There is much debate around the development of underdeveloped countries and which path is the best to take in terms of economic growth and a greater quality of life. Many theories such as the dependency theory, the basic needs theory, and Rostow’s theory of economic growth set out to explain how an underdeveloped country can achieve high economic growth and a greater quality of life. Arguably one of the most well known development theorists, Walt Rostow, founded the theory of economic growth which reasons that for a country to become economically developed, they must go through five different stages: traditional society, preconditions to take off, take off, drive to maturity, and age of high mass consumption. Rostow believes that after a poor country goes through these five steps, they will be transformed into an economically developed country. While Rostow’s theory of economic growth sheds light upon an effective path to development for some countries, Rostow’s theory is not an effective model to explain how many other countries develop in the 21st century as it only addresses economic development, has a strong bias towards Western development, and it assumes every country is without social burdens. Prior to looking at some of the faults in Rostow’s theory, one must understand the basis of his model for development.
Very well known for his theory of economic growth, Walt Rostow uses five different stages to explain how an underdeveloped country can become economically stable and offer its citizens a higher quality of life. The first stage, traditional society, is when a country has an agriculture based economy that focuses on rigorous labor and low levels or trade. The citizens do not have a broad knowledge of science, technology, and the world, as this is introduced later. The second stage, pre-conditions to take off, is when a country starts to develop a manufacturing industry and a more international perspective as opposed to a localized one. The third stage, take-off, is when a country goes through industrialization which spurs a brief period of accelerated growth where institutions are focused around a new industry. The fourth stage, drive to maturity, is when living standards rise, use of technology increases, and the economy starts to expand and prosper. The fifth and final stage of Rostow’s theory of economic growth, age of high mass consumption, is when an economy progresses in a capitalist system due to mass production of goods by firms and mass conception of those goods by households. Together, these five stages of Rostow’s economic theory set out to explain how an underdeveloped country can develop into an economically developed country with a greater quality of life. While Rostow’s theory has worked for many countries, it hasn’t worked in others.
Walt Rostow was a world renowned economist and political theorist most known for his work in the American National Security Affairs and his theory of economic growth. By analyzing the 5 stages of economic growth and what they entail, one can see that the overall goal is to achieve mass production and consumption. While Rostow’s theory of economic growth addresses economic development, it does not address social development which is crucial to improving standard of living and achieving economic growth. While economic development is defined as improving the economic well-being of a country, social development is defined as the progression of society through the prioritization of human rights and necessities. This includes but is not limited to the growth of education as well as the elimination of gender inequality. According to Todaro and Smith, if poverty, inequality and unemployment have all declined from high levels, then that implies some level of development for that country (2003). By eliminating inequality and poverty, a country can become economically stable at a quicker rate. There is a strong correlation between economic growth when a country eliminates gender inequality. There are more people in the workforce, higher productivity, and lower fertility rates when women are given the opportunity to become educated and follow a career path. A study from 1970 to 2009 found that, for every one additional year of education a women of reproductive age pursued, child mortality rates decreased by 9.5 per cent in 219 countries (Gakidou, et al., 2010). Gakidou’s study shows the significance in providing education for young girls and especially young girls at a reproductive age. By providing young girls at a reproductive age education, they often don’t have the time or means to have children since they are busy at school or at home doing school work. This can lower the total fertility rate which in turn, has a lesser drainage on the economy. There is also economic growth when women are not at home taking care of children but rather being part of the workforce. Rostow’s theory of economic growth does not address social development and the priorities of humans and therefore, does not look at how eliminating gender inequality and providing education for women can lead to economic growth. Rostow’s theory of economic growth also does not address environmental growth or preservation of the environment and the elimination of climate change.
In terms of economic development, Walt Rostow’s theory of economic growth is an efficient explanation of how a country can reach economic growth and a greater standard of living. Rostow’s theory, however, does not address environmental growth or preservation of the environment and the elimination of climate change. The environment is of utmost importance because everything that supports the survival of humankind is contingent on it. The fifth and final stage of Rostow’s theory of economic growth, age of high mass consumption, is when an economy progresses in a capitalist system due to mass production of goods by firms and mass conception of those goods by households. Executive director of Greenpeace USA says that not only does mass consumerism have no positive effect on people’s contentment, it has a very negative affects on our environment due to high amounts of wasted product thrown in landfills (Leonard, 2010). While mass consumerism and production lead to economic growth, they do not support environmental growth or preservation of the environment. The environment is central to economic growth as it provides manufacturers with resources to generate goods for consumption. Personnel from the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs suggest that the way people consume goods and produce goods needs to change in a way that yields less waste (Everett, et al., 2010). By changing the way goods are produced and consumed, a company not only yields less waste but, they save money from yielding less waste as they are using less resources to produce their good. This means that the company has more money at the end of the day which is the overall goal for manufacturing companies. In turn, this can lead to not only environmental growth or preservation of the environment, but it also leads to economic growth. The final stage of Rostow’s theory of economic growth, mass consumption and production, not only has negative impacts on the environment, it also is not every country’s end target.
Rostow’s theory of economic growth has worked for many European countries, Singapore, and most importantly, the United States, but it has not worked in other countries. Walt Rostow’s theory of economic growth constructs a path of development for which countries can follow to achieve economic growth with their last stage being mass consumption and production. One of the central problems with Rostow’s theory is his strong bias towards the Western world while creating his theory. Rostow’s theory of economic development believes that every country strives to reach the same goal through economic development. While the goal of high mass consumption and production is inlign with western goals, it does not account for countries that have different goals. For example, in the West, specifically the United States, there is a lifestyle called the “American Dream”. The idea of the “American Dream” is that one’s goal is to acquire more wealth and capital in the form of money, cars, homes, vacations, and products. While countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have deep cultural and family ties, they have the end goal of increasing connections with these roots. A study conducted by Betty Bigombe and Gilbert Khadiagala discover that major changes to the structure of economic gain in Africa ultimately affect the ties that one shares with a family more than material items (Bigombe and Khadiagala, 1990). The study conducted brings to light the fact that in many African countries, structural economic development leads to the formation of stronger ties to family, historical, and cultural beliefs, while in the west, economic development leads to consumerism. Thus, illustrating a very different result of economic development in both these regions, the reason for this is due to to their opposing perception of the ultimate goal. Therefore, it is without a doubt that Rostow’s perceived ultimate goal of “high mass consumption and production” only suits the west rather than the entire world. Due to this, Rostow’s theory of economic growth cannot be used in countries that do not share Rostow’s end goal, which in turn does not make it a viable model for the majority of the world. Alongside
Walt Rostow’s theory can also be seen to hold a bias in favor of Western development through the conditions of a country. Rostow believes that in order for a country to further develop from a “traditional society” to a country that has the “preconditions for take off”, there must be the formation of international ties, without them, country cannot progres. A country’s ability to form international relations is dependant upon many factors, the most crucial being, are the countries geographical advantages including, coal, oil, land mass, and bordering territory (Gilles, 2014). Rostow’s theory of development is heavily reliant upon the notion that all countries have a high population, resources, and large land mass. Singapore, for instance, has one of the world’s busiest trading ports, but this would not be possible without its advantageous geography as an island nation between Indonesia and Malaysia. As a result, singapore has been able to form key international relationships through mutual trade, allowing them to progress in rostow’s theory of economic growth. However, countries such as Rwanda that have small land mass, small population, and no place on the international stage struggle to create any international relationships aside from countries within close proximity. Consequently, Rwanda has not failed to economically progress according to Rostow’s model of development due to its lack of international ties, it leaves Rwanda with no alternative direction to grow. Rwanda’s inability to follow Rostow’s model is due to his overall negligence to the fact every country is not the same. Therefore, countries that lack the geographical advantages that the Western world has, are unable to follow Rostow’s model of development. This makes Rostow’s model of development impracticable for countries with differing conditions to the Western world, which are presently the countries who require economic growth the most. Rostow’s bias towards the West poses a significant problem to developing countries attempting to follow his model. Similarly, Rostow’s assumption that every country is without political and social burdens, creates even more problems for developing countries trying to economically grow.
Rostow’s theory of economic growth has shown success in much of the Western world but the linear system has not given direction for economic growth in other developing countries. Rostow’s’ theory assumes that every country is without social burdens and therefore, his model does not work with many countries that face inequality. For example, take countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. After the colonisation period, many of the Sub-Saharan African countries struggled to gain back control over their countries and this lead to inequality. The needs of the people were not being met through a democratic government but rather through authoritative governments. These authoritative regimes created great inequality between men and women in Sub-Saharan Africa. This lead to women not attending school, having no say in their reproductive rights, and not being apart of the workforce. Studies have shown, that inequality between men and women has negative impact on the economy in that country (Karoui, 2015). The social burden of gender inequality that countries still face, has prevented economic development in many countries around the world. While the United States has faced and still faces gender inequality, it was not as severe as many countries did in Sub-Saharan Africa after colonisation and currently during the active exploitation of their resources. In order for a country to progress past the first stage of Rostow’s theory of economic growth, traditional society, it can not face the social burden of gender inequality.
Walt Rostow, a world renowned economist and political theorist, is well known for his theory of economic development, Rostow’s theory of economic growth. Rostow’s theory is modeled through five stages that a country must go through to become achieve high economic growth with the first stage being a traditional society and the last stage being a country with mass consumption and production. While Rostow’s theory of economic growth sheds light upon an effective path to development for some countries, Rostow’s theory is not an effective model to explain how many other countries develop in the 21st century as it only addresses economic development, has a strong bias towards Western development, and it assumes every country is without social burdens. Many crucial ways a country must develop include social environmental development. High economic growth can not influence social and environmental development but together, social and environmental development can influence high economic growth.