Rostovian take-off model

Rostovian take-off model

The Rostovian take-off model (also called "Rostow's Stages of Growth") is one of the major historical models of economic growth. It was developed by W. W. Rostow. The model postulates that economic modernization occurs in five basic stages, of varying length.

# Traditional society
# Preconditions for take-off
# Take-off
# Drive to maturity
# Age of High mass consumption

Rostow asserts that countries go through each of these stages fairly linearly, and set out a number of conditions that were likely to occur in investment, consumption and social trends at each state. Not all of the conditions were certain to occur at each stage, however, and the stages and transitions periods may occur at varying lengths from country to country, and even from region to region. [Rostow emphasizes in "Stages" that "the stages of growth are an arbitrary and limited way of looking at the sequence of modern history: ... to dramatize not merely the uniformities in the sequence of modernization but also--and equally--the uniqueness of each nation's experience."]

Rostow's model is one of the more structuralist models of economic growth, particularly in comparison with the 'backwardness' model developed by Alexander Gerschenkron. The two models are not necessarily mutually exclusive, however, and many countries seem to follow both models rather adequately.

Beyond the structured picture of growth itself, another important part of the model is that economic take-off must initially be led by a few individual sectors. This belief echoes David Ricardo’s comparative advantage thesis and criticizes Marxist revolutionaries push for economic self-reliance in that it pushes for the 'initial' development of only one or two sectors over the development of all sectors equally. This became one of the important concepts in the theory of modernization in the social evolutionism.

Theoretical Framework

Rostow's model is descendent from the liberal school of economics, emphasizing the efficacy of modern concepts of free trade and the ideas of Adam Smith. It also denies Friedrich List’s argument that countries reliant on exporting raw materials may get “locked in”, and be unable to diversify, in that Rostow’s model states that countries may need to depend on a few raw material exports to finance the development of manufacturing sectors which are not yet of superior competitiveness in the early stages of take-off. In that way, Rostow’s model does not deny John Maynard Keynes in that it allows for a degree of government control over domestic development not generally accepted by some ardent free trade advocates. Although empirical at times, Rostow is hardly free of normative discourse. As a basic assumption, Rostow believes that countries want to modernize as he describes modernization, and that the society will ascent to the materialistic norms of economic growth.


Traditional Societies

Traditional societies are marked by their pre-Newtonian understanding and use of technology. These are societies which have pre-scientific understandings of gadgets, and believe that gods or spirits facilitate the procurement of goods, rather than man and his own ingenuity. The norms of economic growth are completely absent from these societies.

Preconditions to Take-off

The preconditions to take-off are, to Rostow, that the society begins committing itself to secular education, that it enables a degree of capital mobilization, especially through the establishment of banks and currency, that an entrepreneurial class forms, and that the secular concept of manufacturing develops, with only a few sectors developing at this point. This leads to a take-off in ten to fifty years. At this stage, there is a limited production function, and therefore a limited output. There are limited economic techniques available and these restrictions create a limit to what can be produced.


Take-off then occurs when sector led growth becomes common and society is driven more by economic processes than traditions. At this point, the norms of economic growth are well established. In discussing the take-off, Rostow's is a noted early adopter of the term “transition”, which is to describe the passage of a traditional to a modern economy. After take-off, a country will take as long as fifty to one hundred years to reach maturity.

Drive to Maturity

The drive to maturity refers to the need for the economy itself to diversify. The sectors of the economy which lead initially begin to level off, while other sectors begin to take off. This diversity leads to greatly reduced rates of poverty and rising standards of living, as the society no longer needs to sacrifice its comfort in order to strengthen certain sectors.

Age of High Mass Consumption

The age of high mass consumption refers to the period of contemporary comfort afforded many western nations, wherein consumers concentrate on durable goods, and hardly remember the subsistence concerns of previous stages. Rostow uses the Buddenbrooks dynamics metaphor to describe this change in attitude. In Thomas Mann’s novel, Buddenbrooks, a family is chronicled for three generations. The first generation is interested in economic development, the second in its position in society. The third, already having money and prestige, concerns itself with the arts and music, worrying little about those previous, earthly concerns. So too, in the age of high mass consumption, a society is able to choose between concentrating on military and security issues, on equality and welfare issues, or on developing great luxuries for its upper class. Each country in this position chooses its own balance between these three goals.

Criticism of the Model

1: Rostow model is teleological in the sense that the end result is known in the outset and is derived from the historical geography of developed society.

2: Rostow model is mechanical in the sense the underlying motor of change is not disclosed and therefore the stages become little more than a classificatory system based on data from developed country.

3: His model is Ahistorical in that, the notion of path dependency are ignored so that it can be assumed that historical geography of the underdeveloped country are unaffected by that of the developed countries.

4: His model is ethnocentric espousing a future of the world based on American history and aspiring to American norm of high mass consumption.

5: His model represents a “non-communist manifesto” or we can say a “capitalist manifesto”.

Rostow's thesis assumes a strong bias towards a western model of modernization. It de-emphasizes any difference between how leading sectors develop in free and controlled markets. However, Rostow’s consideration of non-western cases such as China shows that to some extent, modernization can be achieved in different ways and through free market or controlled economic means and still fit into his model. It is more at his description of the final age, the age of high mass consumption, where controlled economies seem most to find no niche in Rostow’s work. Even there, though, it could be said that the society seeks out economic equality at the complete detriment of any luxury.

The most disabling assumption that Rostow is accused of is trying to fit economic progress into a linear system. This charge is correct in that many countries make false starts, reach a degree of transition and then slip back, or as is the case in contemporary Russia, slip back from high mass consumption (or almost) to a country in transition. On the other hand, Rostow’s analysis seems to emphasize success because it is trying to explain success. To Rostow, if a country can be a disciplined, uncorrupt investor in itself, can establish certain norms into its society and polity, and can identify sectors where it has some sort of advantage, it can enter into transition and eventually reach modernity. Rostow would point to a failure in one of these conditions as a cause for non-linearity.

Another problem that Rostow’s work has is that it considers mostly large countries: countries with a large population (Japan), with natural resources available at just the right time in its history (Coal in Northern European countries), or with a large land mass (Argentina). He has little to say and indeed offers little hope for small countries, such as Rwanda, which do not have such advantages. Neo-liberal economic theory to Rostow, and many others, does offer hope to much of the world that economic maturity is coming and the age of high mass consumption is nigh. But that does leave a sort of 'grim meathook future' for the outliers, which do not have the resources, political will, or external backing to become competitive. ["Grim Meathook Future" is a quote from new media writer Joshua Ellis [] .] (See Dependency theory)

Notes and references

*W. W. Rostow. "The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto" Cambridge University Press (1960)

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