Economics Or Political Economy?

Economics Or Political Economy?

THE STAGES OF ECONOMIC GROWTH, by W. W. Rostow. A Non-Communist Manifesto, Cambridge University Press.

A pretentious title leads to a pretentious foreword, which leads to a very unpretentious introduction in which the author disclaims what he is doing. Having found Marx “unsatisfactory,” he does not claim to do any better but frankly and strongly emphasizes that his five “stages of growth are an arbitrary and limited way of looking at the sequence of modern history. . designed to dramatize not merely the uniformities . . . but also . . . the uniqueness of each nation’s experience.” You pays your dollar and you takes your choice.

This, however, seems to be the point of Rostow’s theory: were the young or “underdeveloped” nations to follow a strictly determined pattern of development, most of them might stand little chance to make democratic choices or to avoid falling into the Soviet orbit. Looking around for a broader area of maneuver, Rostow hopes to find grounds for more optimism. For that purpose, he breaks down the process of economic growth into five stages: traditional, preparatory, take-off, maturity, and mass consumption. Transition from one stage to the next, however, is not equally well determined for all five stages. Extremely complex rearrangements must take place in a “traditional” society before it is ready for the “take-off,” and these conditions are different in each country.

On the other hand, once having “taken off,” all societies reach maturity after sixty years. This law is so stringent that the rates of productivity increase for the United States and for Russia produce “remarkably similar” curves over a period of ninety years. What this means I am not quite sure, since Russia’s “take-off” took place fifty years after the American and the “parallel” does not appear until the curve has been considerably manipulated. Anyway, the import of Rostow’s “discovery” seems to be that an almost purely capitalistic economy and a sequence of highly traditional and Communist societies produce the same result. It therefore is not true that the new countries can procure the necessary investment rates only under the feverish impulse of a dictatorship.

I certainly wish this were true—but it is not even the right question. The problem is precisely the opposite: whether the underdeveloped countries can achieve maturity in less than sixty years without imposing on their populations the horrors which were characteristic of early capitalism and of primitive accumulation in Soviet Russia. Democracy hinges, not on their ultimate ability to satisfy the politicized masses, but on their present ability to appease them. Professor Rostow neither answers nor even asks this question. Instead, he shifts the discussion to the later stage of “maturity” when a count...