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new international division of labour (NIDL)

  An emergent form of the worldwide division of labour associated with the internationalization of production and the spread of industrialization, especially in a number of rapidly growing newly industrializing countries (NICs). Although apparently \'new\', the NIDL is more accurately understood as a manifestation of the perpetual geographical restructuring of capital at a global scale — a restructuring that has been in process for centuries — intensively so since the end of the nineteenth century (see imperialism; neocolonialism).

The term has been used most explicitly by Fröbel et al. (1980) in their account of the deindustrialization of the old industrial countries. It is associated with the outflow of investment as capital operating on a global scale and taking advantage of transportation and communications technology and the fragmentation and locational separability of the productive process, to tap the global reserve army of labour and to seek out cheap production sites in order better to face competitive pressures. An alternative interpretation suggests that multinational corporations are pushed out of highly industrialized economies by the falling rate of profit. The implication is that the NIDL is one strategic response to the continuous imperative of accumulation in capitalism. transnational corporations (TNCs) — the major agents of the NIDL — reorganize the geography of their productive structure in order to enhance profitability and so stimulate the growth of industrial production in the NICs and elsewhere. However, the resultant industrialization process within the host economies is limited in its effects:

Only rarely do developing countries end up with the establishment of reasonably complex industrial branches … And even in the very few developing countries where such centres of partial industrialization have been established there are no signs that they are being supplemented by a wider industrial complex which would enable them to free themselves from their dependency on the already industrialised countries for imports of capital and other goods, and for the maintenance of their industrial installations … Instead, industrial production is confined to a few highly specialized manufacturing processes … in world market factories … with no connection to the local economy except for their utilization of extremely cheap labour and occasionally some local inputs. (Fröbel et al., 1980, p. 6)A central feature of such accounts is the stress upon the role of multinational capital (Schoenberger, 1988) in shaping the world economy, especially in the expansion/relocation of production:

One form of this relocation … is the closing down of certain types of manufacturing operations … in the industrial nations and the subsequent installation of these parts of the production process in foreign subsidiaries of the same company. (Fröbel et al., 1980)The NIDL is, in this view, the result of the multinational restructuring of production. Only incidentally would the interests of MNCs coincide with the build-up of an integrated and complex industrial structure in a developing country. The countries remain passive and dependent (see dependence).

Less critical than this dependency view of the NIDL is that presented by the diffusionist theorists (e.g. see Chisholm, 1982; see also Corbridge, 1986; cf. diffusion). Here most emphasis is placed upon the leading forces within the industrializing economies to mobilize available resources and to develop distinctive patterns of comparative advantage in exploiting the opportunities for development presented by the international environment. The primacy of multinational capital is supplemented in this account by the practice of nation-states, assisted by an assumed and unspecified, but apparently beneficent, transfer of developmental resources from the core nations to those of the periphery.

While it is right to move away from determinist accounts of the emergence of the NIDL and to point out that nations need not necessarily be passive, it is also necessary to situate the process in the overarching context of the structure and dynamics of the world economic geography (see world-systems analysis for one interpretation) and to inquire into the national politics and potential for national resistance to the dominant forces of international development. It is in this context that Chisholm\'s entirely appropriate insistence upon the significance of geographical variations from place to place in the working out of the development process should be, but is not, most apparent.

The central importance of international capital in shaping the NIDL is clearly apparent in the recognition that only a very small number of developing countries have developed a significant level of industrialization (Dicken, 1998). It is also apparent in the tendency of investment to switch back to the old industrial economies as computer-aided production and other information and biotechnologies increase the capital intensity of the labour process and so reassert the significance of the production of relative, as opposed to absolute, surplus value (see Marxian economics). Indeed, a critique of the NIDL thesis focuses upon its almost exclusive attention on the significance of absolute surplus value as a determinant of the geography of production. However, the production of relative surplus value may allow and even require that production locations — especially those based on high value, high productivity and high levels of skill — are based in regions associated with an \'old\' division of labour. The new international division of labour could, thereby, itself soon become old.

Such dynamics have, according to Manuel Castells (1996, pp. 106, 136), already created the \'newest international division of labour\' within the global economy emerging from informational-based production and competition and

characterised by its interdependence, its asymmetry, its regionalization, the increasing diversification within each region, its selective inclusiveness, its exclusionary segmentation and … extraordinarily variable geometry that tends to dissolve historical, economic geographyin which, for example, \'most of Africa ceased to exist as an economically-viable entity\'. Such dramatic transformations and processes of uneven development are the latest representations of the geographical shifts driven and exploited by capital in its search for surplus value. They raise fundamental questions about the nature of and strategies for development and the criteria and time frames used to define and evaluate them. (RL)

References Castells, M. 1996: The rise of the network society, volume I: The information age: economy, society and culture. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, ch. 2. Chisholm, M. 1982: Modern world development. London: Hutchinson; Ottawa, NJ: Barnes and Noble. Corbridge, S. 1986: Capitalist world development. London: Macmillan, ch. 4. Dicken, P. 1998: Global shift: the internationalisation of economic activity, 3rd edn. London: Paul Chapman Publishing, ch. 6. Fröbel, F., Heinrichs, J. and Kreye, O. 1980: The new international division of labour. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Knox, P. and Agnew, J. 1994: The geography of the world economy. London and New York: Arnold, ch. 3. Schoenberger, E. 1988: Multinational corporations and the new international division of labour: a critical appraisal. International Regional Science Review 11: 105-19.

Suggested Reading Castells (1996). Fröbel, Heinrichs and Kreye (1980).



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