Sunday, March 6, 2011


This is an analytical view on Walt Whitman Rostow’s and Karl Heinrich Marx’s approaches to human development. The presentation explains the meaning of the two economic models: capitalism and communism. It specifically highlights the differences in the aforementioned approaches. Furthermore, the paper will also look at the common elements of the two economic models
Lavern Thomas in the book of The Study of Human Relationships explains that in Capitalism, the factors of production are owned by individuals rather than by the government and that economic activities are regulated by the forces of profit and completion. He further explains that on the other hand, in communism, the factors of production are owned by the government which regulates all economic activities.
As such there is a difference between Karl Heinrich Marx and Walt Whitman Rostow’s approach to human development based on models mentioned. Marx advocates for an equal wealth distribution (communism) society while Rostow’s approach centres on free enterprise (capitalism) system in which industry is privately owned.
The difference does not come as a surprise on two grounds: The first factor is that the two individuals developed their theories and models at two distinct periods. Marx developed his between 1818 and 1883, while Rostow developed the Rostovian Take-Off model (of Economic Growth), also known as Rostow’s Stages of Growth, between 1916 and 2003.
The second ground is that Rostow’s ‘Non-Communist Manifesto’ is a direct response to Marx’s ‘The Communist Manifesto’- first published on February 21, 1848. It is apparent, therefore, that these two individuals’ line of thought was meant to be different.
For instance, ‘Rostow’s Stages of Growth’ model follows a different route from that of Marx. The first difference lies in its structural approach to economic growth, in that it clearly sets out a number of distinctive stages that an economy must follow to influence sustainable, positive human development.
Rostow asserts that countries go through five stages of economic growth, and that a number of conditions are likely to occur, in terms of investment, consumption and social trends.
These five stages are: Traditional society; Transitional, also referred to as Preconditions for take off; Take off; Drive to maturity, and; (Age of) High mass consumption.
The first stage, which is Traditional Society, is marked by a structure that is developed within limited production functions, with agriculture as the most dominant industry or sector. Apart from long-held views that spirits and gods play a central role in human development affairs, the economy is dominated by subsistence activity as (agriculture) output is wholly consumed by producers other than traded. Barter, the exchange of goods with goods, is also another key feature at this stage.
At the transitional stage, also called Pre-conditions for take off, people start producing more, and specialisation takes place. Transport infrastructure also emerges as a way of supporting trade, and external trade also occurs, though it mainly focuses on primary products.
The third stage is Take off. Rostow asserts that, at this stage, industrialisation increases, as workers move away from the agriculture sector to the manufacturing sector. Growth is concentrated in a few regions of a country, and one (or two) manufacturing industry player begins to dominate. Another common feature is that investment hovers above 10 per cent of Gross National Product (GNP).
As the economy begins to diversify into new areas, and technological innovations create a diverse range of investment opportunities, a country is said to have reached the fourth stage, named Drive to maturity. At this stage, the economy produces a wide variety of goods and services, a development that reduces appetite for, and thus reliance on, imports.
The last stage in Rostow’s Stages of Growth model is (the age of) High mass consumption, where an economy embraces mass consumption as consumers’ buying power improves dramatically and consumer durable industries develop. The service sector becomes increasingly dominant, and development demands substantial capital investments. At this stage, people are so rich (as per capita income increases) and do not even care where food is coming from; what matters is the buying power that becomes common place.
The bottom line is that Rostow’s Stages of Growth model focuses on economic modernisation, at the expense of other relatively important factors such as social, cultural, religious developments. This goes against the fact that poverty is relative, and that the definition of positive human development varies from country to country, as it is relative.
Marx, on the other hand, also employs the use of structure in his ‘Communist Manifesto’ – only that he concludes that society structure (which he blames for influencing the emergence of unequal social classes) has transformed the history of humankind into a story of class struggles.
Marx asserts that, other than influencing human development, the emergence of these social classes has, instead, alienated society as people with the sources of capital (the bourgeois)exploit those who have the source of production (workers), a trend that perpetuates poverty and hinders over-all human development as money is concentrated in the hands of a few.
The Communist Manifesto  advocates that the only way to influence positive human development is, not only to study the world and human affairs, but change it; and he goes further to suggest that this change can only manifest if workers (the proletariat) rise against the bourgeois and create a stateless, classless society he christens Pure Communism.
In other words, The Communist Manifesto, denounces capitalism (not a strange development since Karl Marx was born in a capitalist society in Germany, and rebelled against the same- having analysed its impact on over-all human development), and describes it as the source of all economic upheaval in society, and closely links it to the proliferation of poverty.
Marx further asserts that, where there is equal distribution of worth, democracy (which he equates to ‘dictatorship of the proletariat), respect for human rights and a fair society are likely to develop since few individuals will no longer have exclusive rights to the means of capital and exchange- features he describes as the ‘foundation’ on which the bourgeoisie built themselves up.
Another distinct factor about Marx arguments is the need for a systematic understanding of social-economic change, other than generalising that all countries go through five fixed stages of economic modernisation and growth. His main point is that sustainable social-economic change (and, therefore, human development) is only possible through organised revolutionary action.
In conclusion, both Marx and Rostow’s arguments centre on economic factors as the main factor affecting human development. Both seem to suggest that changes in economic variables are the mirror to human development, and that any occasioning changes have trickledown effects on, among other factors, social, cultural development.
Both models also have their loopholes. Rostow has, for instance, been criticised for advocating Western models of economic development, which leads into a ‘One-cap-fits-all’ strategy that may work for developed countries, and not for Least Developed Countries. Rostow also fails to disclose underlying factors of economic change. No wonder that some countries that adopted the model started with false starts, only to get back to Ground-Zero.
Marx, on the other hand, is also advocating for a ‘One-cap-fits-all’ strategy as he foresaw all world where communism would be the order of the day, despite the long-held observation that what economic models that work in one economy may not necessary be the best option for another. The other factor is that his Non-Communist Manifesto’ encourages the dominance of a few industry players, all of which government-owned.
This leads into cases of poor service delivery as demand and supply machinations play no role in influencing production output as well as service delivery.
Both schools of thought also fail to put into consideration the fact that poverty (and, therefore, the definition of what constitutes human development) is relative.
This could be attributed to the fact that both Rostow and Marx grew up, and developed their models from a developed-country perspective. Marx’s native Germany, for example, was an advocate of capitalistic models of development, and adopted the same. Rostow wrote in the United States whilst Marx grew up in Germany- though he later moved to the United Kingdom. As such their arguments had been influenced by the societies that shaped their thinking.
Furthermore Rostow and Marx did not only view capital within the prism of material resources: Human beings were also considered significant capital (as seen from the term human resource) in both economic emancipation models; capitalism and communism.

htt:// retrieved on 26/02/2011
Haralambos, M and Holborn, M. Sociology; Themes and Perception, seventh edition, London, HarperCollins, 2008
Thomas, L. W. The study of Human Relationship, fifth edition, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc, 1995


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