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Walt Whitman Rostow

In office
1966 – 1969
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Deputy None
Preceded by McGeorge Bundy
Succeeded by Henry Kissinger

In office
1961 – 1961
President John F. Kennedy
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Carl Kaysen

Born October 7, 1916
New York City, New York
Died February 13, 2003 (aged 86)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elspeth Rostow
Children Peter Rostow, Ann Rostow
Profession Economist, Political theorist and advisor

Walt Whitman Rostow (also known as Walt Rostow or W.W. Rostow) (October 7, 1916 – February 13, 2003) was an American economist and political theorist who served as Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Prominent for his role in the shaping of American policy in Southeast Asia during the 1960s, he was a staunch anti-communist, and was noted for a belief in the efficacy of capitalism and free enterprise. Rostow served as a major adviser on national security affairs under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He supported American military involvement in the Vietnam War. In his later years he taught at Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin with his wife, Elspeth Rostow, who would later become dean of the school. He wrote extensively in defense of free enterprise economics, particularly in developing nations. Rostow was famous especially for writing the book The Stages of Economic Growth: A non-communist manifesto (1960) which became a classic text in several fields of social sciences.

His older brother, Eugene Rostow, also held a number of high government foreign policy posts.


Early life

Walt Rostow was born in New York City to a Russian Jewish immigrant family. His parents were active socialists and their three sons, Eugene Victor Debs Rostow, Ralph Waldo Emerson Rostow and Walt Whitman Rostow, were named after Eugene V. Debs, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman. Rostow attended Yale University, graduating at age 19 and completing Ph.D. dissertation in 1940. He also won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1936, during the Edward VIII abdication crisis, he assisted the broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who reported on the events for the NBC radio network. After completing his education he started teaching economics at Columbia University.

Professional and academic career

During World War II he served in the Office of Strategic Services under William Joseph Donovan. Among other tasks, he participated in selecting targets for U.S. bombardment. (Nicholas Katzenbach would later joke, "I finally understand the difference between Walt and me[...] I was the navigator who was shot down and spent two years in a German prison camp, and Walt was the guy picking my targets.") Rostow became Assistant Chief of the German-Austrian Economic Division in the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C., immediately after the war. From 1946 to 1947, he returned to Oxford to teach as the Harmsworth Professor of American History. Rostow became the Assistant to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe in 1947, and was involved in the development of the Marshall Plan.

He spent a year in 1949 at Cambridge University as the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions. Rostow was Professor of Economic History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1950 to 1961 and a staff member of the Center for International Studies, MIT, from 1951 to 1961. In 1958, he became a speechwriter for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Government service

Walt Whitman Rostow showing President Lyndon B. Johnson a model of the Khe Sanh area, 1968

In 1960 Rostow joined the Kennedy campaign, helping to coin such memorable campaign phrases as "Let's get this country moving again," "The New Frontier," and "The Development Decade." His ability to couch academic concepts in terms accessible to the layman was always his strong suit.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Rostow as Deputy Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, reporting to McGeorge Bundy. Late in 1961, he was then appointed as counselor of the Department of State and Chairman of the Policy Planning Council, Department of State. Rostow was appointed by Johnson in May 1964 to be U.S. Member of the Inter-American Committee on the Alliance for Progress (CIAP).

In early 1966, he was named special Assistant for National Security Affairs (the post now known as National Security Advisor) where he was a main figure in developing the government's policy in the Vietnam War, and where he remained until February 1969. Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist David Halberstam noted of Rostow's time as Assistant for National Security Affairs,

"He became the president's national security adviser at a time when criticism and opposition to the war were beginning to crystallize, and he eventually served the purpose of shielding the president from criticism and from reality."[1]

His pro-war and pro-free-enterprise views made him highly unpopular in the social sciences sector of the American academia that was mostly Keynesian at the time. Because of his hawkish stance, Rostow was a pariah in many academic quarters, and was not invited back to MIT after his government service. Instead he landed at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, where he served as the Rex G. Baker Jr. Professor Emeritus of Political Economy. He and his wife Elspeth Rostow, created "The Austin Project", a model for at risk, low income youth. He continued to teach history and economics until his death in 2003 at the age of 86.

Contribution to economics

Rostow developed the Rostovian take-off model of economic growth, one of the major historical models of economic growth. The model argues that economic modernization occurs in five basic stages of varying length—traditional society, preconditions for take-off, take-off, drive to maturity, and high mass consumption. This became one of the important concepts in the theory of modernization in the social evolutionism. He received the Order of the British Empire (1945), the Legion of Merit (1945), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1969).


  • "Investment and the Great Depression", 1938, Econ History Review
  • Essays on the British Economy of the Nineteenth Century, 1948.
  • "The Terms of Trade in Theory and Practice", 1950, Econ History Review
  • "The Historical Analysis of Terms of Trade", 1951, Econ History Review
  • The Process of Economic Growth, 1952.
  • The Dynamics of Soviet Society (with others), Norton and Co. 1953, slight update Anchor edition 1954.
  • "Trends in the Allocation of Resources in Secular Growth", 1955, in Dupriez, editor, Economic Progress
  • An American Policy in Asia, with R.W. Hatch, 1955.
  • "The Take-Off into Self-Sustained Growth", 1956, EJ
  • A Proposal: Key to an effective foreign policy, with M. Millikan, 1957.
  • "The Stages of Economic Growth", 1959, Econ History Review
  • The Stages of Economic Growth: A non-communist manifesto, 1960.
  • The United States in the World Arena: An Essay in Recent History (American Project Series), 1960, 568 pages.
  • Politics and the Stages of Growth, 1971.
  • How it All Began: Origins of the modern economy, 1975.
  • The World Economy: History and prospect, 1978.
  • Why the Poor Get Richer and the Rich Slow Down: Essays in the Marshallian long period, 1980.
  • Theorists of Economic Growth from David Hume to the Present, 1990.
  • The Great Population Spike and After, 1998

See also


  1. ^ "The Best and the Brightest", David Halberstam

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
McGeorge Bundy
United States National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Henry Kissinger


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