Reviving “Post-post-Fordism”

by John Q on May 15, 2023

I had an odd intellectual experience recently. A US high school student wrote to me as part of an assignment, asking for my thoughts on Brave New World, and its current relevance. I replied talking about the role of “Our Ford”, and Gramsci’s contemporary concept of Fordism.

That got me thinking about post-Fordism, and then to the idea of post-post-Fordism, referring to the information economy that has emerged since the rise of the Internet. I expected that this would be a reinvention of the intellectual wheel on my part, but when I popped the phrase into DuckDuckGo, I got a single hit, which was part of a 2015 interview with UK radical economist Robin Murray. whose ideas about the concept were very similar to mine, but whose comments were very brief.

I didn’t know of Murray, but I thought I should write to him and ask him how he had developed the idea. Sadly, I was led to Wikipedia, which reported that Murray had died in 2017, apparently without writing anything further on the topic. I’ve found a handful of citations, but of the “in passing” variety.

I’m not sure where to go next with this. I’d like to revive the idea (if indeed it died with Murray), but I’m not sure how to deal with an intellectual history like this. Perhaps some of my readers knew (or knew of) Murray or have seen the idea of post-post-Fordism?



engels 05.15.23 at 10:34 am

On my (admittedly murky) understanding of post-Fordism, I think it might be more appropriate to call the internet era hyper-post-Fordism or something. I don’t know why it would be considered a phase beyond post-Fordism (as the additional “post-” prefix seems to imply).


engels 05.15.23 at 10:37 am

Which of these have been superseded?

(1) flexible production based on flexible machines or systems and a flexible workforce; (2) a stable mode of growth based on flexible production, economies of scope, rising incomes for skilled workers and the service class, increased demand among the better-off for differentiated goods and services, increased profits based on permanent innovation and the full utilization of flexible capacity, reinvestment in more flexible production equipment and techniques and new sets of products, and so on; (3) growing economic polarization between multiskilled workers and the unskilled, together with a decline in national or industrial collective bargaining; (4) the rise of flexible, lean, and networked firms that focus on their core competences, build strategic alliances, and outsource many other activities; (5) the dominance of hypermobile, rootless, private bank credit and forms of cybercash that circulate internationally; (6) the subordination of government finance to international money and currency markets; (7) a shift from postwar welfare states (as described by John Maynard Keynes) to political regimes that are more concerned with international competitiveness and innovation, with full employability as opposed to jobs for life, and with more flexible, market-friendly forms of economic and social governance; and (8) increasing concern with governing local, regional, supranational, and even global economies


steven t johnson 05.15.23 at 2:48 pm

Followed the link and started to read, then quickly derailed by this: “While some of the key features of ‘Fordist’ capitalism–such as assembly-line production–remain central to global manufacturing (above all in China), they are no longer bundled with the other key features of ‘Fordism’, such as a strict gendered division of labour and a macro-economic policy committed to maintaining high aggregate demand within the same nation state in which production is concentrated.”

It is not clear to me that the national government in the Fordist era had any such commitment. In the US, this is saying, the New Deal was Fordism, even if it wasn’t so obvious to the real life Fords. Also, the gendered division of labor was a feature of society before mass mobilization of women in WWII, but how this is essential to Fordism is a mystery to me. Most of all, the notion that assembly line work somehow is no longer Fordist because it’s mainly in China leaves the difference between Fordism and post-Fordism quite obscure.

Backing up, the intro claims they are addressing “…a complex of issues around the politics of networks, ‘control’ and ‘security’ societies as defined by Deleuze and Foucault respectively, and post-Fordism. In fact Maurizio Lazzarato, for one, has explicitly linked the latter two phenomena, understanding post-Fordism as more-or-less the direct consequence of new techniques of power and governance as described by Foucault being deployed in the context of processes of capitalist production.”

It’s not clear whether the latter two phenomena are politics and post-Fordism; control and security societies; Deleuze and Foucault. But changes in social/economic life don’t seem to me to be products of new techniques of power and governance. Satellite communications may also be used in governance but the claim this was devised as a method of control—that is the obvious meaning of “direct consequence”—seems doubtful. The changes in social life due to television (and more recently the internet) do not seem planned to me.

In the US the interstate highway system was the cutting edge of the turn to trucking but the provision of public roads is like assembly-line manufacturing: It is not clear how we are post-Fordist yet. Just -in-time production is very much a product of very old fashioned cost-cutting that long precedes Ford. Rapid turnover is higher profit. Just-in-time is the same thing with rapid truck transit I suspect. Ditto geographical dispersion of plants.

And most of all the birth control pill can’t quite count as a political ploy. The shift to two-incomes to support worker families strikes me as a de facto wage cut for the family. (Admittedly this is not the way it is usually seen.) Wage-cutting also seems very Fordist to me, as I don’t really think Ford actually believed his wages would profitably buy his cars. Again, how are we even post-Fordist? The massive entry of women into the paid workforce is indeed huge, but how is this a product of governance?

Afraid I stopped reading…


nastywoman 05.15.23 at 3:52 pm


we are planning an exhibition about POST-FORDISM in Houston Texas in Sept-Oct –
and for anybody who is interested to participate in any way or form –
(how about our hobby marxist Engels)
(and we could post a short trailer about the plan on ‘teh tube’)


Peter Dorman 05.15.23 at 3:59 pm

I was much into post-fordism in the 1980s. I agree with Engels that it’s been absorbed, and I think the reason it doesn’t occupy center stage any more is that it was, as the Britannica’s list indicated, a set of observations rather than a coherent system. You could say there was a loose convergence, but not much more.

Which is why post-post-fordism strikes me as sketchy. If there is such a beast, and is there?, it is bundle of sequelae to a bundle of sequelae.

In the event, I think p-f got squeezed between Varieties of Capitalism, financialization, neoliberalism and other descriptors. I’m reminded of the old cartoon: “Is dis a system?”


Tm 05.15.23 at 5:46 pm

How would you define post-post-fordism and what do you think is the point of this kind of labeling? It seems improvised, putting a label on something that we think has changed but we don’t understand it yet. That applies to post-fordism and post-modernism as well of course.

We don’t refer to post-feudalism, or post-renaissance. We have more precise concepts to describe what came after the baroque than calling it „post-baroque“.


John Q 05.15.23 at 7:33 pm

Lots of questions, which I hope to answer when (and if) I write up what is still a vague idea. But here’s the rough schema

  • Fordism -> industrial economy -> social democracy
  • Post-Fordism -> service economy, financialisation, globalisation -> neoliberalism
  • Post-post-Fordism -> information/platform economy -> end of neoliberalism, but replacement unclear

Brad DeLong 05.15.23 at 7:37 pm

Why think small?

-50000 Gatherer-hunter (band of 100?) (small-scale anthology intelligence)
-6000: Agricultural-herding (space-binding anthology intelligence)
-3000: Agrarian society (time-binding anthology intelligence)
-500: Ancient society
1000: Feudal society
1700: Commercial society
1870: Steampower society
1915: Applied-science society
1960: Mass-production society
2005: Global value-chain society
2050: Info-biotech society


nastywoman 05.15.23 at 9:08 pm

and about ‘teh academics’ – from 2015 interview with UK radical economist Robin Murray =

‘Labour no longer has to be in a single factory or firm. It can talk together and organise across spatial and organisational boundaries. The internet has greatly extended the space and capacity for labour’s responses to capital
It also opens up the potential for collaboration. The key word is open: open source, open knowledge, open learning, open data, open innovation, open production.

This leads straight into the issue of the ‘commons’, because the socialisation of information, and its sharing, creates the potential for an autonomous collective intelligence on a planetary scale. In this new economy of the commons, the form of license becomes a key area of contest, about who owns what, who has access to the collectively produced knowledge and so on.

This in turn leads to a third form of socialisation, which we might call ‘civil socialization’. I would like to distinguish it from the socialisation of information, for it is about the capacity of us as civil beings to socialise directly, to act directly, to discuss directly, to produce directly: to produce not only ideas but also, say, an open-sourced car, by collaborating’



LFC 05.15.23 at 10:54 pm

It might be interesting to see what some of the names associated w the notion of post-Fordism or closely associated ideas (e.g. David Harvey, Alain Lipietz, et al.) think about “post post-Fordism.”


Briny deep 05.16.23 at 12:16 am

Small thought from comment 7:
– Fordism — you need to invest in a factory to exploit workers
– post-F — you invest in a (cheaper) coffee shop to exploit workers
– p-p-F — workers buy their own kit to be exploited by your platform.


Tim Dymond 05.16.23 at 1:07 am

It seems some writers just stretch the idea of ‘Post-Fordism’ to include the elements you’ve classified as ‘Post-post-Fordism’. E.g. Nick Dyer-Witheford:

“I nominate the video game as an “ideal-type commodity” for post-Fordism, embodying its most powerful economic, social, and cultural tendencies.”


Daniel Maddox 05.16.23 at 1:35 am

It is unclear to me what kind of commitment the federal government made throughout the Fordist era. This is stating that the New Deal in the US was Fordism, even though it wasn’t immediately apparent to the actual Fords.


John Q 05.16.23 at 3:25 am

Briny Deep @11. This is a large part of the story, with the proviso that exploitation can be more successful (as under p-F) or less (as under F and, hopefully, p-p-F)


TM 05.16.23 at 7:42 am

JQ 7: “Fordism -> industrial economy -> social democracy”

The identification of this phase of capitalism with social democracy is often assumed () but empirically not really in evidence, if by social democracy we mean social democrats actually governing, because that has only been the case for relatively short periods. E. g. in Germany 1972-1983, in France 1981-1995 (if we want to count Mitterrand’s presidency, notwithstanding that he didn’t have a majority after 1986), in the UK 1945-51, 64-70 and 74-79. In the US, who do we even count as social democrats?

It seems more accurate to refer to the welfare state instead of social democracy.


MisterMr 05.16.23 at 11:56 am

IMAO (In My Awesome Opinion):

Up to a certain point, most people had to work in the fields because agriculture wasn’t productive enough.

After that there was the industrial revolution, and at some point most people didn’t work in the fields anymore. I believe that in industrialized world this happened in the interwar period, and this is what we refer to as “fordism”.

At some point, more so in some countries than in other, industrial productivity becomes high enough that most people don’t work anymore neither in the field nor in blue collar jobs; this is what we call post-fordism, but we could call it service economy or also welfare economy (for reasons that I will give later).
I see no post-post-fordism.

This is about the “structural” factors; but if we look at the politics, things become jumbled because the political responses do not immediately track the structural problems.
In the “agriculture” part of history, the sort of economic crises of overproduction/underconsumption that we see today did not really exist because most people were hand to mouth farmers and they just accomodated another son into a less efficient use of labor force.
There are exceptions to this, but this is an important concept. Brett Deveraux has a series of blog posts about ancient farming and in one of the posts touches about the different concept of “efficiency” in the use of labor that we have now relative to the middle ages:

With the advent of mass industrialization, we have the business cycle because on the one hand labor is used for efficiency, and on the other the minimum “subsistence” level of production would leave much more people unemployed, so we also have the advent of socialism of various sorts and towards the end of the period of keynesianism and the welfer state/social democracy (I think they are the same).

With the advent of “service” economies, i.e. economies where most people do not work anymore either in the fields or in the factories, we actually have an even worse problem of business cycles, because the two factors that caused it are even more pronounced. However there was a long period (1980-2010 roughly) where the “keynesian” state was partially dismantled, whereas the problem of the business cycle was “solved” (in reality hidden under the carpet) by the increase of private debt, that also works as “stimulus”.

So we have a situation where we are really more dependent on keynesian helps today that we were in the “keynesian golden age” of the postwar years, but at a political/cultural level we are in denial of it.

One of the reasons of the denial is the fact that keynesian policies work well inside a single country, but when you think in terms of international market they create a situations where other countries might try to “reverse free ride” them by being net exporters; in the immediate postwar years the USA was so much bigger than the other economies that it wasn’t a problem but today it is.

TLDR: I think we should distinguish the “structural” aspect from the “political” one; in structural terms we are still in post-fordism (no post-post-fordism), in political terms we are in a strange period of going backwards from the keynesian model, which is the one that would make sense, and this creates the impression of a post-post-fordism.


steven t johnson 05.16.23 at 3:29 pm

Still stuck with the problem of figuring out how world economy, as opposed to localized slices, are post-Fordist, hence can’t move on to post-post-Fordism.

But this (which is a diversion in the sense it rejects the Fordism/post-Fordism periodization that underlies the OP,) is provocative.

“-50000 Gatherer-hunter (band of 100?) (small-scale anthology intelligence)
-6000: Agricultural-herding (space-binding anthology intelligence)
-3000: Agrarian society (time-binding anthology intelligence)
-500: Ancient society
1000: Feudal society
1700: Commercial society
1870: Steampower society
1915: Applied-science society
1960: Mass-production society
2005: Global value-chain society
2050: Info-biotech society”

Sorry, don’t know how to inset a block quote.

Perhaps history should be thought of as a tapestry? But it’s a special one, that while it unfolds it may get wider as new threads “grow” from the old. Or it may get narrower, as threads inexplicably vanish, like the Mound Builders. The pattern we see depends as we unroll depends on the width but some of the old threads are still there, despite new features revealed by the additions. There’s continuity. Hunter/gatherer societies did not disappear with the addition of agriculture whether that was 6 000 BC. By the way, those who don’t believe in a terminus a quo tend to date humanity (as they see it) back to app. 300 000 ya.

Agricultural and pastoral societies are perhaps the great example of how there can be a weird equivocation between the fallacy of composition and the fallacy of division, papered over in this case with a hyphen. Human history, despite overly simple approaches back in the nineteenth century, is not linear. Agricultural and pastoral societies are much more like two alternative paths, rather than a two-track single thing. At least that’s all I can conclude from what I know. And “agrarian” is still agricultural. At a wild guess from the dates is supposed to somehow include cities, even though a version of cities arose much earlier?

Nor do I understand how ancient society is distinct, though it may be meant to single out Greece?

Feudal society I think arose in western Europe at the end of the Dark Ages, taking its first western form in Charlemagne’s empire. In the east Justinian was I think the not ancient, but feudal and his failure to revive the ancient Roman empire was the first proof of something new in the Mediterranean world (followed of course by the Muslim wave.)

1348 decisive defeat of feudalism despite its temporary revival in eastern Europe. [The way this ignores Asian and American and African history does render the value of these historical periodization very contingent on the purpose they are used for, that is, not very in talking about humanity as a whole, rather than European history.]

1517 The process of expropriating church lands (an essential part of feudalism) begins with the Protestant Reformation, thus begins capitalism as more than a temporary local phenomenon. As time goes by, the early capitalist class compromises with feudal survivals under the political ideology of absolutism, and mercantilism is the dominant economic ideology.

1759 The first world war (aka Seven Years’ War, aka French and Indian War, aka Carnatic Wars) signals the initial triumph of capitalism as a world system. Nationalism with mass political participation arranged so that it cannot threaten capitalist property, which is called democracy, subsequently becomes the dominant political ideology. Liberalism subsequently becomes the dominant economic ideology.

1917 The second world war, incorrectly labeled the First, signals the beginning of the end for capitalism as a political/economic world system. Socialism emerges as a competitor and fascism emerges as the solution to the competition. After the sequel to the Great War, decolonization and the welfare state become the norm, as aids to the conflict with socialism. Social democracy as the preferred mode of counter-revolution.

1989 The defeat of the leading socialist power leads to a triumphalist capitalist reversion to the norm. Ideologically this is neoliberalism and the dismantling of the concessions called the welfare state (or social democracy) are slated for demolition. Rivalries among capitalists demand the redivision of the world according to the material balance of power, both military and economic, but it is conducted by hybrid forms, relying heavily on economic warfare—which is still war!—political subversions, state terror, etc. The foundational ideology of the mobilization for the national struggles is fascism. The emerging economic ideology is to be determined by the victors.


Brad DeLong 05.17.23 at 3:58 am

Surely Mass-Production Society is Fordism, Global Value-Chain Society is Post-Fordism, and Info-Biotech Society will be Post-Post-Fordism?

The point, I think, is to think more seriously about modes of production (and domination, communication, and distribution) and how they shape the rest of society…


John Q 05.17.23 at 6:06 am

That’s pretty much what I have in mind, though I’m unconvinced of that biotech is any more significant now than in C20.


nastywoman 05.17.23 at 2:13 pm

there is everything y’all need to know about (Past) Post-Fordism –
there are a few riddles included
BUT if y’all were able to figure out why our friend Elon brought a ‘think’ to the… ‘Deal’
y’all will
ALL be able to find ALL of the references

Right ON! – Right ON!!


steven t johnson 05.17.23 at 2:16 pm

Textiles were mass production in the eighteenth century. Unless Global Value-Chain means, “Western” capitalists put their factories in non-“Western” countries, the transfer of the world textiles market to places like England seem suspiciously similar to a global value-chain. This is true even if the extra-economic pressures on Indian textile production took a colonialist form now out of fashion (but soon to be a retro craze?) The real first world war couldn’t possibly look like today’s but that doesn’t mean ugly force plays a role in supposed peaceful commercial competition.

It appears to me not only is “Fordism” not truly post, it preceded the real world Ford (a cute trick indeed.)

As for post-post-Fordism, printing began the information society centuries ago, even if you wanted to omit writing for some inexplicable reason.

And the domestication of plants and animals may not be sexy enough to count as biotech, but it was. Antibiotics and anesthesia and the much ignored birth control are more recent, but they are and were biotech too. I am by no means convinced that venture capitalist brochures are really reliable guides to how the world will finally be seriously different, unlike those previous biotech ventures.


nastywoman 05.18.23 at 8:10 am

AND just as a reminder the (kind of) official definition of –
‘Post-Fordism is a term used to describe the growth of new production methods defined by flexible production, the individualization of labor relations and fragmentation of markets into distinct segments, after the demise of Fordist production’

I also LOVES Prof. DeLongs approach!


Peter T 05.19.23 at 1:16 am

Going back to Brad’s long duree, what matters is how the economic substrate permits social organisation.

In forager societies the overlap between the population and the ‘political nation’ (those entitled to have a voice in decisions) is large, even though voices are not equal. That is, most adults can have a say, and exit is pretty easy.

In agricultural or pastoral societies the political nation is much smaller relative to the population and exit is often controlled. Political dominance may be exerted indirectly, via control of land or, where movement is easy, by control of people (serfdom or slavery).

In industrial societies the political nation is much larger, if only because of the necessities of interstate competition. The transition is fraught (strikes, repression, the spectre of communism, a couple of world wars, a great many very nasty civil wars…). But patriarchal households are still the dominant form.

In post-industrial societies escape from patriarchy is possible and exit (absent strong controls) becomes easier. This challenges approximately 10,000 years of accumulated social attitudes. We should not expect the transition to be easy or quick.


MisterMr 05.19.23 at 2:36 pm

@Peter T 23

I don’t understand the connection between “patriarchy” and “political dominance” in this case.

A woman can well choose to live alone in the modern world (escapes from patriarchy) but still she has to work for someone (economic control) and she has the same level of political representation than a men, but they’re both subject to the power of the state.


Tohubohu 05.19.23 at 6:58 pm

Don’t mean interrupt the flow but something else is happening right now under our noses. All this ignores the proliferation of machines qua machines and their progressive subversive integration into capitalism/post-capitalism. The machines are ascendant and have been for some time. They are now interlinked like brain cells throughout the globe. Human economies are already largely in service to machines. AI will be the capstone of a structure already in place. In speaking of economic and political transformations local, national, global, we are whistling past capitalism’s graveyard–and to some unknown extent our own. I only mention this because it isn’t science fiction. It’s happening, as I say, right now.


Tohubohu 05.19.23 at 7:32 pm

This is just a note to the moderators about my last comment. I’m a rank amateur and have no real business poking my nose in. But I wish someone other than me, like the heavy hitters here would start thinking on a grand scale, as Marx did. Capitalists and their attendant political arrangements superseded feudalism while the kings and knights, sultans and satraps weren’t looking. I think we should consider the possibility–I’d call it the reality– that the same thing is happening to us, only now it’s the machines moving in. They’re right here. they outnumber us, and they have capabilities that far exceed our own. This transformation is unfolding right before us with amazing speed. It isn’t a matter of centuries–it’s decades.
Maybe this should be its own thread if it belongs here at all.


nastywoman 05.19.23 at 7:45 pm

and so we have this ‘Post-Fordism’
and it still has some 8 cylinder combustion engine –

So how about taking that mammoth of an engine OUT –
(of the Post-Fordism)
AND putting ‘e-biotech’ IN.
In a beautiful participation art performance of 23 Artist(mechanics) –
thusly transforming ‘POST-FORDISM’ –
and spraying the Mammoth Motor golden and put it IN FRONT to the golden Hirst Mammoth (at the Faena in Miami Beach) as the new centerpiece of the brand new


Tim Worstall 05.19.23 at 8:36 pm


“At some point, more so in some countries than in other, industrial productivity becomes high enough that most people don’t work anymore neither in the field nor in blue collar jobs; this is what we call post-fordism, but we could call it service economy or also welfare economy (for reasons that I will give later).
I see no post-post-fordism.”

I do. Hal Varian “GDP doesn’t deal well with free”. Or Nordhaus on Schumpeterian profits. We’re in a world where a vast – vaster perhaps – amount of the value add from entrepreneurialism and new tech flows directly through to consumers. Between Brad DeLong and Marc Andreessen we had (ie, with me) this discussion a decade back.

As DeLong put it, the standard assumption is that the consumer surplus is 100% of GDP. But if that multiple grows then, well.

My favourite example of this is WhatsApp. Back when I checked with FBook as to how many people they had working on it. 200 engineers. Say, $50 million a year. That’s the cost. Output in GDP is nothing. At the time it didn’t charge (which is after the $1 a year was dropped, before advertising). So output of WhatsApp was nothing, economic accounts included only the costs of those 200 engineers at $50 million a year (say). But some 1 billion people got their telecoms for free. Which was recorded as a reduction in labour productivity. Reduction.

Yes, yes, I know, this has always been true of some part of the economy. My only contention is that it’s now true of more of it. That estimation that free search and free email is worth $18k a year.

So, yes, it is possible to think of a post-post-Fordist economy. It’s – say, and imagine – one in which the consumer surplus is vastly, vastly greater than it used to be.

An interesting change that should be explored of course.


engels 05.19.23 at 11:35 pm

Brad’s long duree

DeLong durée? gets coat


Peter T 05.20.23 at 6:31 am

engels: (lol) I have not reached the page on accents yet.

MisterMr: the patriarchy owes its existence to various combinations of the widespread use of violence, the demands of reproduction and the need for physical strength. None of these now need apply. The changes this entails go beyond voting (and no, living alone is not an escape from patriarchy). Note that the reaction includes an emphasis on displays of violence, fears about failure to reproduce and lots of muscle-flexing.

Tim W: Socially, what matters is not welfare but the ability to siphon off surplus value and transfer it elsewhere. If, for instance, some re-design of the transport system let everyone get home an hour earlier, that would be of great benefit to those affected, but none to those who could not monetise the freed hours.


Tim Worstall 05.20.23 at 8:47 am

“Socially, what matters is not welfare but the ability to siphon off surplus value and transfer it elsewhere.”

Well, yes – and the argument is that this value is all turning up as the consumer surplus. Which is a nice place for it to turn up of course.

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