Was Walt Rostows book "The Stages of Economic Growth" a product of its time?

Essay, 2014
10 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Index of contents

Walt Rostows book “The Stages of Economic Growth” was a product of its time. Discuss

I. Introduction

II. Explaining modernization theory.

III. The Stages of Economic Growth
III.1. The traditional society
III.2. The Preconditions for Take-Off Stage
III.3. The Take-Off
III.4. The Drive to Maturity
III.5. The Age of High Mass-Consumption

IV. Influence on his book
IV.1. Historical-Scientific influence: economic thoughts of Keynesianism and Marxism
IV.2. Historical-scientific stream: The Cold War and the end of imperialism
IV.3. Historical- scientific stream: Realism of Hans Morgenthau (Politics among Nations, 1948)
IV.4. Technical and methodological influence of his time

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliography

Walt Rostows book “The Stages of Economic Growth” was a product of its time. Discuss

I. Introduction

The year 1960 was a big shift in world history. It is also mentioned as “African Year”, because18 former colonies got their independence (Carter 1985, ch1). The case of development of countries attained importance as never before. Lots of former colonies were now forced to manage their development alone. A broad debate about the key issues of development got established. A widespread opinion, based on the argumentation bias of modernization theorist, says that the causation for modern times isn’t mainly based on extern- but rather on endogen reasons. For a sustainable development of a society, there must be a modernization process all over the society. This involves cultural, economic and political changes. One of the many characters of the modernization approach was Walt Whiteman Rostows with his book “The Stages of Economic Growth”.

This essay will focus on his work in the beginning of series of events that changed the perspective of development forever. I want to analyse the impact of the content of this time on the book of Rostow. I suggest that he was influenced by contemporary history of his time. First I want to explain Rostows idea of different stages of economic growth in the development process. Following I am going to define several contemporary events that could be influenced the work of Rostow, as well as the personal background of Rostow. I might suggest that the personal background as well as context of scientific debate influences an author and his work. Jim Marlow (1997,128) would call this “influence of intertextuality”. Concluding I will summarize if my argument, that Rostows work was influenced by his time is valid or not.

II. Explaining modernization theory.

These new occurrences in comparative politics in the 1950s changed to range of vision. It was no longer true that political scientists ignored change. The concept of modernity and tradition got in the focus of scientific approach. The essential difference between modern and traditional society lies in the greater control which modern man has over his natural and social environment. This control is mainly based on scientific and technological knowledge (Huntington 1971,57). The modern man believes in contrast to the traditional man in change. The standard of living as well as health, life expectancy and geographical mobility increase. Economically there is a diversification of activity as a few simple occupations give way to many complex ones; the level of occupational skill and the ratio of capital to labour are much higher than in traditional society. Agriculture for example is declining (Huntington 1971,58). Modernization is understood as a revolutionary process. There are contrasts between societies and changes from traditional to modern life. Cyril Black (1966,4) compares these shifts with a take-over from primitive to civilized societies. Furthermore is modernization a complex and systemic process. It can’t be reduced to one single factor/dimension, but changes in one factor always related and affect each other. Lerner called it “a process with some distinctive quality of its own”(1958, 438).

Modernization is a lengthy process. The totality of the changes which modernization involves can only be worked out through time. Further characteristics are that Modernization is a homogenizing, irreversible and often progressive process. Black (1966,174) says, a bit hyper-optimistic that the modern ideas may lead to a stage “at which the various societies are so homogeneous as to be capable of forming a world state.” In the context of this essay I want to focus mainly on the description on modernization as a phased process. It is feasible to differ different levels/ stages of modernization through which a society have to move for developing. Walt Rostows book “The Stages of Economic Growth” highlighted these different levels.

III. The Stages of Economic Growth

It is possible to identify all societies, in their economic dimensions, as lying within five following categories:

III.1. The traditional society

A traditional society is one whose economic structure has limited production functions. They are limited by the inaccessibility of modern science. A ceiling exit on the level of attainable output per head. Family and clan connexions play an important role; the value system is influenced through long-run fatalism. Generally speaking, these societies, because of the limitation on productivity, had to devote a very high proportion of their resources to agriculture, and flowing from the agricultural system there was a hierarchical social structure, with relatively narrow scope- but scope for vertical mobility (Huntington 1971, 5).

III.2. The Preconditions for Take-Off Stage

In this stage happens the process of transition; the preconditions for take-off are developed. But it takes time to transform a traditional society in the ways to exploit the fruits of modern science. (e.g. in Europe in 17th-18th century)Modern science establishes new forms of industrial production functions. The infrastructure for the exploitation of natural resources is build up. The invasion of new ideas starts a process that search an alternative for the traditional view of the society. For example on a political level the establishment of a strong, central national state.

III.3. The Take-Off

The old blocks and structures are now overcome. The “Take-Off” occurs when the manufacturing sector lifts away from the economic base. Growth became its normal condition (Rostow, 1990,7). This stage takes only 2-3 decades but a doubling in the proportion of national income, which is productively invested is possible. The investment rate is growing. Furthermore drives the growth of major industries the economy to the establishment of “leading sectors” within the economy. (Hopper 2012,31)

III.4. The Drive to Maturity

After take-off there follows a long interval of sustained if fluctuating progress, as the now regularly growing economy drives to extend modern technology over the whole front of the economy. Formerly imported products are now produced at home. The industry gets increasingly defined through more technologically, complex processes. Work processes achieve a sophisticated level. Investment boosts the economy. The growth gets sustainable.

III.5. The Age of High Mass-Consumption

Real income per head rose to a point where a large number of persons gained a command over consumption, which transcend e.g. clothing, food… The working force change in ways, which increase the population working in offices or in skilled factory jobs. It is in this post-maturity stage, that, through political process, societies choose to allocate resources to social welfare and security. The emergence of the welfare state is one manifestation of a society´s moving beyond technical maturity. But it is also the stage that resources tend increasingly to directed to the production of consumers´ durables and to the diffusion of services on a mass bias, if consumers´ sovereignty reigns (Rostow 1990,11).

IV. Influence on his book

In this paragraph I want to discuss if his book “Stages of economic growth” is a product of his time. I will show this by using comments on his book, analysing personal academic life and historic factors. I identified three “scientific and historic streams” of this time. In the following paragraphs I want to proof if I can find a connection between this temporary “streams” and his book “The stages of economic growth”.

IV.1. Historic-scientific influence: economic thoughts of Keynesianism and Marxism

In 1933 he got in contact with Richard Bissel, who formed his academic focus on economic history. It is the time when he “converted” from conventional monetary theory to Keynesianism. “I began believing that the structures in D.H. Robertson´s “Money” and Keynes´s “Treatise on Money” provide sufficient framework to explain what happens”(Rostow, 1984,229). A development theory of the 60s got furthermore in contact with the “Marshallian long period”. Rostow criticized the equilibrium of static short-period, one must deal with “real life”, the high theme of economic progress and“ Society as an organism”(Marshall 1930,461). In his thought an economic historian, as such characterized Rostow himself, had to face up to the more complex world beyond. Rostow wanted to establish a more sustainable, deeper theory of economic growth, different to the ideas of the “Marshall-Plan”. He is authorized to criticize the “Marshall-plan”, because he got in direct contact with the formulation of the plan during his work at the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community for Europe. I think he got definitely in contact with the ideas of the Marshall-Plan, even he was not a fan of these ideas he tried to establish an improved approach with his workings.

The growing role of noneconomic factors in the process of economic growth represents the influence of Keynesianism on his work. He was one of the first scientists, who mentioned an social influence on growth. Whereat I have to note, that Rostow was in some senses critically with Keynesianism. “no one can immerse himself in the living process of economic planning, whithout transcending the Keynesian aggregates” (Rostow 1984,237).


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Was Walt Rostows book "The Stages of Economic Growth" a product of its time?
University of Warwick
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walt, rostows, stages, economic, growth
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Andreas Michaelis (Author), 2014, Was Walt Rostows book "The Stages of Economic Growth" a product of its time?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/471608


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