China’s government is at war with the country’s workers, and the productivity that is lost in the conflict is staggering. This is not just a matter of a large number of disheartened workers losing faith in their work, though that certainly is occurring. The tighter restrictions on workers have required many to put in extra effort to accomplish just a fraction of the work they used to do. This effect is highlighted in a new BBC News report about two fruit vendors who drive 1,000 kilometers to check their e-mail because the government has cut off Internet access in their province.
This is an inconvenience not just for them, of course, but for everyone in the province, and for their customers too. Multiply this effect by the number of people trying to get any kind of work done in China, and the new restrictions on workers must be costing China the productivity of at least a medium-sized country. The harsh rhetoric coming from the central government suggests that the crackdown will intensify in the coming months. China’s economy is already facing extraordinary external and internal challenges. It is hard to imagine how it could also support, for more than a short time, the added weight of a paranoid central government.