Wednesday, February 22, 2017

CURMUDGUCATION: The Lessons of Fordlandia

CURMUDGUCATION: The Lessons of Fordlandia:

The Lessons of Fordlandia




This week in the New York Times, Simon Romero took a fascinating visit (with photos) to one of Henry Ford's most monumental failures. It's reminder that billionaires who want to remake the world in their own preferred image are nothing new-- and their failures frequently come back to the same old lessons.


In the 1920s, Fordlandia was going to be Ford's solution to several problems. It would help break the British near-monopoly on rubber production, and it would allow Ford to set up his ideal American town. Even if it was going to be in the Amazonian forests of Brazil. It was a high aspiration, and it was doomed to failure.

Henry "History is bunk" Ford made no attempt to tap the expertise of people who knew about life in the Amazon. He dismissed the expertise of people who knew about how to cultivate and grow rubber trees. He made a series of rookie mistakes when it came to establishing his cash crop.

Ford also seriously overestimated his power to shape the lives of his workers (who were to live in made-in-Michigan bungalows). It was his growing belief that to fix the world, he would have to expand his horizons, creating not just factories, but entire cities and cultures in his image, all managed by an overseer who managed the city like a plant manager would manage a manufacturing floor.

Beyond producing rubber, Ford, an avowed teetotaler, anti-Semite and skeptic of the Jazz Age, clearly wanted life in the jungle to be more transformative. His American managers forbade consumption of alcohol, while promoting gardening, square dancing and readings of the poetry of Emerson and Longfellow.

But his workers just left town and procured alcohol anyway. And his vision of a world where workers 
CURMUDGUCATION: The Lessons of Fordlandia:


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