Post-Fordism

What is Post-Fordism?

In a sense post-Fordism is what comes after Fordism.  The term only emerged once the Fordist era had come to an end.

Under Fordism we have large corporations making mass-consumer items with assembly line techniques.  Production is standardised and, once begun, really rather difficult to reconfigure.  The Fordist factory thrives on the scale of production.  Bigger production runs make the goods cheaper.  Consumers get to consume only those commodities which the mass-producers find convenient to make.  It is a production-driven economy.  Consumption, like production gets standardised.  It is an era of big government programmes (such as highway construction) to facilitate Fordism.

In the 1960s, the US got into trouble economically, as it tried to finance the Cold War and the Vietnam War.  Arms production was being financed on a wartime scale, although there was no real war.  Something had to give.  President Johnson tried to solve the problem by printing more money, this just led to inflation.  President Nixon tried to solve the problem by taking the US off the gold standard.  But that just meant that the US no longer would control the world economy.

The world economy had to be re-invented in the 1970s, and in the process the newly industrialising countries (NICs) of the so-called third world gained greater significance.  The rise of computer technology and improved international telecommunications meant that mass production could be completely redesigned.

Production no longer had to be centralised in a few key manufacturing centres, it could be dispersed all over the world.  It no longer needed to be large in scale because computer-controlled tools and specialised manuafcaturing techniques could customise production efficiently.  Production no longer required vast stockpiles of raw material and supplies because computersied logistics could ensure the just-in-time delivery of components custom manufactured.  Instead of being producer driven, production became more consumer-oriented, with consumer driven production chains.  Cars could be redesigned like athletic shoes or military vehicles or whatever the consumer wanted.  Fordist auto manufacturers gave the 1950s consumers cars with a variety of tail fins and chrome appendages, but fundamentally they changed very little.  The 1980s and 1990s consumers got entirely new categories of vehicles: the minivan, the sports utility, the pickup truck, the hybrid sports-truck etc.,  Instead of a mass-consumer culture which assumed mom-and-pop nuclear families in tract suburbs, a much wider variety of ethnicities, family structures, sexual orientations etc., was recognized.

Companies which are active in the new, post-Fordist, economy have often broken away from the traditional corporate model.  If you really want to make big money these days, you have to be prepared to be very flexible in your investments, and flexible in your production.  Instead of tying up investments in factories or one type of business, companies diversify into multiple types of business and roll their investments around from one sphere to another as it makes sense.  Several key companies are basing their prosperity not on the making of things, but on developing them and marketing them.  This is what the Marxists are calling flexible accumulation.

parody of the Enron sign

On the downside, much of the old-line Fordist manufacturing was shifted to the NICs, and what little remained tended to abandon the old-line Fordist regime.  Instead of blue-collar jobs with the company for life, you have flexible time, contract work, layoffs and wage rollbacks.  The Fordist welfare state and those big government programmes like highway construction, welfare, public schools etc., have been de-funded and reduced in scope and scale.  Much has been privatised.  In the post-Fordist "New Economy" semi-skilled blue collar males are not in high demand.  The new post-Fordist economy needs people with social skills, and technical skills.  Women seem to be able to deliver on the social skills, and technically-qualified men and women flourish in the new economy (when it needs them), but nobody now expects to have jobs for life.

work your way off welfare?

Under Fordism, the industrial worker had to work at a pace dictated by the speed of the assembly line.  Work was repetitive and often exhausting.  Under Post-Fordism, if you have job, you have to work at a speed dictated by computers, and you are competing, wage-wise, with other desperate people in low-wage countries.

Links

Fordism and the transition to flexible accumulation click here

Fordism vs Post Fordism click here

Post-Modernism and Post-Fordism click here

Post-Fordism and the Information society click here