5. Austria and Russia: Elites block new technologies
New technologies are extremely disruptive. They sweep aside old business models and make existing skills and organizations obsolete. They redistribute not just income and wealth but also political power. This gives elites a big incentive to try to stop the march of progress. Good for them, but not for society.
Consider what happened in the 19th century, as railways were spreading across Britain and the United States. When a proposal to build a railway was put before Francis I, emperor of Austria, he was still haunted by the specter of the 1789 French Revolution and replied, "No, no, I will have nothing to do with it, lest the revolution might come into the country." The same thing happened in Russia until the 1860s. With new technologies blocked, the tsarist regime was safe, at least for a while. As Britain and the United States grew rapidly, however, Austria and Russia failed to do so. The track tells the tale: In the 1840s, tiny Britain was undergoing a railway mania in which more than 6,000 miles of track were built, while only one railway ran in vast continental Russia. Even this line was not built for the benefit of the Russian people; it ran 17 miles from St. Petersburg to the tsar's imperial residences at Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk.