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Are We More Free than We Were in the Past? Essay

Centuries ago, production was limited to long hours of manual labour, which yielded low output. Simple goods required a lot of man-hours to produce. The 18th century was accompanied by revolutions that changed man’s way of life. Machines were invented and production started growing. The labour intensive model that was used before the invention of the machines was replaced by the factory system.

The use of machines replaced hand tools and most of the human labour was replaced by the power of the steam engine. This is what characterized the industrial revolution. Over a short time span, rural towns grew as more factories came up. There was increased movement from the rural areas to the fast growing urban centers (Amin, 1995).

This further promoted the establishment of social classes; employers on one side and workers on the other. Britain was the first to enjoy the benefits of machine production; its economy grew and was the envy of the neighbouring European countries and the, the US Included. The inventions like the spinning jenny and the flying shuttle boosted the textile industry a great deal.

Steam power was used in the manufacture of automobiles, leading to ease of transportation. It is important to note that the effects of the industrial revolution not only shaped the lives of people in the 18th century; but still develop the 21st century as newer technologies are applied.

The growth of industries prompted competition amongst countries all over the world. Similar concepts started emerging in different countries. As production grew, there was a need to find new markets and places to establish industries. The US became a new ground for development and soon caught up with the competition. The concept of factory production became the primary focus of all businesses.

The second industrial revolution came with an increased production and an improvement on machines used in production. Machines that had been using steam power were replaced by those using electrical power; which proved more economical and easy to manage. Electricity could power huge mechanical plants in the factories, making arrangement of machines more flexible.

As more machines were introduced into the factories, the need for human labour became less valuable. Factories made mass production a priority and in 1913 Henry Ford introduced a more effective way of production; using the assembly line to produce goods. This concept ensured the production of identical goods in huge numbers and within a short time (Gartman, 2009).

The assembly line used a conveyor belt which held components that would be put together to form the final product; as the conveyor belt moved from one work station to another.

Henry Ford used this model of production to manufacture his Model-T Ford automobiles, which made him a market leader in the automobile industry (William, 1978). The assembly lines became popular and were adapted by other industries; and that process of production was referred to as fordism.

Fordism introduced a system of mass production that was efficient and cost effective. Economies of scale were achieved by investing more on production plants thereby increasing output and reducing unit costs. With mass production came division of labour, workers specialized on specific tasks in different work stations.

The remaining staff did the overhead work, which included procurement, marketing, accounting, repairs and stocking. Working on an assembly line had it merits and demerits. Workers routinely worked on the same stations for a long time, after a while those kinds of jobs became boring and saw a high number of staff quit their jobs. On the other hand skilled labour became highly paid.

Management policies further ensured job securities and safety measures for workers. Though fordism grew economies, improved lifestyles and provided opportunities for highly paid jobs; it also led to the loss of numerous jobs that were previously held by the unskilled labourers.

Rise of industries also made critical changes to the environment, in terms of pollution and exploitation of resources. As cities grew, the rural regions remained poor. It is about time we moved from mass production of goods to a system that advocated for transformation of institutions, which promote a flow of information (Giddens, 1990).

Post-fordism is movement from the system of mass production to a just-in-time production model coupled with the flow of information and transportation to enable economic development. Markets became more liberalized and were not restricted by national borders. Trade agreements were signed to enable free movement of goods and services to consumers wherever they were.

Organizations targeted countries with competitive demand for their products; they also considered production costs in those new countries. Lower taxes also promoted migration of those corporations to their new destinations.

While Fordism focused on mass production, Post-Fordism used a model that customized production to the customers’ needs. Relocations focused on areas with lower wage payouts, while exploiting a highly professional staff.

The automation process and the use of information technology saw an increase in quality of production, as experts were hired to manage tasks at different levels of manufacture. Post-Fordism promoted a production process that constantly required the input of skilled labour and rotational work schedules.

Although this model of production sought to maximize efficiency; corporations had to take advantage of short term contracts hence increasing the rate of job insecurity. Outsourcing became a popular concept, used by companies to deliver services at reduced wages.

All these factors made Post-Fordism successful in delivering goods and services on time. It created disparities in incomes for its workers, in that different countries paid different wages for the same level of expertise. Profit margins were also high considering the low production costs.

The major difference between the two systems is that, while Fordism produced a particular good in huge quantities for an undifferentiated market, Post-Fordism had an assortment of goods produced to satisfy diverse consumer bases that had different tastes and cultures (Harvey, 1989).

Post-Fordism can be seen as a promoter of globalization, through liberalization of trade and division of labour across the entire globe. It also spreads modern cultures and technologies to different countries (Koch, 2006). As the western countries grow their economies, part of their wealth also remains in the poorer countries; especially those in the developing world.

Post-Fordism can be viewed as a modern way of life, as people exchange ideas, cultures, traditions and do business with each other. Institutions that do not move with change, and those that do not consider customer satisfaction are bound to fail; in this consumer based system of production. (Becks, 2001)

Although each system worked best during its era, both of them have had an adverse effect on the global society. So are we safe than we were in the past? This will depend on an individual’s view, as both systems had both advantages and disadvantages.

Jobs were created and lost, there was economic and social growth across the board. If we compare the two systems carefully, Post-fordism seems to encompass the global demands of the employers, workers and the consumers. Development might be on different levels, but there is evidence that it is distributed to the most remote places on the globe.


Amin, A., 1995. Post-Fordism: A reader (studies in urban and social change). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Becks, U., 2001. Individualization: institutionalized individualism and its social and political consequences. London: Sage Publications Limited.

Gartman, D., 2009. From autos to architecture: Fordism and architectural aesthetics in the twentieth century. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Giddens, A., 1990. The consequences of modernity. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Harvey, D., 1989. The condition of postmodernity: An enquiry in to the origins of cultural change. London: Basil Blackwell.

Koch, M., 2006. Roads to Post-Fordism: Labour markets and social structures in Europe. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

William, A., 1978. The productivity Dilemma: Roadblock to innovation in the automobile industry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Are We More Free than We Were in the Past?" July 2, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/are-we-more-free-than-we-were-in-the-past/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Are We More Free than We Were in the Past'. 2 July.

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