Topics in Political Economy – What is meant by ‘Fordism’?

In general terms, ‘Fordism’ is a fundamental law of organisation encompassing economic, social and technical aspects. The notion of Fordism is mainly associated with the French Regulation theorists that include Aglietta, Boyer, Lipietz, Mazler and Mistral. Their analysis has attempted to construct concepts which can apply their ‘Regulation Theory’ to the real world. The key concepts in the theory are:

  • The Mode of Production – this specifies the links between social relations and economic development.
  • The Regime of Accumulation – this looks at the macroeconomic principle which describes the compatibility over a prolonged period between the transformations in production conditions and in the uses of social output (Leborgne & Lipietz; 1988; p264).
  • The Mode of Regulation – this refers to the internal and external structural or institutional forms which determine the forms of monetary constraint, the configurations of wage relations, the forms of competition, its position within the international regime and the form of the state.

The mutual or reciprocal actions of these concepts in the Regulation Theory allow the determination of a pattern (or mode) of development or growth model of a country’s economy.

Fordism refers to the dominant regime of accumulation present after the Second World War of development within the advanced capitalist nations, especially the OECD nations. These nations experienced unprecedented rates of economic growth from the late 1940s to the 1960s. This period is commonly known as the ‘Golden Age’ (1950-73) of capitalism, but eventually collapsed by the early 1970s with these nations experiencing much lower rates of growth. Hence the question arises ‘why did the Fordist crisis occur’? By answering the question once will be better able to understand Fordism and apply the lessons of the Golden Age to contemporary economic development. However, once must first explain and examine how the Fordist era came about and how the crisis arose from its prosperity. This can be done from a national and international perspective.


By Mawdud Choudhury

16 March 1998


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