Economists have offered many theories about why some countries remain poor while others prosper. Among them, Walt Whitman Rostow offered “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto,” published in 1960, when the Cold War and the threat of communism haunted the capitalist American system. Rostow offered a model that Third World countries could emulate to lift themselves out of poverty.
The Traditional Society
In his model, Rostow divided the world into the pre-Newton and post-Newton world. Traditional societies are pre-Newtonian in the sense that they accept the natural world as a given, whereas post-Newtonians -- the “moderns” in Rostow’s model -- invented methods to manipulate the natural world. The modern society is characterized by science and industry, whereas the traditional society is predominantly agricultural, with a strict hierarchical social order.
The Preconditions for Takeoff
The second stage of Rostow’s development model says traditional societies must undergo social and political changes before they can transition into modern societies. These preconditions for takeoff include a change from a fatalist value system to one that accepts progress. Such changes encourage entrepreneurs to take risks in pursuit of profit. Modern societies develop institutions, such as banks, to promote savings and investments. They build infrastructure necessary for commerce and industry.
Rostow’s model uses the metaphor of a runway to convey the rapid rise in production possibilities once the preconditions are satisfied. Like the accelerating airplane, a sudden burst of action includes investments soaring and profits doubling, only to be reinvested, creating a cycle of investments and profits. A dramatic increase in technology also characterizes the third stage of the model. Both agriculture and industry benefit from the infusion of new technology, but industries increasingly make up a bigger share of the national economy.
The Drive to Maturity
The fourth stage of Rostow’s model concerns the period when national economies enjoy sustained growth. This period lasts for about 60 years after the takeoff, in which the industries that originally sparked the takeoff are displaced by newer, more sophisticated industries. A fully mature national economy has sufficient technology to produce whatever it chooses to produce, although it will choose to employ its resources based on its own priorities.
The Age of Mass Consumption
The fifth stage of Rostow’s model is the final destination of capitalist economies, characterized by mass consumption. Typical features include a preponderance of consumer durables such as cars, refrigerators and televisions. In addition, the service sector flourishes, and a recently modern society values social welfare and security.
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