Volume 43, Number 171,
October-December 2012
Theories of Capitalist Development.
A Comparative Evaluation
Ignacio Trucco

Between Growth Modeling and the Traditional/Modern Society Duality ( ...continuation )

It is thus important to investigate two items in The stages of economic growth . What is the driving force of the movement and what type of object is supposed that admits this movement? Regarding the first point, there is general consensus in highlighting the importance that Rostow gave to progressive control of modern science and technology and the increase in the general productivity of these factors (Gutiérrez, 2004:298). As such, the logic of the movement can be thought of based on an increase in the technological-scientific control of nature, which leads to the production of capital goods (private and social) and consumer goods (basic and durable). Rostow writes:

But the central fact about the traditional society was that a ceiling existed on the level of attainable output per head. This ceiling resulted from the fact that the potentialities which flow from modern science and technology were either not available or not regularly and systematically applied [...] the level of productivity was limited by the inaccessibility of modern science, its applications and its frame of mind (Rostow, 1960: 4) — Italics are ours —.

But this type of statement has the same implications mentioned in the Harrod-Domar model. Unlike these, Rostow cannot completely silence the model because, on the contrary, if he is intending to tell the story he must make explicit what is new, what distinguishes the traditional society from the modern one, what changes and what stays the same. But this, at the same time, has an impact on the construction of the object adopted by this movement: man and society.

Unlike Marx (!), Rostow does not explicitly recount a theory of man and the relationships that institute a modern capitalist society. On the contrary, Rostow builds his premises from an empirical approach, more than anything, and proceeds from identifying certain regularities to stating general and abstract principles.

For the author, this mediates a process of secularization between traditional and modern society in the relationship that man weaves with nature. From that perspective, it supposes that this is constituted in and of itself and in its representations in the face of the physical nature that surrounds it.

Regarding this, Rostow writes: Man need not regard his physical environment as virtually a given factor by nature and providence, but as an ordered world which, if rationally understood, can be manipulated in ways which yield productive change and, in one dimension at least, progress (Rostow, 1960: 19).

As such, Rostow takes a double ontology as his point of departure. On the one hand there is the existence of an individual entity that assumes a specific relationship with technology and physical reality and, on the other hand, there is an institutional instance, like a set of rules that are functionally compatible.

The difficulties appear in the indeterminacies between the two, and in the arbitrary and undefined elements that end up characterizing the work. The determinism of technology is his refuge. Furtado is direct regarding this issue:

His theory is, however, too simplistic, and limited to underlining the existence of an optimal path for developing production, determined by technical progress and elasticity of demand [...] After all, the Rostowian theory of production does not explain the movement from traditional methods of production towards industrial methods (Furtado, 1974: 132).

Rostow’s contributions generated a variety of reactions. Latin-American modernization theorists responded directly, still upholding the passage of traditional societies to modern societies as their hypothesis of historical interpretation. Theorists such as Gino Germani and José Medina Echavarría began a critique, which was in some sense foundational, of sociology in Latin America. These authors largely understood the difficulties and limitations involved in Rostow’s approach, although they understood that the process of forming modern societies was the key object to be characterized.

Marcos Roitman summarizes part of Medina Echavarría and Germani’s reflections and highlights how political, cultural and institutional transformations play a key role in the modernization process for under-developed countries. In this sense, Roitman points out: “If rationality — Medina Echavarría will say — manifests itself in a general process of scientific and technical development and progress, the end terms will be the democratic content of political will and decisions, the key to legitimize the process of social change” (Roitman, 2005: 40).

Regarding Germani, he writes: “Germani summarizes by underlining that all modernization implies a process of change in social and power structures and its dynamics unleash a process of secularization” (Roitman, 2005: 43).

These authors definitely do not make clear that the problem of capitalist modernization is not really resolved in Rostow, who does not explain its fundamental component: societal change as a set of cultural, institutional and physical changes. The depth and development of Germani and Medina Echavarría’s analyses do not prevent a certain affinity from existing with the empirical and logical-functionalist method and with a recurring presence of technical statements.

Published in Mexico, 2012-2017 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 193, April-June 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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