David Harvey characterized transformations of capitalist system since 1973 as from managed to flexible accumulation. Harvey argued that since the Great Depression, Fordism emerged as not only a regulation model of production but also a whole package of social and political lifestyle. Fordism bundled centralized, scientific and rational control of production with standardized and all-round incentives and welfare packages to encourage mass consumption of surplus products (pp.125-127). Technological and organizational progresses derived from World War II were widely adopted as new boosters of productivity (p.132). States across the global were transformed into authoritarian, bureaucratic, rational political machines that simultaneously cracked down on radical working class movements and rationally managed economy through combination of fiscal, monetary and political strategies (pp.136-138). De-radicalized trade unions serve as collective bargaining and enforcement coordinators between workers and employers (pp.128). Social aesthetics correspondingly favored efficiency, rationality and collective progression (p.136). All in all, this stable Fordism social contract relied on state intervention and international coordination based on Keynesian economics, organized consent of workers and hierarchical standardized production. It was both a spatial fix based on collective long-term, large-scale efforts as well as controlled devaluation and accumulation of wealth, and a temporal fix based on expanding capitalist world (p.139 and pp.184-185).
Harvey went on to compare flexible accumulation with Fordism. According to Harvey, the 1973 oil crisis, coupled with rising competition from matured alternative centers in East Asia and Western Europe and decline in US power signaled the end of rigid Fordism (pp.141-142 and p.145). Flexible accumulation emerged as short-term, flexible and segregated employment strategies of labor (pp.150-151) and production strategies as well as new industries based on information and in-time production (p.154), coupled by short-term, fast-changing and diverse consumer aesthetics (p.156). De-regulation from the state prompted more flexible organization of production (p.155) and freer movement of capital across the globe (160-161). Competitive individualism and entrepreneurship replaced collective aesthetics and progression (p.171). Most importantly, innovation in financial tools and expansion of global financial market provided new spatial fix of moving capital around the globe to chase the profit and new temporal fix of reaping short-term profit in disregard of long-term debt accumulation and risks (pp.161-163, and p.186).
Harvey’s theory makes a dialogue with Giovanni Arrighi’s longue duree cycles of capitalism. Harvey complemented Arrighi’s financialization perspective with the story on the production and labor side. Temporal and spatial fixes are also the two primary perspectives of capitalist transition shared by Harvey and Arrighi. On the other hand, while Arrighi saw repetitiveness of financial expansion (with compressed temporal and spatial cycles) based on longer historical cycles, Harvey highlighted financial innovation and expansion as a novel spatial and temporal fix technique. He also paid much more attention to consumption pattern and aesthetics as part of social contract of particular accumulation models. There is no need to ask the simple question of who is right or wrong, but the convergence and contrast between Arrighi and Harvey does lead us to contemplate the mechanism of “paradigm shift” in capitalist social systems and whether post-modernity is a mere extension of modern capitalist system or a significant rupture from it.