Walter Rostow’s Linear Development Theory

9 September 2016

Outline the stages of Walter Rostow’s Linear development theory and discuss the theory’s applicability to the developing world. Introduction: The question of why and how the developing world has since been developing at a relatively low pace has since been interpreted by various perspectives most of which are Euro-centric and highly debatable. A number of theories have since been formulated to explain why the developing countries are lagging behind in terms of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP) are low.

Some theorists such as Todaro and Smith (2009) went the extent of trying to understand why there is always a glaring gap of development between the developed countries and the developing world by formulating the wheels of a cycle thesis. Rostow proposed a clear five stage theory which he believed that for each country to develop it has to pass through sequentially. To Rostow, each stage in economic growth is unique and easily identifiable. He believed that the initial stage is the traditional stage, followed by the Pre-conditions for Take-off stage, then the Take-off stage, Drive to Maturity Stage and finally the High Mass Consumption stage.

Walter Rostow’s Linear Development Theory Essay Example

Though giving a brief explanation in the academia, Rostow failed to highlight the essential pre-conditions of the take-off stage. Moreover, Rostow’s theory does not realize how networked the modern world is, he assumes that for a country to develop it starts from scratch till it develops, not knowing that in some instances it is the developed world that invest in the developing world for the later to develop. This essay shall discuss the applicability of the economic growth model of Walter. W. Rostow (1916-2003) to developing countries. Definitions of terms: Theory:

According to Gutsa I, Mutswanga P,and Shumba B, (2010), A theory is an organization of generally accepted interdependent facts, concepts and principles of a phenomenon concerned with explaining what happens and the way it happens and what influence underlies the whole phenomenon. Developing World: These are countries not industrialized and their economies run on the exploitation of their primary resources. Clerk (1995), refers developing world as those countries in process of changing and enabling people to take charge of their own destinies and realize their full potential. Economic Growth:

According to Todaro and Smith (2009), economic growth is the expansion of resources available in a society in a way that gives the available people an opportunity to make choices that better their lives. To Gylfason (2000) economic growth is a systematic increase in the available market opportunities and choices. Both definitions give a general impression that economic growth is a development of a society from a state of resource and opportunity scarcity to a state of abundance in which at least everyone in the society should be able to get whatever the goods or services he or she wishes.

This essay shall look into Rostow’s growth model and test its applicability and flaws. Walt Rostow’s Linear Development Theory: Traditional society stage: Rostow’s Economic Growth model (1960) holds that all developed countries starts at the lowest level of development termed the Traditional Society Stage (Todaro and Smith, 2009). Rostow believed that all countries in this stage of economic growth exercise primitive production methods which do not require any skill of any rational level. During this stage, the society hinges its life on subsistence activities which yield meager enough for the family.

He believed that a society of this stage usually survive on labour intensive agriculture, barter trade, hunting and gathering, and money do not exist in their midst. Personal resources and community resources are allocated by traditional means and methods involving cultural ceremonies, ritualization and involving no legal structures such as deeds. For instance land and property are inherited in ritual ceremonies in which almost every member of the family or the immediate community are invited to witness.

Pre-conditions for Take Off: Rostow believed that a progressive community graduates to Transitional Stage; a stage which is less primitive than the previous stage. According to Desai and Potter (2008), it is in this stage that members of the community realize that they really need to expand their productivity far beyond their family consumption and used to reach levels that can feed the whole community. However efforts to increase outputs are choked by the lack of adequate resources and knowhow.

The need for resources and knowhow then creates the necessity for specialization and competition among various families. Outwitted families start to constitute the largest portion of the market for those who emerge effective to produce than what their families can consume. Labour, capital, and special services such as transport and communication services demand starts to rise. To Rostow, this is the pre-conditions for economic growth. As incomes, savings and investment grow entrepreneurs emerge and external trade concentrating on primary goods starts to flourish. Take Off:

Beardshaw (1995), states that successful stage two of Rostow’s model results in the Take-off stage in which industrialization increases, with workers switching from the agricultural sector where much labour was invested to manufacturing sector where technology and mechanization takes over workforce. Rostow however realized that such growth does not occur equitably. Only a few regions of the country develop industries and other organizations which might employ a certain number of workers especially those from the rural areas. This probably explains the emergence of town and cities in Rostow’s view.

Rostow further noted that such growth then warrants policy for organizing and directing development to appropriate areas in a sustainable manner. Drive to Maturity: Todaro and Smith (2009) write, after the Take-off stage comes the Drive to Maturity Stage in which the economy starts to diversify into new areas through technological innovation and need assessment. The economy starts to produce wider range of goods and services. Import fall back as the economy manages to produce sufficient goods and services for the internal and external markets. High Mass Consumption:

According to Rostow, the last stage of economic growth is the High Mass Consumption stage in which the economy produces surpluses for its internal and external markets. All forms of industries start to flourish. Consumer durable industries and services sector dominate the market. The above model idealistically outline how communities may transcend from primitive stages to the stage they can produce goods and services enough for their populations (Chystal, 2004). However the model has got a number of flaws related to issues of real life applicability.

The model is blindfolded in that, it is serialized yet economies sometimes progress and sometimes regress depending on various manmade and natural variables. In the context of the developing world, economists and developmentalists cannot rely upon this model only unless they are much interested in giving sketchy history of how economies can evolve. Rostow’s model skirted away the importance of the developed world to the development of the developing world. Most of the developing countries are immensely developing due to increased investments by foreign expropriators from the developed world.

It is this explanation that accounts for the development of South Africa, Tunisia and Egypt among many other developing countries. In fact one would even want to believe that the listed countries did not clearly transcend through the five stages as proposed by Rostow in his 1960 work. Some developing countries manage to expand their economies through developing effective and networked bilateral and multilateral relations with other countries unlike the proposed course of Rostow.

This has saved countries in the Soviet Union, and the Shingling Union. That is why there are regional and international bodies such as the Southern African Development Committee (SADC), European Union (EU) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) among others. Rostow’s model does not explain the pre-conditions for take-off in a way that can help developing countries to develop their economies. The model just explain the stage as highly visible and overlook the exact conditions that can make an economy boost.

Moreover the model highly believes that the five stages appear in visible and separable phases, which is a fallacy. The stages do not appear distinctively as he proposed. For instance, subsistence farming is still being done in almost every developing country even though most of their economies can manufacture goods and commodities. The produces from subsistence farming are now being used to supplement manufactured goods. Services industries have always been there since time immemorial even though they were small scale industries.

In the history of many African societies, one may also realize that political and social institutions started sanctioning trade since pre-colonial era (a time equivalent to the traditional stage of Rostow). For instance the Asante people of Western Africa had their unique way of regulating external salt trade even though they had no large scale industries as Rostow thought. Therefore the model cannot be depended on by economic planners in the developing world. Furthermore, Rostow’s model does not explain how the developing world can rebuild their regressive economies.

The model assumes that economies keep on developing to the stage whereby they can produce goods and services for high mass consumption. Yet in reality and in the context of many developing countries such as Zimbabwe, economies may enter phases of low output with industries and investors closing down. Rostow did not put this in his work and it becomes a limitation in that most of the developing countries might find the model not adequately addressing their problem of falling economies. This is a clear indication that Rostow’s economic growth model does not apply more easily to developing countries.

Rostow’s model has been designed in a way which assumes that all developing countries will develop themselves from subsistence agriculture. It seems as if Rostow overlooked other countries that lie in arid regions such as Botswana and Democratic Republic of Congo. He could not realize that outside the agricultural sector there are also useful economic activities such as mining which can also develop such countries. Rostow overemphasized the need for saving the proceeds of subsistence agriculture for the economy to invest in other sectors such as transport and communication services.

All this sounds less informed in that other developing countries especially those at coast, Tanzania-Zanzibar and the traditional Igbo and Yoruba of Nigeria included, developed their economies from transport and communication services linking foreign investors to other African countries. It can therefore follow that using the model as a basis of action for the developing countries can be misleading and never fruitful. Nevertheless, Rostow’s model cannot be totally discredited in that it provides a useful framework for explaining economic history for most of the developing countries.

The model partially applies to the pre-colonial era of most developing countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania among many others. These countries pre-colonial era exemplifies the Traditional Stage of Rostow’s model in that they practiced subsistence agriculture in which they used substandard tools which were labour intensive. Such countries practiced barter trade and they did not use monetary resources as the medium of their trade. Much of the economic activities that were carried out in these countries were primarily meant for feeding the family.

Conclusion: In a nutshell Walter Rostow (1916-2003) contributed immensely to the discourse of economic history by giving the five stages that he believed each country has to pass through if it is to develop. To him, the process to development starts with the primitive stage called Traditional Society stage, then to Transitional stage, Take-off, Drive to Maturity stage and then the final stage is the High Mass Consumption stage. Little did Rostow knew that economies do not develop in series as he thought.

Rostow’s model has got a number of flaws which makes it inapplicable to the developing world. Economies may progress and sometimes fall due to various factors rather than developing in a smooth manner as prescribed by Rostow. His model does not acknowledge that non-agricultural economies can evolve into high mass consumption. Nonetheless, his model is useful as a framework for economic history even though it cannot help in developing effective economic policies. REFERENCE: Beardshaw, J. (1995); Economics; 2nd edition McGraw-Hill; New York. Clerk, J. 1995) Democratising Development: The Role of Voluntary Organisation, London, Earthscan Publications Ltd. Chrystal . M. (2004) Economics; 10th edition Oxford University Press; New York. Desai W and Potter R, S. (2008) The Companion to Development Studies, 2nd edition, Hodder Education ltd UK. Gutsa I, Mutswanga P and Shumba B, (2010) Perspectives in Development Studies, Zimbabwe Open University, Harare GylfasonT. (2000) Principles of Economics Growth; Oxford University Press; Oxford. Todaro M and Smith S, C. (2009): Economic Development; 10th Edition, Pearson Education limited.

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