Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

John J. Pitney

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Globalization has significantly increased the number of stakeholders in transnational issues in recent decades. The typical list of the new players in global affairs often includes non-state actors like non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, and international organizations. Sub-national governments, however, have been given relatively little attention even though they, too, have a significant interest and ability to shape the increasing flow of capital, goods, services, people, and ideas that has so profoundly influenced the global political economy in recent decades. California, arguably the most significant among sub-national governments – its economy would be seventh or eighth in the world at $2.2 trillion annually, it engages in over $570 billion in merchandise trade, and has a population of nearly 40 million, out of which over 10 million are immigrants – is also one of the most active in transnational issues. The state government has opened and closed dozens trade offices abroad since the 1960s. It set up a multi-billion dollar carbon cap-and-trade system jointly with the Canadian provinces of Québec and Ontario under Assembly Bill 32, one of the most significant pieces of climate change legislation to date. California’s educational, technological, and media hubs – its public and private universities, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood – draw some of the best and brightest from around the world. California also has a long history of involvement in transnational issues. State efforts to undermine growing Chinese then Japanese “menace” immigrant populations from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries influenced United States foreign policy.

This thesis first takes a look at the federalism and international relations issues faced by California as it plays a greater role in transnational issues. Then, it examines the main actors and institutions, and the issues at play. The states have some leeway under the Constitution and contemporary political order to use their domestic powers to influence global issues, whether through climate legislation, public pension divestment, or non-binding “Memoranda of Understanding” with foreign governments. Such behavior, while less significant than national policy, can fill gaps in national policy, promote policy change, and deepen global ties, promoting a more complex interdependence among nations. California can also exert a moral, soft power influence in leading by example. The structures promoting California’s growing role in transnational issues are poorly organized. If the Golden State is to better leverage its political, economic, and moral authority internationally, it would do well to more explicitly develop a unified vision for its role in the world.