The Fourth Kondratiev Wave: The Great Depression and the Age of Oil, Automobiles, Motorization, and Mass Production

Chris Freeman and Francisco Louçã

in As Time Goes By

Published in print March 2002 | ISBN: 9780199251056
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191596278 | DOI:
 The Fourth Kondratiev Wave: The Great Depression and the Age of Oil, Automobiles, Motorization, and Mass Production

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The key inventions that led to the internal combustion engine, to the automobile, the truck, the tractor, and the tank, were made in Europe, but the innovations that led to the assembly line, to mass production and consumption, were made at the Ford plant in Detroit in the early years of the twentieth century.

These technical and organizational innovations gave such an impetus to productivity, profitability, output, and exports of the US automobile industry that the plant became a Mecca for visitors from all over the world and ‘Fordism’ became a dominant management philosophy as well as an economic and cultural ideology, believed to herald the dawn of a ‘new economy’.

The chapter devotes considerable attention to possible explanations for the collapse of this boom and the advent of the ‘Great Depression’ of the 1930s, concluding that, as with previous clusters of innovations, the assimilation of a major new technology into the social system gave rise to enormous political and social tensions and to structural crises of adjustment, both at national and international levels.

These tensions and conflicts led ultimately to a Second World War, a motorized war in which tanks and aircraft proved decisive weapons and oil was the essential fuel for the motorized armed forces.

The world economy after the war was no less dependent on abundant cheap oil, and became a system dominated by the mass production of cars and consumer durables, as well as motor highways, the mass media, mass tourism, mass education, mass culture, and the political and military supremacy of the US.

Keywords: automobile; boom; depression; Fordism; innovation; mass production; oil; technological revolution; United States; war

Chapter.  19614 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Economic History

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