Of Two Minds – The Limits of Force: A Bayonet in the Back Will Not Restore China’s Economy
The limits of over-stretched authorities’ powers are also becoming visible. If 40% of a factory’s workforce doesn’t show up when ordered to do so, are there sufficient police to search for workers who returned to their home villages 1,000 kilometers away and put a bayonet in the back of each one? And then what? Will police officers be assigned to watch the workers 24/7 so they can’t escape? The practical limits on force are increasingly apparent.
And what about the borrowing and spending China’s economy has become dependent on for growth? Will bayonets be shoved in the backs of potential borrowers to make sure they sign loan documents? Will bayonets be shoved in the backs of potential buyers of empty flats in empty buildings in ghost cities?
Will a bayonet in the back of a flat-broke small business owner pay his overdue rent?
Force cannot restore legitimacy, trust or confidence, nor can it magically erase the consequences of a still-unfolding national trauma. The limits of force apply not just to China but to every national elite that reckons it can force the genie back in the bottle and magically restore legitimacy, trust and confidence to pre-pandemic levels.
Trauma has consequences, and they don’t disappear in a matter of days or weeks. Rather, these consequences unleash consequences of their own, i.e. second-order effects, that are beyond the reach of propaganda or force.
When force fails, threats lose their potency and whatever shreds of legitimacy, trust or confidence that survived the trauma evaporate.