Volume 43, Number 168,
January-March 2012
Back to Development
Jaime Ornelas

As can be observed, the process of transition from underdevelopment to development, according to Rostow’s definition, takes the form of linear ascending growth, in the way Compte advocated, 3 unfolding through three historical studies: (i) the secular accumulation cycle (ii) the cycle of take-off; and (iii) the cycle of self-sustaining development.

Rostow’s model broadly summarizes the main ideas behind the metropolitan theories and their colonial character: (a) Underdevelopment is a transitory state or stage that all countries pass through at some point in their history; (b) Underdevelopment consists essentially of a total lack of resources, above all savings, investment and technology; (c) In consequence, underdevelopment is determined by low savings and investment rates and by a large process of accumulation that precedes the take-off stage; (d) In addition, underdevelopment is characterized by a high proportion of primary activities, a low coefficient of national product per capita, the importance of primary commodities for export and of the active population’s employment in agriculture.

Furthermore, two fundamental questions are central to Rostow’s model: (i) its explanation of underdevelopment as a problem of historical condition that all countries necessarily pass through and (ii) development as the consequence of the natural processes of conventional politics "that tend to increase savings, investment and productivity levels and output per capita," without great changes to economic structure and without the need to change the relationship of domination and dependency that reinforces underdevelopment (García, 1978: 218).

For Rostow, development is formally the move from one state to the other and because the obstacle to achieving this state is a total lack of savings and technology, the problem can be resolved by means of the sustained increase of savings and investment rates and via the transfer of savings and technology from metropolitan nations to underdeveloped countries. In consequence, from the point of view of this author, metropolitan nations have a role to play in helping underdeveloped countries grow, directly or indirectly through private investment, such as through the transfer of technology and organizational models. In these terms, overcoming underdevelopment depends on the willingness of developed nations to transfer sufficient resources to underdeveloped economies (García, 1978: 223).

Finally, Rostow does not clarify the concrete determinants in the search for affordable alternatives for society at any given period in history, that is to say, he is not able to pinpoint "that which explains the meaning of the goals that [society] establishes in different periods of historical development," in other words he does not explain what makes man desire what he does in different societies, eras and points in history. According to P. Baran and E. Hobsbawm, the answer to the question left unanswered by Rostov is found in historical materialism. Human acts and motivations are the result of dialectical action between biotic and social processes, driven by the vigor of productive forces and production relations. Professor Rostow on the other hand, "has the most simple solution of all: he does not know the answer and it does not seem to matter to him" (Baran and Hobsbawn, 1978: 211-212).


Faced with the theoretical powerlessness of the neoclassical school, an idea emerged that surpassed the neoclassical hypothesis and offered explanations for the origins of crises, later to become a sort of practical guide for driving economic growth. In 1936 The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was published by the Englishman John Maynard Keynes. This begins with a definition of classic economics "which dominates the economic thought, both practical and theoretical, of governing and academic classes of this generation, as it has for a hundred years past" (Keynes, [1936] 2008: 3).

To begin with, Keynes rejects the view of general equilibrium proposed by the classical and neoclassical schools, which in being but a generalization of microeconomic theory, prove insufficient in representing the functioning of the economy as a whole, only being applicable in one specific case "the situation which it assumes being a limiting point of the possible positions of equilibrium." Of this Keynes concludes, "the characteristics of the special case assumed by classical theory happen not to be those of the economic society which we actually live, with the result that its teaching is misleading and disastrous if we attempt to apply it to the facts of experience" (Keynes, [1936] 2008: 3).

3 The French sociologist Augusto Comte (1798-1857) considered that, like all organisms, human societies transform and develop within systems or states that are increasingly better and more complex. The step from one stage to another, while it provokes crisis in the social order, is an essential part of progress. For Compte, history is explained through three stages, identified according to how human beings explain reality’s phenomena: the theological or fictitious, which is the most primitive and the one that all societies have lived through, attributing all that happens to the gods, the age of mythology and superstition; the second state, the metaphysical or abstract, which enquires into the causes of natural phenomena but instead of turning to supernatural or imaginary entities, develops rational concepts explaining why events occur, explanations that look to reason and abstract theory, philosophical explanations that emerge through intelligent thinking; finally the third state, the scientific or positive, according to Comte, society’s ultimate and definitive state that does not look for the origin or cause – the why- of things, but establishes in a positive way the relationship between phenomena, that is to control how they take place. The positive stage is that of industrial and technological society, among them the natural sciences, the direct observation of phenomena, knowledge based firmly in physics, mathematics and biology, explaining truthfully the causes of phenomena. Nineteenth century and early twentieth century positivism believes blindly in progress, its motto being "know to foresee, foresee to take action" (Bátiz, 2010:10-11).

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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