WW Rostow

WW Rostow is a well renowned American due to his contribution to Economics especially on economic growth, development and modernization. To him, any society undergoes five major stages before it gets or rather attains the highest economic development level.[1] The five linear stages are what would see a nation emerge from poverty to economic dependency and development.

This paper will give a detailed analysis of Rostow’s critique after highlighting the stages of development that he coined.According to Rostow the first stage of development is the ‘traditional or subsistence economy’ which is purely based on agriculture as the means of production.[2] The population growth rate is minimal and there are little manufacturing processes. Modern science is limited and people seek spiritual attitudes to explain the physical world. There is also minimal social mobility with the powerful owning the factors of production. [3] The second stage is the ‘precondition to take off’ where people start to adopt industrialization and more machinery used. Modern science starts to be embraced at this stage.

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[4]Interactions with other developed countries lead to the adoption of new techniques. At this stage the population also rises. Infrastructures are developed and industries start to thrive. The third stage is the ‘take off stage’ which is precipitated by technological advancement though political environment also plays a major role. [5]Investment increases by a large magnitude and new industries are established. An entrepreneurial class expands and profits are protracted back into the economy through the increased investment. The employment rates rise and the national income is not left behind.

The fourth stage of development according to Rostow is ‘the drive towards maturity’. [6]This stage is experienced by the increased spread of modern technology which spreads across the entire economy. Here, the national income rises by 10-20% and the economy can produce as much industrial equipment as possible. There are sufficient entrepreneurial as well as technical skills to produce anything in the society.

[7] In this stage the economy diversifies and the service industries develop. The population growth stabilizes. The final stage is the ‘age of mass consumption’ where the industrial system has advanced greatly. The population growth slows down at a considerable rate. There is a high production and consumption of consumer goods.

[8] At this stage people can consume beyond their needs as production is intense. Primitive modes of production at this stage have been substituted with urban skills and more people work in offices. More resources are channelled to other areas like on social security as well as social welfare.Rostow’s model or stages of development faces much criticism with some dismissing it as being based on mere historical coincidence. The model is also viewed as having been oversimplified and out dated. [9]There are various aspects that have been overlooked and the fact that it is based on data collected in the 60s compromises its application in the recent times. Varying changes have taken place from when the data was collected and today.

Rostow is also condemned for assuming that all nations or countries have similar resources, population as well as climate.[10] Uniformity in as far as development is concerned cannot be observed when there are variances in both the natural as well as the human resources. [11]The movement from the traditional stage to the take off stage calls for capital injection which could be inform of foreign debts. Repayment of such debts may interfere with time a nation gets into the next stage a factor that he ignored. Rostow’s model is also criticized on the basis that it fails to acknowledge that the development of one nation could be at the expense of another for instance through the process of colonization as well as imperialism.[12]Rostow failed to indicate the need of a financial infrastructure which could channel the savings made to investment. Again there was no guarantee that the investment made would lead to economic growth[13].

The need for other infrastructures like education, roads, rails and communication were also undermined and they are important to register economic development. He emphasized on investment though he did not indicate if it was efficient or it was used on luxury goods. The argument that countries would learn and adopt better production means that would ensure economic development has failed the test of time as some countries remain in the initial stages of development though others continue to advance.

[14]The model is also criticized on the grounds that it is ‘Anglo centric’ and only based on what was experienced in North America and Western Europe. It also fails to take account for the racial differences although it is clear that there is a correlation between one’s ethnicity and their prosperity levels.[15] The model cannot be used for predictive purposes as it is based on historical data and there is no clear cut way to explain the time that each stage takes. [16]Rostow’s argument that all nations must follow these stages was proved wrong as some countries have developed without undergoing the said stages. A clear example of such a nation is Saudi Arabia whose development can be blamed on her rich natural resources. Rostow’s model also fails to provide a clear link of the movement of one stage to the next and some characteristics are similar across two stages. He also argued that countries were to learn from the developed ones in their process to economic development but time has proved him wrong.

Some developing countries lag very far behind in as far as economic development is concerned even though they interact with the developed nations. 



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