BOSTON – In Lonely Ideas: Can Russia Compete?, MIT historian of science Loren Graham shows that many technologies pioneered by Soviet and post-Soviet Russia – including various weapons, improved railroads, and lasers – nonetheless failed to benefit the national economy in any substantial way. The reason for this abysmal failure, he concludes, is Russia’s lack of entrepreneurship.
The same insight can be applied to Imperial China. Many ideas that originated there were lonely orphans and brought little to no benefit to the Chinese economy. By contrast, the China of the post-1978 reform era moved in an altogether different direction from both Russia and China’s own past. As the reforms took root and blossomed, China began to develop a large, dynamic private sector with many entrepreneurs who were highly motivated and capable of bringing technologies to scale.