Concept and Controversy: Sixty Years of Taking Ideas to Market

Concept and Controversy: Sixty Years of Taking Ideas to Market

Concept and Controversy: Sixty Years of Taking Ideas to Market

Concept and Controversy: Sixty Years of Taking Ideas to Market


A trusted advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson and one of America's leading professors of economic history, W. W. Rostow has helped shape the intellectual debate and governmental policies on major economic, political, and military issues since World War II. In this thought-provoking memoir, he takes a retrospective look at eleven key policy problems with which he has been involved to show how ideas flow into concrete action and how actions taken or not taken in the short term actually determine the long run that we call "the future."

The issues that Rostow discusses are these:

  • The use of air power in Europe in the 1940s
  • Working toward a united Europe during the Cold War
  • The death of Joseph Stalin and early attempts to end the Cold War
  • Eisenhower's Open Skies policy
  • The debate over foreign aid in the 1950s
  • The economic revival of Korea
  • Efforts to control inflation in the 1960s
  • Waiting for democracy in China
  • The Vietnam War and Southeast Asian policy
  • U.S. urban problems in disadvantaged neighborhoods
  • The challenges posed by declining population in the twenty-first century

In discussing how he and others have worked to meet these challenges, Rostow builds a compelling case for including long-term forces in the making of current policy. He concludes his memoir with provocative reflections on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and on how individual actors shape history.


This book is about one man’s efforts to relate ideas to action in the last sixty years of the twentieth century. Although it is an eclectic memoir rather than an autobiography, it begins with a section on my early years, when my ideas and convictions took shape through the usual mysterious blend of inheritance, environment, and accident. America’s interwar landscape within which I grew up provided the context for my professional life and shaped the manner in which I addressed the dilemmas of the post–World War ii world. Let me explain.

I was born six months before America entered World War I and grew up during the brief period of U.S. prosperity in the 1920s. My teenage years, however, were spent in the shadow of the depression. in my twenties, I was involved in the Second World War. Subsequently I embarked upon a career split three ways amongst academia, government service, and a preoccupation with the process of economic growth, as a matter of both thought and action. With a desire to apply theory to concrete circumstances, my career as a development economist took me first to postwar Europe, then to the developing world, and finally, to the disadvantaged sections of my last hometown, Austin, Texas. in all, my triangular activities carried me through forty years of Cold War and into a new century. Behind my three-part life has been a persistent and conscious effort to translate abstract ideas into operational policy by weaving together short-run and long-term forces. This is the central theme of Chapter 13. This is also the link between my academic life and the years I have spent as a public servant.

I should note here a distinctive part of my academic life reflected in Chapter 12. I had for long followed the course of population growth in my work in economic history. As a teacher of economic history I sought to link the rate of increase of population to the stages of growth. I also accepted from the beginning that “trees did not grow to the sky”; and therefore I speculated about the limits to growth, only in the last few years coming to a conviction on how the limits to growth might come about.

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