraction of reduced wages earned in des-
tination countries) and twist reality while envisioning these
funds as a supposedly inexhaustible source of resources for the
development of sending countries. This is, obviously, a great
myth or, as stated by Devesh Kapur (2004), a new development
mantra that distorts reality and masks the emergence of new
1The noti on o f l abor o ver sup p ly co nt raven es o rt hod ox co n cept s o f “ bal ance”
between supply and demand. Our use of the “over” prefix has a double pur-
pose: f irst, it emphasi zes the fact that contemporar y capitalism is ch aracter-
ized by a labor o verpopula tion or re serve la bor army of en ormous propor tions
(absolute overpopulation, in Marxist terms) and, second, that this over-
crowding is due to cha nges in the institut ional framework as sociated with new
business strategies, which are part of the ongoing process of capital interna-
tionalization and are based on cheapening labor costs.
Source: CONAPO (Consejo Nacional de Población) and World Bank,
Figure 1.
International migrants worldwide.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 129
Source: World Bank.
Figure 2.
Remittances in the world (millio n US dollars).
forms of unequal exchange.
Growing Social Inequalities
Although, between 1990 and 2007, employment across the
world grew by 30%, this growth could not meet the increasing
and overwhelming demand for jobs. It also led to a very un-
equal distribution of labor supply, particularly along the North-
South horizon. This resulted in a marked differentiation and
precarization of labor markets, with profound implications in
terms of social inequality. This grew in an unprecedented man-
ner on varying levels and degrees and was accompanied by a
shrinking middle class and the progressive dismantling of the
welfare state. We must take into consideration that a report
issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO, 2008)
reveals that, in 51 of the 73 countries with available data, the
share of wages in gross domestic product (GDP) decreased
significantly between 1990 and 2007. The biggest drops were in
Latin America and the Caribbean (13%), followed by Asia and
the Asian Pacific (10%) and, finally, the more advanced econo-
mies (9%). This, in turn, resulted in a drop in income distribu-
tion (measured by the Gini coefficient) in approximately two
thirds of studied countries.
The U.S. case is paradigmatic in this context: household
inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, underwent a
significant increase over the neoliberal period (see Figure 3).
Moreover, in 2009 and according to data from the U.S. Census
Bureau, the highest income quintile of U.S. households ac-
counted for 50.3% of revenue, while the lowest only comprised
3.4%. These are historic levels of inequality and even exceed
those of the 1920s.
The Relative Decrease in Developed Countries’
Capacity for Innovation
In spite of what appeared to be a constant in the history of
capitalism, the rate of innovation capacity in developed coun-
tries declined from 0.876 in 1995 to 0.869 in 2001 (see Table
This phenomenon, which entails significant changes in the
patterns and role played by productive force development in the
dynamics of capitalist accumulation, is associated to the re-
structuring of innovation process mentioned in the preceding
paragraph. This restructuring is spurred by cheap labor costs in
Table 1.
Innovation capability index*.
1995 2001
Developed countries 0.876 0.869
New EU members 0.665 0.707
Southeast Europe an d CIS 0.602 0.584
Southeast and East Asia 0.492 0.518
Latin Am erica and the Caribbean0.375 0.360
Southern As ia 0.223 0.215
Sub-Saharan Africa 0.157 0.160
Source: UNCTAD, 2005; *This index combines indicators of technological activity
(R & D personnel, patents and scientific publications) with human capital indicators
mainly related to ed ucation levels.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau.
Figure 3.
United States: Household income inequality measured by the Gini coefficient.
scientific/technological activities, where the incorporation of
skilled and highly qualified workforce from the periphery plays
an increasingly important role, either via immigration or through
the establishment of outsourcing platforms in peripheral coun-
tries (i.e., offshore outsourcing).
The Low Rates of Economic Growth
In contrast to post-war annual rates of economic growth
(GDP), which globally averaged 5.8%, growth fell throughout
the neoliberal period to 3.5%, 3.2%, 2.9% and 2.6% in the
1973-1980, 1980-1990, 1990-2000 and 2000-2009 periods, re-
spectively (see Figure 4).
It must be added that, toward the end of the first decade of
this century, a general crisis of global capitalism broke out.
Centered in the United States, this crisis has affected multiple
aspects of the current system (Márquez, 2009 and 2010):
Financial. Financial capital overflow produces bubbles that
affect the socioeconomic fabric and lead to a global eco-
nomic depression (Foster & Magdoff, 2009; Bello, 2006).
Overproduction. Excess capital circulating the global eco-
nomy that cannot find conditions for implementation in the
field of production due to falling profit margins and a de-
cline in effective demand (mainly because of wage and in-
come containment for the bulk of the population) creates a
crisis of overproduction (Bello, 2006).
Environmental. The degradation of natural resources, cli-
mate change and the commodification of the environment
contribute to the destruction of nature. This manifests itself
as a structural rupture in the material bases for the produc-
tion a n d rep rod uct io n of hu man l if e (F ola dor i & Pier ri, 2005).
Social. Growing social inequality, the dismantling of the
welfare state and the breakdown of systems of subsistence
accentuate poverty, unemployment, violence, insecurity and
labor precariousness, adding pressure to migrate (Harvey,
2007; Schierup, Hansen, & Castles, 2006).
This crisis challenges the prevailing style of globalization
and, in a more profound way, the global systemic order: the
current system is devastating the main sources of wealth, work
and nature itself, all of which have been overexploited and de-
graded to the point they threaten the fabric of civilization itself.
Uneven Development and the Exporting of
Labor Force
It is clear that the nature of contemporary capitalism has been
Source: World Bank.
Figure 4.
World economy growth rates.
inaccurately represented and distorted by a bland and apolo-
getic notion of globalization that condones the increase in in-
ternational flows of capital, information, technology and work-
force. Beyond this partial and limited vision, which rests on
blind faith in a supposedly free and self-regulating market as a
route to achieving a just and equitable society, the past three
and a half decades have been characterized by a project of
capitalist expansion that has had severe consequences in terms
of development and social justice. The concept of uneven de-
velopment, framed by the notion of imperialism, is particularly
useful for describing and analyzing this situation given that it
refers to the historical process of economic, social and political
polarization between regions, nations and classes derived from
the dynamics of capital accumulation, the international division
of labor and different modes of class conflict. One of the most
conspicuous outcomes of this process is the unprecedented
expansion of social inequalities that characterizes contemporary
capitalism and has resulted in an excessive concentration of
capital, power and wealth in the hands of a few while the ma-
jority of the population has seen a progressive downgrading in
their living and working conditions. This process is also evident,
on a spatial level and with different emphases,2 in the expan-
sion and deepening of the asymmetries between the main de-
veloped countries and most peripheral or underdeveloped na-
We do not wish to characterize capitalist development as a
simple dichotomous process, or offer a Manichean view of its
superficial aspects. On the contrary, we seek to unravel the
nature of the process of uneven development that characterizes
contemporary capitalism, which is marked by the introduction
of extreme forms of elitist appropriation of the economic sur-
plus, both in the periphery and the advanced industrial nations
of the center. In this sense, the massive influx of cheap, flexible
and disorganized labor from the periphery constitutes a crucial
aspect in the strategy of capital internationalization.
The neoliberal structural adjustment policies promoted by the
IMF and the WB in collusion with the WTO are expressly de-
signed to promote this strategy and create a triple effect in pe-
ripheral economies: 1) the dismantling of the domestic market-
oriented economic structures and their rearticulation into the
international market; 2) the restructuring of the labor market in
order to generate a growing and overwhelming surplus popula-
tion; and 3) an outflow of surplus labor through labor migration
(Delgado Wise & Márquez, 2007). This process promotes the
reinsertion of the periphery into the sphere of global capital in
two complementary ways:
1) The establishment, expansion and deepening of global
commodity chains by transferring parts of the production pro-
cess to peripheral regions with an abundance of cheap labor.3
Essentially, this is a strategy of international expansion carried
out by large MNCs and based on operational outsourcing and
intra-firm trade, which triggers a peculiar activity in peripheral
economies: the indirect or disembodied export of workforce.
We characterize this type of export thusly because the main
component of the exported goods is the value of the producing
2There are important exceptions to this trend, including state-led industriali-
zation processes in various Asian countries that deviate from the measures
promoted by the Washington Consensus (Cypher & Dietz, 2009). Similarly,
we have the short-term impacts of the recent commodity boom.
3Although w e do us e t he c once pt of glo bal c omm odity chains c oined by G ary
Gereffi (2001), we do not share his optimistic view regarding the scope and
implications of globali zation.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
labor as a result of the enormous volume of imported supplies
associated with production links abroad. This, in addition to
reducing the local impact of manufacturing operations to mea-
ger wage earnings (and, in the best of cases, a limited multiplier
effect by way of consumption) leads to the configuration of
new enclave economies operating as appendages in global
commodity chains. Add to this the fact that the supply of im-
ported materials is often made via foreign operations or through
tax-exempt or subsidized manufacturing or assembly contracts
(outsourcing) that are free from any liability regarding labor
rights and potential environmental damage. All of this results in
a significant lowering of the production costs for large MNCs,
which gain unrestricted access to the periphery’s abundant and
available supply of cheap labor (Delgado Wise & Márquez,
2006; Cypher & Delgado Wise, 2010).
2) The movement of surplus population from the periphery to
developed regions via labor migration constitutes a second
strategy. This movement, characterized as direct export of labor,
does not only cover the structural deficits in labor demand suf-
fered by developed economies, which have an aging population
and an inadequate supply of domestic labor force to meet the
labor demand; it simultaneously increases job competition in
various sectors of the receiving economies and triggers a down-
ward trend in wages for the entire working class. Importantly,
this process does not derive from a simple game of supply and
demand in the labor market, but is part of a deliberate business
Thus, the direct and indirect export of labor plays a key role
in the neoliberal plan. It delineates the contours of a new inter-
national division of labor that implies an asymmetric model
based on the reintegration of peripheral nations to the global
capitalist system. It constitutes, in essence, a higher phase in the
commoditization of the workforce available in the international
market, leading to a progressive reduction in the quality of the
living and working conditions for the majority of the employed
population and their dependents. As we shall see in the next
section, this translates into a progressive devaluation and chea-
pening of the labor force and the emergence of extreme labor
exploitation or superexploitation. These conditions are not m erely
specific to the periphery, as suggested by Marini in his theories
regarding underdevelopment and dependence (1973); they ex-
pand to central nations through labor migration which, as we
already pointed out, acquires the character of forced displace-
As mentioned before, the new global architecture includes an
exorbitant flow of financial/speculative capital and environ-
mental destruction,5 which intensify the contradictions inherent
to the system and emphasize its bias toward expansion and the
deepening of both the geopolitical and geo-economic imba-
lances that include social inequality.
Emergence of New Forms of Unequal Exchange
The concept of unequal exchange is crucial to the strategic
and structural transfer of surplus across global commodity
chains, which is also at the base of the periphery’s asymmetric
reintegration into neoliberal globalization. Despite the central
role once played by this concept to explain the dynamics of
uneven development and unravel the nature of the link between
developed and underdeveloped, peripheral or dependent nations
(e.g., the theories of the Economic Commission for Latin
America—CEPAL6—and dependency theorists7) it has yet to
be included in analyses of contemporary capitalism. It is im-
portant to note that the bulk of the discussion of unequal ex-
change has been and remains limited to the analysis of the in-
ternational division of labor that characterizes the periphery as
a supplier of raw materials and developed countries as suppliers
of industrial products. While this division remains in force for a
significant number of peripheral countries, it has ceased to ex-
clusively define North-South relations. Some newly industria-
lized peripheral countries (mainly in the Asian region) increas-
ingly serve as suppliers of industrial goods.8 More important is
the fact that this classic form of unequal exchange has incorpo-
rated a new and increasingly central one: direct or indirect labor
force export.9
To undertake an analysis of this kind, it should first be noted
that mechanisms of unequal exchange involve much more un-
favorable terms for the periphery than those implicit in the ex-
change of raw materials for manufactured goods. On the one
hand, the indirect export of labor force associated to peripheral
nations’ role as appendages to global commodity chains in-
volves a net transfer of profits. This is an extreme form of un-
equal exchange, since it involves extracting almost all the eco-
nomic surplus generated by the workforce employed in the
manufacturing and assembly plants.10 This export enclave me-
chanism inhibits any prospect of economic growth and deve-
lopment arising from export operations made (under the guise
of manufacturing exports) by the peripheral nation. In fact, their
actual contribution to the national accumulation process is li-
6The Prebisch-Singer hypothesis regarding the worsening nature of trade
conditions in the e arly 1950s was particu larly important in th e development o
ECLAC theories (Prebisch, 1986). Celso Furtado’s work was also very in-
fluential (Mallorquin, 2007; Bresser-Pereira, 2007).
7Beyond the heated Marxist debates of the 1970s and 1980s (Samir Amin, et
al., 1971; Crític as de la Econom ía of Polític a, 1979), t here is no doubt t hat the
pioneering w ri tin gs o f E mm a nue l (197 3 , origi na lly p ubl ished in 1969) o n the
nature of unequal exchange had a strong influence on dependency theorists.
There ar e, howe ver, many varia nts of depe ndency anal ysis and t he theore tical
work on unequal exchange offers analytical perspectives that require further
development must be adapted to the realities of contemporary capitalism
(Brewer, 1980, 208- 2 32; Munck 2000).
8In his famous writings following his hypothesis (with Raul Prebisch) about
the deteriorating terms of trade, Hans Singer (1975) anticipated such a situa-
tion when he sought to go beyond a simple analysis of changes in relative
rices between two classes goods and considered the problem of different
production structures between the center and the periphery, placing an em-
phasis on technica l progress.
9As noted above, an estimated 55 to 66 million laborers work in assembly
lants locate d in the pe riphe ry while 70 million southe rn la b orers w ork in th e
developed North.
10Under the proprietary nature of intra-firm activities, closely associated to
surreptitious outsourcing activities, the magnitude of these transfers can be
easily concealed in company accounts and an exact m easurement is therefore
nearly impossible.
4A clear example is the restructuring of manufacturing in the United States
through assembly or manufacturing operations and intra-firm trade, which
have moved significant parts of the production process abroad. This has
severely a ffected domestic em ployment, manife sting in the loss of a lmost four
million jobs i n this sect or between 1994 and 2008. In a ddition to thi s measure,
which giv es corporati ons access t o foreig n paradis es of cheap labor, th ere is
an ongoin g trend to r eplace nati ve worker s with immigr ant labor force (e.g.,
Mexican migrants). Their wages are, on average, half of those earned by
natives (Delgado Wise, Marquez, & Rodriguez, 2009).
5Natural biosphere resources have been increasingly incorpo rated into capi-
talist marke t logi c. Sinc e the goa l is to maxim ize profit i n t he shorte st am oun t
of time possible, these resources are being depleted. Many scientists and
institutions have called attention to serious phenomena such as global
warming, climate change and the loss of biodiversity, which generate sub-
stantial imbalances in natural/social relationships, to the extent that they now
threaten the reproduction of human life on the planet.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 131
mited to meager wage earnings that take advantage of huge
income differences between countries and, in the best of cases,
a small multiplier effect by way of consumption. Moreover, the
installation and operation of assembly plants in peripheral
countries is accompanied, as noted earlier, by subsidies and tax
exemptions that affect the social capital of the host country and
generate collateral damage that includes the narrowing, differ-
rentiation and precarization of labor markets, along with envi-
ronmental degradation. Another aspect of indirect labor export
that has become particularly important nowadays is the creation
of complex scientific/technological developments in the pe-
riphery that are linked to the restructuring of innovation sys-
tems in some of the more developed countries. Under subcon-
tracting schemes, intangible goods of even greater strategic
importance than the net profit from manufacturing and assem-
bly plants are transferred abroad. By this we mean the transfer
of the capacity for development and progress, which takes the
form of competitive advantage and an ability to generate ex-
traordinary profits.
On the other hand, the direct export of workforce via labor
migration involves the transfer of anticipated future benefits
arising from expenditures on the training and social reproduc-
tion of the migrants. These costs, as demonstrated in the case of
Mexico, the world’s major migrant sending nation, are not
compensated by the flow of remittances (Delgado Wise, Már-
quez, & Rodríguez, 2009). In demographic terms and for pe-
ripheral countries that are located in an advanced stage of
demographic transition, this transfer means the export of their
demographic dividend (i.e., the productive age population that
maintains children and older adults). In a deeper sense, this
shift implies the loss of the most important resource for the
accumulation of capital in the country of origin: its workforce.
The export of highly skilled labor force exacerbates the prob-
lem, seriously reducing the country of origin’s capacity for
self-beneficial innovation and the promotion of intensive tech-
nological development projects.
Analyzing these new forms of unequal exchange is a theo-
retical, methodological and empirical challenge that requires
changes in the perception and characterization of the conven-
tional categories used to interpret contemporary capitalism.
However, while recognizing the significant contributions of
ECLAC to the understanding of this phenomenon (especially
regarding the central role given to technical progress), it is im-
portant to add that Marxist theories of unequal exchange (in the
strict and general sense) provide a solid and fertile conceptual
ground for theorizing the emerging forms of unequal exchange
involved in the labor export. On the one hand and strictly
speaking, unequal exchange centers on wage differentials aris-
ing from population mobility barriers (which, in more precise
terms, relate to differential rates of surplus value) and, on the
other and in a broad sense, it adds those emanating from vari-
ous organic capital compositions, (i.e., differentials in scien-
tific/technological progress in the involved countries). We must
take into account the fact that the internationalization of capital
seeks to cheapen labor costs through global commodity chains
(including those involving highly qualified workforce) and
maximize the transfer of surplus between peripheral and de-
veloped countries precisely by deepening wage differentials.
This line of reasoning could be extended to an analysis and
conceptualization of the unequal exchange relationships in-
volved in international labor migration.
It must be added that, in addition to the material and human
losses suffered by countries of origin, which are not compen-
sated by remittance flow, direct export of labor also entails
invaluable costs and risks for migrants and their families. We
should not forget that the migration flows that distinguish neo-
liberal globalization assume the character of forced migration
(i.e., the movement of people who are literally are forced from
their territory given the lack of employment opportunities and
forms of family support in their places of origin). The journey
entails many risks and dangers, particularly for the most vul-
nerable groups, including permanently precarious working
conditions and social exclusion in places of destination.
Everything that has been said up to this point shows that the
view promoted by some international agencies, which relegate
development responsibilities in places and nations of origin to
migrants is not only an absurd distortion of reality but an at-
tempt to conceal the system of unequal exchange embodied by
neoliberal globalization. Among the assumptions that fuel this
political-ideological view we are told that: 1) migration is a
source of development for the sending country, with migrants
as the agents and remittances as a driving force; 2) migration
has its own self-generated dynamic and does not obey structural
causes; 3) migration represents a burden on the host country
and remittances a leakage of its resources; 4) migrants are re-
sponsible for the deteriorating employment and living condi-
tions in the host society, and 5) migration is a poverty-fighting
strategy that economically empowers the poor (Delgado Wise,
Márquez, & Rodríguez, 2009).
In addition to being unilateral and biased, this concept is a
contradiction in terms: it is precisely underdeveloped condi-
tions (and, in particular, the dynamics of neoliberal globaliza-
tion) that increase underdevelopment and North-South asym-
metries, leading to labor emigration and the new migration
dynamics. In short, this is a distortion of reality that seeks to
create the illusion that migrants and remittances (presented as
an endless flow of monetary resources) can and should become
a force for development in countries of origin.11
The contributions made by immigrants to the host economy
and society are often bypassed. Instead of publicly acknow-
ledging these contributions, the states of receiving countries
(which serve the interests of the ruling class and large corpora-
tions) utilize a discriminatory discourse that presents immi-
grants as a social burden and criminalizes them, to the point
that they are presented as a risk to national security. In a similar
vein, migrants become the civilian population’s favorite scape-
goats and are blamed for the evils caused by neoliberal globa-
lization: the dismantling of the welfare state, the decline of the
middle class, falling wages, and unemployment, among others.
The stigmatization of the migrant workforce effectively de-
values it and has a domino effect across the whole of the work-
ing class in host societies.
Finally, it is important to note that, in the context of this
ideological construction, the strategic/structural causes of forced
migration are ignored, as are those behind labor export and
associated unequal exchange patterns.
Concluding Remarks
Throughout this paper we have attempted to provide empiri-
cal and conceptual elements that can unravel crucial aspects of
11This does not seek to bypass the contributions made by migrants and their
organizations to development in communities and places of origin, which
involve great sacrifices. We want to emphasize how this essentially consti-
tutes a salary transfer that, in its very nature, is a product of the unequal trade
relations that characterize contemporary capita lism (Márquez, 2007).
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
neoliberal globalization. This is just preliminary work and it
merits further development in at least three strategic are as:
First, the critical reconstruction of the field of development
studies. The prevalence of so-called single thought,12 which
rests on the idea that the free market is the mechanism that
efficiently allocates resources and generates schemes of
economic convergence between countries and their peoples,
has clearly failed. In this sense, we must rethink the deve-
lopment of peripheral countries from new theoretical and
political perspectives that adapt Latin American critical
thought and the experiences of other regions to contempo-
rary reality. These ideas should promote profound changes
in the structural, political and institutional framework of pe-
ripheral countries, moving toward a new global architecture
that reduces social inequalities, asymmetries between coun-
tries, and establishes a harmonious relationship with the en-
Second, the need for further theoretical, conceptual and
empirical analysis regarding the nature of neoliberal glo-
balization. As this paper shows, neoliberal globalization
constitutes an exploitative, parasitic rentier-based and pre-
datory mode of capitalist expansion that departs from the
pathways of the “progressive” historical development of
capitalism. Instead of relying on the development of pro-
ductive forces as the engine of the accumulation process, it
bases itself on opportunities created by large MNCs to
make very high profits in a quick and easy way: labor
overexploitation (which takes advantage of the massive
oversupply of workforce in the periphery and former so-
cialist countries), financial speculation, and the irrational
exploitation of natural resources. All of this requires build-
ing new analytical categories that can unravel the complex
process of capital internationalization that has been under-
way for the past three and a half decades. Among other
things, we must dissect the dynamics of uneven develop-
ment that characterize the current phase of imperialist
domination—specifically: 1) geographical dispersion/con-
centration of capital along a North-South axis, which is
generated by the MNCs outsourcing of production pro-
cesses to peripheral regions (Sassen, 2007);13 2) the retro-
gressive development dynamics that unfold in the periphery
as a result of labor export and its dual character;14 3) the
characte ristic s of the new i nternational division of labor and
emerging forms of unequal exchange, as well as associated
forms of informal and precarious employment. This, in turn,
requires the construction of new indicators capable of cap-
turing this reality and demystifying dominant conceptions
regarding the character and nature of contemporary capita-
Third, the construction of an agent of social transformation.
The globalization project led by the United States has a li-
mited number of beneficiaries to a small capitalist elite and
has already lost its popularity given the overwhelming mass
of excluded and worldwide causalities. This has triggered
the need for a drastic change in the economic, political, so-
cial, cultural and environmental fabric. However, this de-
gree of social transformation is not feasible without the par-
ticipation of organized civil society, both in the form of
movements and struggles carried out by a diversity of
agents. Building an agent of transformation calls not only
for an alternative kind of development that is theoretically
and empirically grounded, but also for channels of dialogue,
the sharing of experiences, and the need to reconcile inter-
ests and visions and build partnerships, both across South-
South and South-North axes.
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