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Home Theories of Under Development Linear Stages Theory and Rostow's Stages of Economic Growth

Linear Stages Theory and Rostow's Stages of Economic Growth:


Linear Stages Theory:


The theorists of 1950s and early 1960s viewed the process of development as a series of successive stages of economic growth through which all the advanced nations of the world had passed. As all the modern industrial nations of the world were once undeveloped peasant agrarian economies.


Accordingly, their historical experience in transforming their economies from poor agri. subsistence societies to modern industrial giants had important lessons for backward countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. In this respect, we discuss the Rostow's stages of economic growth.


W.W. Rostow's Stages of Economic Growth:


W.W. Rostow was an American economist who presented 'Stages of Growth' model of development. According to Rostow, the process whereby all the developed industrial nations of the world transformed themselves from backwardness to prosperity can be described in terms of a series of stages. These stages of economic growth are:


(1) Traditional society, (2) Pre-conditions to take-off, (3) Take-off, (4) Drive to maturity, (5) High mass consumption. They are discussed below:


(1) Traditional Society:


The traditional society is one whose production functions are based up pre-Newton science and technology. This unchanging technology places a ceiling on productivity. In this society a higher proportion of resources is devoted to agriculture. Man is valued on family basis, not on the basis of his capabilities. Long Fatalism prevails in such society. The range of possibilities for a grand children are the same what they were for grand father. The society is ruled by those who owned or controlled land. These landlords used to have a long chain of servants and soldiers. This society was available during the Medieval Ages in Europe.


(2) Pre Conditions to Take Off:


It is a period of transition where the conditions for take-off are developed. Historically, it was due to invasion of advanced societies which destroyed the culture of traditional society. This paved the way for the emergence of new ideas. In this way, when the new ideas develop people start thinking about economic progress which could provide a better life for the present and future generation. Once the changes set in, they feed on themselves. It is the education which broadens the mental out look of the people, and it induces the people to accept new challenges. In this way, the new entrepreneurs come forward to take risks.


Due to establishment of financial institutions savings and investment are mobilized in SOC. But still the society is characterized by low productivity. Still there is a need to build an effective national state against the traditional land lordism. According to Rostow, the transition is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. A country with 75% of its population in agri. will have to be shifted to industry, trade and commerce. The view to have more children will have to be replaced by less children. The income will have to be shifted from the feudals to those who will spend it on productive items. The man will be valued on the basis of his competence. Moreover, during this transitional period, the following major changes will occur:


(i) Crucial Role By Agriculture: For the sake of transition the self-sufficiency in agri. is required. Such self-sufficiency is justified on the following grounds:


(a) To meet the increased needs of growing population.


(b) With agri. surplus foreign exchange can be earned to meet the import bill of capital goods.


(c) The overall increase in the productivity due to agri. development will provide stimulus to other sectors of the economy.


In short, agri. sector must supply expanded food, expanded markets and expanded funds to the modern sector.


(ii) Growing Outlays on SOC: According to Rostow in this period the resources are diverted to SOC. The SOC has three distinctive characteristics:


(a) The gestation period is long, (b) It is lumpy, (c) It is beneficial for the community.


Due to these reasons it is the duty of state to provide SOC as during 1815 to 1840 the SOC was provided by state in US and UK.


(3) Take Off Stage:


The take-off stage is a break-through in the history of the society. The take-off stage remains for more than two or three decades. In this stage three conditions must be satisfied:


(i) The rate of investment must rise from 5% to 10% of GNP.


(ii) The development of one or more substantial manufactured sector with the high growth rate.


(iii) The existence of social, political and institutional framework which could give impulses to modern sector expansion.




(i) Increase in rate of investment: It is attached with changes in income distribution, i.e., the income begins to flow into the hands of capitalists who would re-invest to increase the rate of capital formation. This process of capital formation will further be promoted by fiscal measures of govt., banking institutions and capital markets.


(ii) Emergence of leading sectors: The entrepreneurs of one or two leading sectors re-plough their profits. Moreover, the expansion of leading sectors helps to pay for imports and debt charges. It was the Canadian grain, Swedish timber and Japanese silk which helped these countries to develop other sectors of their economies.


Loan able funds play an important role in the emergence of leading sectors, particularly in financing large overhead capital. Rostow grouped the sectors of the economy as:


(a) Primary growth sectors:


Where possibilities for innovations in unexplored resources yield a higher growth rate.


(b) The Supplementary growth sectors:


Where these sectors supplement. For instance coal, iron, and engineering industry in relation to rail road.


(c) The Derived growth sectors:


Advances in these sectors occurs in relation to growth of total real income, population and industrial production. Historically, these sectors range from cotton textile, heavy industrial complex and dairy products.


(4) Drive to Maturity Stage:


According to Rostow 40 years after the take-off stage there is a long interval. During this interval the economy experiences a regular growth and modern technology is extended over to a bulk of resources. On the basis of entrepreneurial and technological development everything is produced which is desired. There may be a shift in emphasis from coal, iron and heavy engineering to machine tools, chemicals and electrical equipments.


Germany, France, UK and US passed through this period during the end of 19th century. 10% to 20% of GNP is ploughed in investment and output grows more than increase in population. The goods which were earlier imported now they are produced at home. In short, the economy becomes a part of international economy.                 


(5) Age of High Mass Consumption Stage:


According to Rostow as societies achieved maturity in 20th century, real incomes rose and the people became aware of as well anxious to have a command over the consumption of the fruits of mature economy. The leading sectors of the economy produce consumer durables like TV, fridges and automobiles etc. Here the society pays more attention on social welfare and social security than on economic growth. US passed through this stage in 1913-14, and then in the post war period of 1946-56.


Practical Importance of Rostow's Stages:


The above stage theory of development, or the history of modern societies is of the view that the advanced countries had passed the stage of take off into self-sustaining growth. While the UDCs are still passing through traditional society or the pre-conditions to take-off.


Accordingly, UDCs must learn a lesson from the economic history of advanced nations. They should follow the rules of development to take-off and then to self-sustaining economic growth. In this respect, the UDCs should mobilize domestic and foreign savings in order to generate sufficient investment to accelerate economic growth.


The economic mechanism whereby more investment will lead to more growth can be stated in terms of famous Harrod Domar Model of Economic Growth. It means that the Rostow stage theory stressed upon capital formation for the sake of economic development. And it is H-D model which guides the UDCs.




Rostow's five stages of economic growth are against Marx stages of feudalism, bourgeoisie, capitalism, socialism and communism. Both these approaches describe the evolution of society from economic point of view. Both the approaches admit that economic changes have social, political and cultural consequences.


However, there exist certain dissimilarities in both these approaches. Rostow did not discuss the class conflict, while it is very much available in Marx's stage theory. Marx approach was a reaction against capitalism, whereas it is not the case with Rostow. Rather, Rostow conveyed a message to UDCs that they should learn a lesson from the good or bad experiences of DCs. Despite these merits of Rostow's theory, following criticism has been leveled against it.


(i) Stage Making Idea is Misleading: Rostow says that all the nations have passed through these stages. But it is incorrect to say that all the nations have followed this route when they are having different environment and resources etc.


(ii) Leading Sectors: According to Rostow the leading sectors are responsible for economic expansion. But Kuznets says that Rostow did not identify the chronology of leading sectors.


(iii) Data is Unconfirmed: Kuznets says that the statistical data presented by Rostow regarding doubling of productivity in the period of take-off stage is not reliable and confirmed.


(iv) No Distinction Between Pre-Conditions and Take-Off: The characteristics of pre-conditions and take-off are very much similar. Therefore, it is not possible to assess when take-off starts after pre-conditions.


(v) Self-Sustained Growth: Kuznets has greatly criticized self-sustained growth which takes place during takeoff stage. He says that the increase in per capita income, increase in savings, and investment may even take place before take-off.


(vi) Pre-Conditions is Not a Chronological Concept: According to Caironcross it is incorrect to say that the SOC will attain necessary minimum size even before the take-off. Moreover, Rostow's views regarding agriculture are not true historically. In some countries agri. expanded during industrialization, and SOC was mostly required during the industrialization.


(vii) Idea of Increase in Investment is Not New: Rostow presented the idea that increase in investment from 5% to 10% will take the economy into take-off stage. But Caironcross says that it is not a new idea. It is also available in Lewis thinking. He further says when the saving habits will change, whether in pre-conditions or in take-off stage?


Rostow's Stages and UDCs:


As we told earlier that Rostow stages have a greater appeal for UDCs. The take-off stage is analogous to industrialization and the UDCs are desirous to industrialize their economies as soon as possible. As they are having saving gap which can be filled up with foreign capital (both public and private), as mentioned by H-D model. But there exist following problems whereby Rostow and H-D models will be least beneficial for UDCs. They are as:


(i) Attitudes and Arrangements in UDCs: The Rostow and H-D models were found applicable in DCs because the European countries which received aid under 'Marshall Aid Program', initiated by US to construct war affected economies of Europe possessed the necessary structural, institutional and attitudinal conditions, i.e., they had well integrated commodity and money markets, highly developed transport facilities, well trained and educated manpower, the motivation to succeed, and an efficient govt. bureaucracy. In this way, the capital was effectively used to get higher levels of output The same like conditions, attitudes and arrangements are not available in the UDCs like Pakistan They lack the managerial experience, skilled labor and the ability to plan and administer a wide variety of development projects.


(ii) Removal of Unemployment: The conditions regarding take-off as presented by Rostow do not entertain the case of those countries which have abundance of population, and unemployment is increasing there. How they will be able to remove their unemployment. Thus the theory which does not present any solution to remove unemployment how it can be applicable in case of UDCs.


(iii) Value of COR is not Constant: In Rostow and H-D models of growth the value of COR has been kept constant. But such assumption may be true in case of DCs, but not in case of UDCs. The UDCs produce agri. goods, and in the presence of rising population and stagnant economic conditions the decreasing returns to scale apply, rather constant returns to scale.


(iv) Spontaneous and Automatic Growth: Rostow's take offstage shows that here the growth is automatic and spontaneous. But in case of UDCs, there does not exist any possibility that in a sudden growth will take place.


(v) Integration with World Economy: Now a days the UDCs are well integrated with the world economy. The external factors which are beyond their control can nullify the best strategies followed by UDCs. It means that development can not be attained just through supplying the missing factors like capital, foreign exchange and skill.


Relevant Articles:


Nurkse's Model of Vicious Circle of Poverty (VCP)
Nelson's Low Level Equilibrium Trap
Leibenstein's Critical Minimum Effort
Big Push Theory By Rosenstein Rodan
Linear Stages Theory and Rostow's Stages of Economic Growth
Harrod-Domar (H-D) Growth Model
Adelman and Morris Stage Theory
International Structuralist Models
Dualism and the Concept of Dual Societies
Dualistic Theories
Rural-Urban Migration Model
Neo-Classical Counter Revolution Theory
Traditional and Modern Growth Theories
Romer's Model of Endogenous Growth Theory

Principles and Theories of Micro Economics
Definition and Explanation of Economics
Theory of Consumer Behavior
Indifference Curve Analysis of Consumer's Equilibrium
Theory of Demand
Theory of Supply
Elasticity of Demand
Elasticity of Supply
Equilibrium of Demand and Supply
Economic Resources
Scale of Production
Laws of Returns
Production Function
Cost Analysis
Various Revenue Concepts
Price and output Determination Under Perfect Competition
Price and Output Determination Under Monopoly
Price and Output Determination Under Monopolistic/Imperfect Competition
Theory of Factor Pricing OR Theory of Distribution
Principles and Theories of Macro Economics
National Income and Its Measurement
Principles of Public Finance
Public Revenue and Taxation
National Debt and Income Determination
Fiscal Policy
Determinants of the Level of National Income and Employment
Determination of National Income
Theories of Employment
Theory of International Trade
Balance of Payments
Commercial Policy
Development and Planning Economics
Introduction to Development Economics
Features of Developing Countries
Economic Development and Economic Growth
Theories of Under Development
Theories of Economic Growth
Agriculture and Economic Development
Monetary Economics and Public Finance
History of Money


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