This from an article (“Charter Cities” by Gillian Terzis) in Arena 109 is fascinating.
In 1927 Henry Ford had designs on society. Determined to shatter the Dutch and British cartels’ duopoly on rubber, Ford decided to import the value system of middle-class America to Brazilian soil by creating a pre-fabricated industrial town, nestled in the rugged depths of the Amazon jungle.
And so Fordlandia was born; a vision of industrial society unparalleled in its contradictions, embracing elements of pure Hayekian liberalism and authoritarianism. Fordlandia would enable the wealthy industrialist to extract rubber from the plantation he’d set up there, thus reducing the raw material and transport costs. It would also enable him to slash the costs of labour and transform the means of production by way of the assembly line. Low unit costs meant that Ford’s workers could be consumers too. Workers – regardless of race – were paid the same wage; trade unions were banned. But Ford wanted to be more than a maker of millions; he wanted to be a maker of men. He imposed a benign totalitarianism in Fordlandia, where a strict moral code was paramount. He attempted to enforce a regimen of abstinence (from everything) upon his workers, who were also made to eat in cafeterias that served the culinary delights of the Midwest.
Unsurprisingly, Fordlandia never amounted to anything more than a failed jungle utopia. The Brazilian workforce became disenfranchised by Ford’s dictatorial control over their personal lives and soon turned mutinous. Moreover, the rubber plantation became unproductive, as Ford had considerable disdain for technical, agricultural and botanical expertise. His dream town was now a financial albatross. Perhaps the greatest irony is that Ford – an isolationist who avidly hated bankers, energy monopolies and excessive consumerism – became the blueprint for a triptych of values now synonymous with American capitalism: triumphalism, economic dynamism and an indomitable sense of hubris.
Related blog posts
Mastery not Control at Horizons of Significance
Kingfisher Lives by Julian Rathbone (Booker prize nominee 1975)
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
The Paraguayan Experiment by Michael Wilding (about a Communist Utopia that went kersplatt!)
And wikipedia on Fordlandia