Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Structural Forms and Growth Regimes of the Post-Fordist Era

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Structural Forms and Growth Regimes of the Post-Fordist Era

Article excerpt


After two decades of transition in which major structural changes have been taking place, if only regarding technological change and internationalization, one should be able to identify more neatly what are the main characteristics of the post-Fordist growth regime of the developed economies. The assumption that capitalism cannot be conceived as a self-equilibrating system, but requires the development of a fabric of institutions to get a coherent evolution out of decentralized initiatives of agents, suggests that characterizing the new regime requires looking at this new institutional context. To follow such a historical and institutionalist perspective we shall refer to the notion of structural forms as proposed by the Regulation School. The paper is thus also a challenge to see how well this theoretical framework helps us understand the social fabric of a post-Fordist regime.

To refer to the ideal type of growth regime should not lead us to underestimate the inner contradictions that may be at work and which could turn after some time into a crisis of regime. A difficulty with such a theoretical stand is in effect to distinguish between transition phases and the real emergence of new regimes. Regulationists have often been trapped into either evoking largely different kinds of crises, or identifying different sorts of new regimes that petered out rapidly. This paper obviously runs similar risks. We shall face these risks bluntly, in being rather more systematic than necessary in our assessment of the institutional changes and of their consequences. The overall consistency of a comprehensive line of argument should in effect render the test more convincing than loosely related statements on post-Fordism.

To reach this objective we shall proceed in five steps. In the first place we shall draw a preliminary assessment of the present growth regime in terms of stylized facts drawing on national accounts to characterize the growth path and the structural changes that go with it (section 2). We shall follow with a brief discussion of the analytical tools that Regulation theory provides to investigate the institutional nexus that frames the functioning of a growth regime. The overall design of this institutional fabric characterizes a mode of Regulation that will be defined on the basis of the working of five structural forms (or institutional packages). We shall claim that at each historical period these forms exhibit a specific configuration where one structural form tends to be more specifically active, undergoing changes and manifesting a logic which influences the (less important) changes occurring in the other structural forms. Changes in the wage labor nexus played a dominant role in the previous Fordist period (section 3). We shall then investigate how changes in the forms of competition may presently play a similarly dominant role. Such a stand implies the development of a comprehensive approach of this form, of its nature as well as of its inner dynamics (section 4). Next we consider how this dynamic affects or transforms the other structural forms (or institutional packages) and especially the central form that the wage labor nexus represents. This will help feature the overall institutional dynamics that ground the new mode of development (section 5). Finally, this investigation should lead to a deeper characterization of the new growth regime regarding its growth potential as well as the type of society it may promote and the kind of policies it may require (section 6).


To schematize a growth regime one can use a cumulative causation model such as Kaldor's where a dynamic of productivity gains combines itself with a dynamic of demand formation (see e.g. Boyer and Petit 1991; Petit 1995). The dynamic of productivity gains (also called the productivity regime) describes the main sources of productivity gains in production processes, whether they occur as a result of market enlargements, increased capital labor substitution, or from the diffusion of new organizational principles. …

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