According to some writers, global capitalism has entered a new era of “disorganization”, “flexible accumulation” or “post-Fordism” (Lash & Urry 1987; Harvey 1989; Lipietz 1992). This chapter examines these claims, and more importantly the implications for late industrializers in the developing world. My principal concern is therefore to examine the constraints and opportunities faced by late industrializers in the so-called “post-Fordist” world.
I undertake this task in three main sections. First, I examine the argument that capitalism has moved from a Fordist to a post-Fordist era based on flexible production. The claims made for a new era are treated with some scepticism, but I also acknowledge that significant changes have occurred. Second, I draw on this discussion-of the arguments both for and against a new period of capital accumulation-to draw out some of the implications for the Third World. Finally, in rejecting a blanket pessimism or optimism, I suggest a more nuanced approach, which examines different sectors, countries, and so on. This is then taken up through brief case studies of the clothing, automobile, and electronics sectors, and a brief re-examination of industrialization in Taiwan.
The period from 1945 to 1973 has been called the era of “high Fordism” (Harvey 1989:129-33). In the advanced capitalist world this was the era of mass production and consumption, in which the experiments and innovations introduced in 1909 by Henry Ford in the automobiles sector were extended to other sectors of the economy. Fordism was based on the mass production of standardized products, in which workers were allocated strictly demarcated tasks, and in which they utilized specialized machinery for each particular product-or part of a product (Dicken 1992:116). This system of production was focused on the national market, which was usually protected from foreign competition, but there was considerable scope for competing in world markets, and for foreign investment in overseas markets. Within this system of production,