“ If we could foremost cognize where we are, and whether we are be givening, we could break judge what to make and how to make it. ”

Abraham Lincoln

Rostow ‘s phases of growing theory saw development as a additive procedure under which national economic systems would develop under a set of cosmopolitan premises common to every state. Far from such abstract world were non merely the international scene ( external histrions, foreign investing, footings of trade ) but besides the conditions that determine and constrain the way to development of different states.

Among those are the historic conditions which, harmonizing to a Fieldss of economic idea ( neo-marxist and structuralist ) , set the restraints that many states face in the procedure of development. Indeed, the spread between the developed and developing states may be explained holding into history historic findings ( including the Colonial Empires, Industrial Revolution, and underneath it all, the procedure of accretion of capital and power by the industrialised states ) that led to such disparities. In this sense, the “ backward ” states do n’t hold the same conditions for development that industrial states had, and therefore the additive phases of growing that Rostow designed make non look plausible. How can different states with a different set of historic conditions follow the same way to growing?

Yet, even today, economic assistance policies are centered on the catholicity of ends and its agencies in hurt of the diverseness and historical background of states. Policy bundles incorporating general schemes and tools are frequently suggested ( or imposed ) to different developing states – the execution of the structural accommodation policies and its effects are cogent evidence of such.

In visible radiation of that, I argue that development policies in general have been following Rostow ‘s focal point on one-dimensionality, catholicity and objectiveness, pretermiting the different specialnesss and restraints of states. In my position, the contemplation on historic conditions of development is deciding as it brings back a peculiar and contextualizing attack to development.

The one-dimensionality of Rostow ‘s Stages of Growth and the conditions of development

The theory

In the twelvemonth of 1960 Walt Whitman Rostow published a book that would non merely go influential in the surveies of development, but besides rather controversial, stirring argument on the conditions of growing.

In this book, Rostow developed a additive theoretical account, harmonizing to which every state would go through through the same phases over clip and finally make a degree of sufficient and sustainable growing. There are five phases of growing, harmonizing to Rostow: the traditional society phase ; the transitional phase ; the thrust to adulthood phase ; and the high mass ingestion phase.

Under the traditional society, economic activity is limited to subsistence with the end product ( cattle, fish, pound, etc. ) being straight consumed by those who produce it. The economic system is therefore, centered on immediate demands and non on trade, being formed by labour intensive activities such as agribusiness, fishing, runing and logging. When the society additions the pre-conditions 1 for take off but has non yet entered a stage of high growing, it reaches the transitional phase. Under this stage, trading becomes a cardinal economic activity, with the enterprisers going an emergent category. Investings and nest eggs accompany the additions in income and a conveyance substructure develops, maximising the results of trade and easing its internationalisation.

Finally, the conditions for fast growing take topographic point and the society enters the return off phase, get downing to industrialise, with the labor increasingly being transferred from artisan and agricultural activities to fabrication. Supporting this procedure of industrialisation are the new established political and societal establishments.


1 The writer does non lucubrate on these pre-conditions, mentioning to them merely as the pre-requisites for fast growing. There are a batch of articles knocking the vagueness of Rostow ‘s theory, like Baran, Hobsbawn ( 1961 )

Growth is self-sufficient and concentrated in certain parts and few industries. When the economic system starts to diversify, the society reaches the thrust to adulthood phase. Under this stage, technological invention provides multiple investing chances, taking to a diversified production of goods and services, diminishing the trust on imports. Such finally will take to a consumer society, what Rostow designates by High Mass Consumption Stage.

Determining development after the western experience

Rostow ‘s theory was criticized for being excessively obscure and abstract. It positioned states as stray entities, whose development was non influenced by external histrions nor by the footings of trade. Thus, the theory proved to be rather unpractical and unrealistic in a universe shaped by international forces ( allow it be the fiscal markets, trade kineticss or migration flows ) .

But possibly the point that led to more contention was the conditions of growing. As antecedently stated, Rostow does non lucubrate on what are the pre-conditions stated in the transitional phase and the conditions for take off. Yet, he does province that the chief engines for economic growing are nest eggs and investing. If a state was enduring a fiscal spread ( deficiency of nest eggs and therefore, low investings ) , it could turn into a receiving system of external assistance which would assist equilibrate such spread. This premise was based chiefly on the Marshall Plan which, harmonizing to Todaro ( 2002 ) , succeeded merely because the donees gathered a figure of conditions ( developed conveyance installations ; skilled work force ; incorporate market ; etc ) which allowed the transition of new capital into higher degrees of end product in an efficient manner.

Indeed, development policies in many instances have pursued a theoretical account that is founded in the direct observation of the most developed economic systems, accepting that the poorest states today should follow the same way to development as did the now richest nations.2


2 It is interesting to observe that even Marx believed societies had to go through through capitalist economy in order to accomplish economic development. In his ain words “ The state that is more developed industrially merely shows to the less developed the image of its ain hereafter ” . See Hunt ( 1989 )

Yet, development practicians seem to bury that the conditions for development are non equal- for case, at the clip of their industrialisation, the western states were able to use the abundant natural resources available in the poorest states ( Furtado, 1974 ) .


Here lies the chief job of Rostow ‘s additive framework- it assumes the being of the same conditions of growing in different states, overlooking the heterogeneousness and diverseness that form every state and are per se attached to the phenomenon of development.

In fact, there is no additive sequence that can accommodate itself to the history of every state. When one defends that every economic system must follow the same line of development, one is oversimplifying the complexness of the forces of development ( Meier, 1976 ) .

In truth, Rostow ‘s theory does non assist us to understand the economic and societal conditions of a state, or to happen out more about its possibilities and positions of development. In order to deeply understand the complexnesss of development one needs to analyze the different conditions ( originating from history, civilization, geographics, etc ) that the states are endowed with.

The conditions of development

Todaro ( 2002 ) enumerates the undermentioned structural differences between states: historical background ; size ; gifts of resources ; ethic and spiritual composing ; importance of public and private sectors ; nature of industrial sector ; grade of dependance on external factors ; distribution of power ; institutional and political construction.

All of these contribute to determining states in a alone manner, giving them strengths and failings that can merely be understood holding into history the different features and conditions of different states. But allow us concentrate on the “ historical background ” .

If we look back to the Industrial Revolution and the procedure of economic development of the western states and compare it to the puting developing states face today, we see that there is rather a different scenario.

For case, industrialising states of the Nineteen Century were economically in progress of the remainder of the universe and therefore could take advantage of their strong fiscal place to widen the income spreads between them and the poorest states. Conversely, today ‘s developing states start the procedure of economic growing in an inauspicious state of affairs, dawdling behind the most developed states ( Todaro, 2002 ) . In the same sense, western states during the Industrial Revolution were far in front in footings technological invention which boosted and diversified their economic systems. In today ‘s universe, the poorest states face a great disadvantage in footings of engineering, being dependent on imports from the richest states ( Todaro, 2002 ) .

The inquiry about the historic conditions of development has been the focal point of attending by many writers, belonging from economic schools such as structural linguistics and neo-marxism.

The historic conditions of development 3

Structuralists such as Furtado and Sunkel conclude that the cardinal characteristics of underdevelopment are interlinked with the historic procedure of development of the now richest states. In that sense, underdevelopment can be seen as a specific historical status. ( Hunt, 1989 )

Harmonizing to Furtado ( 1974 ) , undertaking the kernel of underdevelopment is non an easy undertaking: there are many dimensions and those that are seeable are non ever the most important. Above all, what lies underneath the procedure of economic development is the degree of accretion of capital applied to the productive procedures and the degree of entree to the concluding goods that characterize modernisation.


3 It is of import to emphasize that here, historic conditions are to be interpreted as historical events ( e.g: Industrial Revolution, Colonialism, Slave Trade, etc ) that have shaped societies in footings of diverseness and singularity and are per se related to the ability a state has to accomplish development. It should non be confused with Marx ‘s historic philistinism which in footings of signifier can be compared to Rostow ‘s phases of growing, in the manner it proposes a additive procedure in which societies evolve. See Hunt ( 1989 ) and Moreira ( 1978 )

The great transmutations of the XIX Century occurred along two procedures: the acceleration of the accretion of capital and the intensification of international trade. Both these procedures generated additions in labour productiveness, taking to turning excess which were utilized to further escalate the procedure of accretion and to finance the variegation of private and public ingestion. It was by allowing that excess, that England consolidated the execution of a system of international division of labour, which would determine the development of industrial capitalist economy. Such would finally find the destiny of the poorest states in footings of chances for development, with the procedure of accretion of capital by the industrialised states widening the spread between poorest and richest.

In a similar frame of idea, neo-marxists like Baran conclude that along the procedure of industrialisation of the western economic systems, the poorest states were drew into a system of unequal exchange, doing them dependent on more powerful states, and in a weaker place to get down their ain procedure of development. These constrains are still seeable today. In his ain words: “ aˆ¦ the forces that have moulded the destiny of the backward universe still exercise a powerful impact on the conditions predominating at the present clip. Their signifiers have changed, their strengths are different today ; [ yet ] their beginning and way have remained unchanged. They control now as they have controlled in the past the fates of the developing… ” ( Baran, 1957 )

All in all, despite efforts at nearing development in a cosmopolitan and additive manner, it is neither possible nor touchable to undertake the specificities of a state taking into history general thoughts, applicable to any world. Such attacks do non hold into history the conditions that determine and constraint the way to development of different states. Yet, to this twenty-four hours, they are still being applied, and their efficiency remains questionable.

Economic assistance policies: catholicity of ends, homogeneousness of agencies

Possibly influenced by the one-dimensionality and deficiency of focal point of theories such as the phases of growing, today ‘s economic assistance policies are centered on catholicity ends, while the agencies are rather homogeneous, with small attending being given to the different specialnesss of societies.

Indeed, despite the diverseness and historical background of different states, assistance bundles incorporating the same general schemes and tools are implemented in assorted states. Furthermore, these bundles are frequently accompanied with conditionalities- a state is merely eligible for fiscal assistance if it follows a set of conditions ( normally a figure of policies ) – which really frequently do non hold into history the specificities of the economic systems in which they are traveling to be implemented. One clear illustration of that are the structural accommodation policies.

Structural Adjustment Policies: the inefficiency of large graduated table reforms

Structural accommodation loans were born under the bid of World Bank president Robert McNamara in 1979. The thought was to give loans to developing states on the status that they adopted free markets by implementing a set figure of policies, such as denationalizations, constitution of flexible exchange rates, opening up the markets to international capital flows, deconcentrating the cardinal bank, diminishing public and societal expenditureaˆ¦ Little or none attending was given to the specialnesss of the developing economic systems ( importance of private and public sector, capacity of the market to digest external dazes, degree of entrepreneurship etc ) , allow entirely historic and other conditions that form and constraint their way to development.

It was decided that their economic systems needed large reforms in order for private undertakings to be productive. By that clip, big graduated table reforms were thought to be more efficient than little and partial reforms. Yet, reformists overlooked the fact that it is impossible to make everything at one time, due to miss of information. And besides, the reforms that come from the top are out of touch with the complexnesss at the bottom degree. ( Easterly, 2007 )

These daze therapy reforms led to much inefficiency and in many instances, failed to hike the growing of the developing economic systems, doing them more vulnerable on external force per unit areas and dependant on farther assistance. Such was the instance of the Cote d’Ivoire which received 26 structural accommodation loans in the class of 10 old ages ( from 1980s to 1990s ) . During that period, the GDP per capita in the state contracted and the economic system entered a period of depression.

In consequence, Easterly ( 2007 ) studied a figure of African states who received many structural accommodation loans in a certain period and concluded that they had negative or zero growth4. Why did that happened? For one time, certain African states were non prepared to open up their markets to external investing, nor did they hold a good place to merchandise with other states. Furthermore, opening up capital markets did non convey an inpouring of capital as investors were more interesting in researching African ‘s natural resources ( Stiglitz, 2007 )

It is relevant to observe that as a response to the failures and contention generated by the reforms, the givers ( IMF and World Bank ) started to clean the image of structural accommodation and re-named it to poverty decrease loans. Yet, the focal point behind it ( big-scale reforms, infliction of policies despite the heterogeneousness and diverseness of the economic systems ) remained unchanged. 5

The failure of such reforms shows that a state is non an abstract entity, and therefore can non be capable to homogenous policies that do n’t hold into history the specificities of the economic system and the society as a whole. In the words of Easterly ( 2007 ) : “ [ Aid bureaucratisms ] opt for catholicity instead than specificity, for world-wide A«best practicesA» instead than what works in each venue ” .


4 Latin American states seemed to endure the same destiny, with the best period of growing ( 1950-1980 ) being characterized with province intercession and taking topographic point before they started to have the loans. See Easterly ( 2007 ) and Stiglitz ( 2007 )

5 One illustration of such was Tanzania which received a poorness decrease and growing installation loan from the IMF in 2000. In the imperativeness release it was stated that the structural reforms ( which were conditioned to the loan ) aimed at intensifying the fiscal and capital markets, beef uping outgo control and enforcing pecuniary policies to cut down rising prices. See IMF Approves Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Loan for Tanzania, April 5, 2000, in hypertext transfer protocol: //

Contextualization as the new Panacea for development?

Today ‘s relevancy of historic conditions of development

The structural accommodation reforms show us that the deficiency of range and small information on the state where policies are implemented lead to bad consequences, turn outing that historic conditions of development remain relevant for the survey of development. Efficaciously, they trace the restraints and challenges that a state has to confront in pursue of development, and they besides bring back a peculiar and contextualizing attack, get the better ofing the inefficiencies of additive methodological analysiss which assume every state has the same conditions of growing.

How to set that into pattern? Should development practicians merely study state ‘s specialnesss and historic conditions and program consequently? For case, before implementing steps such as diminishing public outgo they should be informed whether the population is much or small dependant on the province for public goods and services proviso, and if there is room and capacity for private investing to take the function of the province in the proviso of such. Adding to that, larning about the historical background of a state could assist practicians understand why some states are unable to develop in a certain manner, normally modeled after successful instances, allow it be China ‘s experience or European growing under Industrial Revolution.

But besides acquiring more information about the specificities of states, practicians should besides give manner to those who know more about the worlds and jobs societies face- the people of those states.

Get the better ofing democratic shortage: leting states to specify ain precedences and demands

In truth, top-down attacks to development, non merely suffer from information shortages and generalisations, but they besides leave small room for the population of the states voice their sentiments and demands, both holding direct effects on the results of enforced policies. These issues are interlinked with the composing and construction of the organisations that manage development policies, including the UN, World Bank and IMF.

Such establishments suffer from a democratic shortage in footings of determination devising, with the richest states holding more influence and bargaining power, with some of them besides possessing power of veto, holding the domination of determinations ( in the IMF, for case, the United Stated are the lone state with an effectual veto ) .

In this scenario, poorest states ca n’t voice their sentiments, allow entirely protect their involvements. In many occasions, determinations sing reforms in certain developing states are taken without small feedback from the leaders of those states, whose vulnerable economic systems make them accept any conditions in return of a loan.

It is therefore necessary to prosecute developing states in the determination devising procedure, in order non merely for the interest of the effectivity of the undertakings, but besides to better the democratic rules of the establishments that govern development policies. As Stiglitz ( 2007 ) defends, it is critical to “ [ enhance ] the ability of developing states to take part meaningfully in determination devising, by supplying them with aid in measuring the impact on them of proposed alterations ” .

Reasoning Remarks

It is clip for development practicians to recognize that generalisations and cosmopolitan rules can non be applied in a homogeneous manner, that states are a concept of different societal, economic and historic conditions, and therefore can non be capable to additive methodological analysiss. Each state is the consequence of different kineticss, and contrary to what Rostow suggested, they ca n’t follow the precisely same way to growing and development as other states. Such premises have been a common pattern, with development establishments pretermiting the diverseness of the states they work with.

In the reasoning chapter of his celebrated book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David S. Landes ( p 592, 1999 ) declares that history taught us the most successful interventions of poorness semen from the interior. Alternatively of enforcing external theoretical accounts of development to states, one should eventually recognize that what states need are a precise scheme appropriate to their societies, and who in better place than the people who live at that place to explicate such schemes?