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Consumerism and Criticism: The Legacy of Henry Ford

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Fred Y.
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  1. Introduction
  2. Ford's influence on present-day society
  3. Ford's worker interactions and production optimizations
  4. Ford's positive effects
  5. Conclusion

Looking at America today, it is not hard to see what one of the most prominent features is. From the suburbs of Westford to the packed streets of New York, the car is pervasive and ubiquitous in America. Looking at the American economy today, one sees much mass production and consumerism. The same person, the famous Henry Ford, was the catalyst for both. He is, of course, most famous for having developed his Model T car, the influence of which can be seen today. He is less remembered for his contribution to welfare capitalism, a system which seeks to give greater benefit to workers. How he treated his workers, though, and whether his ?progress? ultimately helped or hindered American society are both, unfortunately, still points of contention. Ford sparked tremendous and lasting growth in the automobile industry and in certain aspects of welfare capitalism, and despite equally long-lasting criticism of his impact, it is ultimately seen that the bright sides of Ford's legacy far outweigh its negatives.

First and foremost, Ford is associated indelibly with the automobile industry. Ford's equivalent of a magnum opus, the Model T car, was amazingly pervasive in the beginning of the twentieth century. By 1925, Ford was producing 10,000 cars every day, and each could be bought for less than $4000 in 2010 currency (My Life and Work). This cheap price caused the Model-T to make up more than half of all cars in America, even after they were discontinued (Forbes). Ford managed selling his cars at such a cheap price because his business philosophy differed from that of other businessmen. Instead of selling for maximum profit per unit, he instead sold them at very low prices, predicting correctly that the increased number of buyers would be more influential than the lower yield per car (My Life and Work). Thus, as his assembly-line manufacturing system became more and more efficient, the price dropped by about two thirds in ten years, from $950 in 1910 to $335 in 1920. The 1910 price was nearly all of a typical family's annual income at the time, but the 1920 price was only a quarter of it! It should be noted that Ford applied his business philosophy as soon as he began manufacturing; thus, even the starting price of $950 is lower than the average car cost at the time, $1130 (Antique Automobile Club of America).

[...] Another criticism of the increased consumerism and mass-production was offered by the English writer Aldous Huxley in his very controversial and hotly debated dystopian novel Brave New World. It should be here noted that here, Huxley is not intended to be the ultimate authority on Ford criticism, but his arguments are very representative of American criticisms even though he is English, and so for the sake of brevity his thoughts will be discussed here. In the World State of Brave New World, consumerism and assembly line production have reached certain extremes. [...]


[...] Thus, though the criticism of consumerism and mass production itself is valid, it is almost irrelevant to the discussion of how Ford should be viewed; he should be at least partially absolved of any negative effects that they have because he did not intend there to be any. In the end, Ford should be remembered as a positive force for America and the world. One cannot fathom life without cars or factories, Ford's greatest innovations. Certainly, there are criticisms of him; there will always be criticisms of great people. [...]

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