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Book Review: Greg Grandin's Fordlandia

Subtitled "The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City," Grandin's book is a fascinating examination of Ford's failed attempt to establish a rubber plantation in the heart of the Amazon.

Ford started out as a utopian: he believed that technology could free us; he envisioned a symbiotic relationship between agriculture and industry, with workers dividing their time between the factory and the farm; he idealized small-town life; he believed in wholesome food, prohibition, cleanliness, and high pay for hard work. He loathed war.

On the other side of the coin, he championed golf over baseball, he was an ornery tyrant who hired thugs to patrol his factories and keep workers in line. He sabotaged his son Edsel's initiatives at every juncture. He was an anti-semite who disdained government intervention in business and fought hard against the unionization of his plants.

In retrospect, his idealistic project to establish "Fordlandia," a rubber plantation / All- American town, deep in the Amazon seems almost quaint. This is the story of a certain type of blindness, a blindness induced by Ford's tremendous success in building and selling automobiles in the States. But the practices that worked in Dearborn and River Rouge were not suited to the Amazon.

Grandin traces the myriad problems, cultural, agricultural, and environmental, that prevented Fordlandia from producing the desired rubber, despite the investment of countless millions of dollars and tremendous human effort.

Ford could never have realized that his sort of industrial capitalism would lead to the heartless global capitalism that we see today, with its environmental degradation and extreme disparities between the rich and the poor.

Tellingly, Henry Ford never set foot in Brazil.

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October 2017

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