Istanbul Technical University,

Science Technology and Society Program

Module 5

Review of Japan's Role In A Post-Fordist Age

by Martin Kenney and Richard Florida

Written by: Sadi Evren SEKER


In this writing I will try to write my comments about the paper “Japan's Role in a Post-Fordist Age, by Martin Kenney and Richard Florida” by the view that I have gained from STS module 5. The writing is enriched by the knowledge from lectures.

First of all, in this paper most of the work is centralized on Fordism and Japan production models. The discussion can be simplified as the differences between the usage of capital and labor in Japan model and in Fordist model, what are the similarities and differences and the future. During such a discussion we can find some answers to our main discussions like labor process, economic theories, Schumpeter's approach of capitalism, and appropriate technology. My outline is below:

1. Labor Process: Fordist Model and Japanese Model will be compared by labor process.

2. Economy: Neo-classical economy, Adam Smith and Japanese Economy will be discussed.

3. Appropriate Technology: How did Japans applied technology and how did they built such a great economy using this technology?

I want to start with labor process.

1. Labor process

I think starting point of labor process in this paper can be the skill of employees. In Fordist model, employees should be deskilled for increasing managerial simplicity. Management of deskilled labor is easier. But the disadvantage of deskilled labor is paid by society. First, deskilled people earn only a small amount of money. This is obviously a decrease in welfare of society. Second, a deskilled labor centered production, increases the transfer of labor force from one production yard to another. Initially this can be seen as a increase in employment (employees have more options to work), but it carries a hidden unemployment behind it (employers have more options to employ). Third in Fordist system, since employees are deskilled and do a limited, small part of whole production (like screwing a simple screw only), it is very boring to be employed under Fordist system.

What Japan does, is something close to the Fordist system at the first glance. But there are many sub-differences between Fordist Model and Japanese Model. Still japans have a factory based production, there is a life-time employment which increases the ratio of employment and motivation. There is a team phenomena in Japanese system which decreases the number of bored employees. And evaluation system1 is somehow different than the fordist system, which increases the productivity and motivation.

In the paper it is clearly declared as “...'little brains' sharing information, as opposed to the one 'big brain' directing many 'appendages' of Fordism...”. It is obvious how information technology is important in Post-Fordist period. By using information technology, the need for skilled employees is increased. This forces companies to employ more skilled people, even most of the time they spend money to increase their skill by education systems like courses. On the contrary way of Fordism, Post-Fordism needs more skilled employees. This fact is foreseen in the beginning of the second half of 20th century's Japan. The term “Fujitsuism”2 includes the rotation of personnel and overlapping project teams. This can increase both the motivation and the education of employees.

But beside the above advantages of Japanese system, there are many disadvantages. It applies the capitalist labor contracts, which gives the employer to fire any employee at anytime. Again there is no social security systems established in Japan. This forces all employees to earn and save more money than other countries. Education system, which is not sponsored by the government, is another reason for saving more money so working harder. Another disadvantage is the life-time employment, since it has advantages, it has more disadvantages in my opinion. There is an informal labor market which pays ¾ of formal labor market and anybody left formal market, whit out questioning the reason, should work in informal labor market. This makes a pressure over employees and gives more opportunities to the employers.

2. Economy

I think that initial force of Japan is given by US. Since Japan could not have an army after world war 2, most of the expenditures are done in R&D. But there was a problem, just after the 2nd world war the technology of developed countries is not appropriated to the Japan. By using strong economical and technological policies, they have implemented a new “system”. Japan can be called as a system builder. Because they have built a successful and new system in organizational structure.

Capitalism and especially neoclassical economies depends on the market competition. As Schumpeter mentioned, the shifts in production function can only be occur by inventions. So in the second half of the 20th century, there was a competition for technological achievements.

Since economies depends on the production and the production depends on the two important things, invention and innovation, Japan has applied a successful innovation at the same time with the technology.

Innovation of technology in Japan is somehow different than the other countries. For example they were trying to apply a capitalist system and capitalist system says that “money talks”. But in Japan there is a emotional relation between companies, even if they are in competition. This is a good way of understanding, how the classical innovation system changed in Japan.

Japan has applied Fordism, but they have modified it as well. The term “Toyotism” is declared in the paper as, a more advanced and exploitative version of Fordism. I think substitution of US Just-In-Case with Japanese Just-In-Time is another clue for this.

Anyway they have applied the well known theories by some modifications but there is a mis-point on that. Capitalism could never make a full-employment. Maybe this is not a problem for US, but for a country like Japan, where government does not support medical or educational systems this is very harmful.

Another mis point is the skill of labor. I could never understand the history of capitalism, somehow they have deskilled labor and now they want skilled labor. Inherently same thing is done in Japan too. They need more skilled labor now and they have an unemployment in unskilled labor force.

3. Appropriate Technology in Japanese Model

The discussion here should start with, what is appropriate technology and what is not. First of all technology is not a simple know-how. There is a great background on it. Most of the times transferring a technology is unsuccessful3, because there is a process, organizational and cultural background of technology. Simply transferring the know-how is not enough in most of the cases.

Under development countries in the world has two options. They will imitate the technology of developed countries or they will produce their own technologies by a self-reliance. Japan is the latter. They have transferred big technologies from all around the world. But they were always understanding what is this technology for by reverse engineering, education systems or technology politics. Today's technology is the interpretation of this understanding by Japanese culture. So the technology in Japan is appropriate because it is their own product in fact.

What Japan did during this development process is explained by the term “Toyotism” in the paper. It is declared as a more advanced and exploitative version of Fordism. In the interpretations of Andrew Sayer, David Friedman and Chirstopher Freeman they see Japanese development in therm of the changing social and organizational context of production. That is what Japanese culture added to the western technologies. The Japanese term Just-In-Time is the substitution of US Just-In-Case, they have applied their own organization structure to the technologies. So I think somehow Japan made technologies of developed countries appropriated to its own cultural social and organizational structure, while enriching it with this parameters.


I think Japan is a good example for underdevelopment countries. They have applied many technologies without compensation on their culture. Also there are some disadvantages of todays Japan, I think their future depends on the research and development and innovations both. And government should do something about the labor rights.

1This is not mentioned in the paper, I have added by the knowledge from lectures.

2Fujitsuism is the term used to refer to the way Japan is moving beyond post-Fordism to a new model of industrial organization which is particularly well suited to the information age. In 1980, Fujitsu is replaced IBM-Japan as Japan's largets computer company.

3Remember the Chinese Boing project. They have spent 300 million $ and the project is unsucessful.