Commentary + Concepts

How an economic theory helped mire the United States in Vietnam


In 1960 a professor at MIT, published an influential book called “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto.” The book describes how an economy transitions through five distinct stages of development, from basic (little use of technology, like much of central Africa and South Asia in the mid 20th century) to advanced (characterized by high levels of mass consumption, such as the U.S. or France). The book outlined the theory that economic development was a universal process that would generally occur in all countries albeit with unique national characteristics – that is, except under communism, where he believed the process would be much inhibited. He described communism as a “cancer” of economic development.

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