What is Fordism?

Fordism features assembly line techniques which improve production and efficiency.
Fordism features assembly line techniques which improve production and efficiency.

Fordism denotes the modern economic and social systems of mass production and consumption. The system is named in honor of Henry Ford, and it is employed in social, economic, and management theory concerning consumption, production, and working conditions and other associated concepts particularly regarding the 20th century. Fordism features assembly line techniques which improve production and efficiency.

The Scope of Fordism

Fordism arose as a system to produce low-cost and standardized products while the improved productivity would afford workers decent wages. The concept was first implemented in the automotive sector, although it is useful in other manufacturing processes. The success of the philosophy lay in three primary principles: the standardization of the item required the use of machines and molds by unskilled laborers; assembly lines featured the use of special-purpose equipment and tools, and unskilled laborers could contribute to the finished good; and the workforce benefited from higher "living" wages which enabled workers to afford to buy the items they made. A technological revolution complemented the principles during Ford's time. Ford's assembly line concept was hardly revolutionary although his form of labor was. Among Ford's original contributions was the breaking down of complicated activities to simpler ones with the aid of specialized equipments. Ford improved the effectiveness of the assembly line as it could change its consistent parts to meet the requirements of the product being assembled. Ford's assembly line reduced the labor required for the factory to run its operations and it even deskilled the labor and thus cut down the costs of production. The factories during the Fordism era preferred to churn out similar items from year to year although they may have been styled differently.

The Origin and Rise of Fordism

Henry Ford is credited with popularizing the idea in the 1920s, and Fordism grew to represent modernity. The Ford Motor Company had existed since 1903. Ford unveiled the Model T, which although was light and simple, was adequately sturdy to drive on the nation's primitive roads. Ford was able to lower the car's price by implementing mass production, and thus made it affordable to the average customer. To counter low employee turnover and absenteeism, Ford raised the wages of his laborers which was enough to make them consumers. The Model T made history by achieving 60% of the automobile output within the country. Ford's production system was based on specialization, synchronization, and precision. The term Fordism did not gain popularity until it was used in 1934 by Antonio Gramsci in his publication titled "Americanism and Fordism." Gramsci discussed the social, political, and economic impediments to the transfer of Fordism and Americanism to continental Europe. He further identified Fordism's potential transformative ability when managed by laborers and not conservative forces. The historian Charles Maier asserted that Taylorism had preceded Fordism in Europe. Taylorism had gained the support of European intellectuals, particularly in Italy and Germany in the period between the fin de siecle and World War I. The concept referred to a technique of workplace organization and labor discipline founded upon supposedly-scientific research concerning human efficient and incentive systems. Fordism gained prominence in Europe from 1918 as it promised to do away with the archaic remains of precapitalist society through the subordination of society, economy, and the human personality to the rigorous criteria of technical rationality. The principles of Taylorism acquired an enthusiast in Vladimir Lenin who implemented it to the Soviet Union's industrialization. Marxists abandoned Taylorism for Fordism in the 1930s and created post-Fordism in the 1970s. Fordism enjoyed its peak in the aftermath of the WWII, but it declined in the 1970s.

The Fall of Fordism

In the 1970s, Fordism was plagued by a series of cultural and political attacks. The economies of industrialized nations had reported increased profits and wages from the late 1940s onward. This growth slowed down in the early 1970s in part due to the New Left Revolution. Proponents of the revolution rejected the disciplines of the assembly lines. Rapid increases in the purchasing costs of oil and other raw products further made it costly for business to run their production operations. Different nations addressed these economic concerns by implementing tried and tested economic policies which failed to work. The global economy was soon affected by failing national economies and countries had to adopt new industrial methods leading to the decline of Fordism. The working class, on the other hand, rejected what they considered to be alienating working conditions of Fordism. The market for mass customer durables further became saturated while globalization rendered state economic management ineffective. The economic dominance of the US was also challenged by European as well as East-Asian growth.


The era after Fordism is commonly called Post-Fordist and Neo-Fordist. Post-Fordist means that global capitalism has successfully detached itself from Fordism while Neo-Fordist means that some elements of the Fordist remain. A section of theorists has suggested other substantive alternatives including Sonyism, Toyotism, Fujitsu, and Gatesism. Post-Fordist economies have embraced multiple contemporary strategies. New information technologies have become significant as firms recognize their potential to create a networked and flexible global economy. The labor has also been feminized. Service industries have gained dominance over manufacturing while financial markets have become globalized. Post-Fordist companies market items to niche markets and do not target mass consumption as they did before. Several characteristics of a stable Post-Fordism have been identified. The production, labor, and system or machines have to be flexible. There must also be a stable mode of growth facilitated by such factors as the rising salaries of skilled laborers, rising profits due to permanent innovation, flexible production, and the increased demand for differentiated products by the better-off population. There should also be an increasing polarization between the unskilled and multi-skilled laborers combined with a reduction in industrial or national collective bargaining. Another key characteristic is the rise of networked and lean businesses which channel their resources towards their core competencies, establish strategic partnerships, and outsource multiple activities. Government finance is subordinate to global money and currency markets, and types of cybercash and private bank credit circulate internationally. Another feature is the existence of political regimes that are keen on innovation and global competitiveness and which adopt market-friendly and flexible forms of economic governance.


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