Exporting the American Model: The Post-War Transformation of European Business

By Marie-Laure A. Djelic | Go to book overview

Concluding Remarks

Insofar as Europe has a common culture, it is primarily American.

Anthony Sampson1

Although its blunt character may appear as somewhat of a provocation, Sampson's claim does ring quite true in light of the interpretation that has been proposed here of a key period in Western European economic history. It was argued indeed, in previous pages, that the postwar transformation of national systems of industrial production was the consequence of an organized and large-scale attempt to 'Americanize' the Western European industrial landscape. Twenty years after the end of the Second World War, many of the features common to Western European systems of industrial production could be traced back to a peculiar American model that had itself emerged in unique institutional and historical circumstances. Although partial, convergence was an unmistakable trend in postwar Western Europe and, to this day, this trend has not subsided. At the same time, however, while convergence in postwar Western Europe had essentially meant 'Americanization', significant differences in the structure of national industries could still be identified by the end of the period under study. In fact, a number of local peculiarities have remained to this day, so that national systems of industrial production can even now be contrasted and set apart from each other.

Unpacking historical contexts and institutional conditions has allowed us to propose an explanation for this puzzling and apparently contradictory combination of convergence with persistent differentiation. As it turns out, the fate of the peculiar American system of industrial production was closely linked, throughout the twentieth century, to the fate of the USA as a country. When the USA took on the leadership of the Western world in the immediate post Second World War period, parallels were quickly drawn between American geopolitical and economic power on the one hand and the unique American system of industrial production on the other. In the context of national crises and radical questioning that characterized a number of Western European countries, the American system of industrial production not surprisingly became the model to be transferred and adopted. And indeed, a large-scale structural transfer process was launched and fostered by a small cross- national network which controlled key resources and positions. This process was institutionalized through the systematic setting-up and operation of various cross-national transfer mechanisms, whether of mimetic, coercive, or normative types. Such a transfer process was bound to disrupt preexisting economic and social arrangements. It did encounter obstacles and sometimes

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