A nation-state’ s power has traditionally been measured by the size of its military and economy. As the attached article points out, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights a new and crucial source of national power – a nation’s resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability to sustain and adapt to a systemic shock, or, as the old Timex watch commercial put it, the ability to take a licking and keep on ticking. It is based on adequate infrastructure and governmental legitimacy more than material resources.
Resiliency, however, comes in many forms. China’s centralized communitarian culture allowed it to bounce back faster from the pandemic, but only by using the same totalitarian governmental repression that caused the crisis in the first place. In contrast, the individualistic culture of America hobbled our ability to control the spread after it arrived, but our decentralized federalist system gave state and local leaders the flexibility to create the necessary controls when the federal government failed to provide leadership. Our freedom to innovate also helped foster development of reliable treatments and vaccines faster than China.
At the same time, the weaknesses exposed by the pandemic must be addressed, especially those in our manufacturing capacity and health infrastructure. By prioritizing efficiency over resiliency in our economy, we ended up dangerously dependent on China and other governments for vital materials, and not just in the medical field. The article touts strong alliances as a solution, but they cannot replace onshore local capacity in a crisis. Building national vigor means identifying and protecting resources we need to survive a future shock, whether it be from a disease, cyberattack, or climate change.
Theodore Roosevelt advocated “the strenuous life” of exercise and outdoor activity as a way of achieving personal resilience. Both require short- term sacrifice and effort to build the stamina necessary to meet future challenges. Similarly, we Americans will need to be willing to pay higher prices for domestically-produced goods or higher taxes in order to create the national resilience to remain a great power and a shining example of freedom. The immediate pain will be well worth it in the long run.