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Washington’s delusion of endless world dominion

23 Mar

China and the U.S. struggle over Eurasia, the epicenter of world power.By Alfred W. McCoy -March 22, 2021

Empires live and die by their illusions. Visions of empowerment can inspire nations to scale the heights of global hegemony. Similarly, however, illusions of omnipotence can send fading empires crashing into oblivion. So it was with Great Britain in the 1950s and so it may be with the United States today.

By 1956, Britain had exploited its global empire shamelessly for a decade in an effort to lift its domestic economy out of the rubble of World War II. It was looking forward to doing so for many decades to come. Then an obscure Egyptian army colonel named Gamal Abdel Nasser seized the Suez Canal and Britain’s establishment erupted in a paroxysm of racist outrage. The prime minister of the day, Sir Antony Eden, forged an alliance with France and Israel to send six aircraft carriers to the Suez area, smash Egypt’s tank force in the Sinai desert, and sweep its air force from the skies.

But Nasser grasped the deeper geopolitics of empire in a way that British leaders had long forgotten. The Suez Canal was the strategic hinge that tied Britain to its Asian empire — to British Petroleum’s oil fields in the Persian Gulf and the sea lanes to Singapore and beyond. So, in a geopolitical masterstroke, he simply filled a few rusting freighters with rocks and sank them at the entrance to the canal, snapping that hinge in a single gesture. After Eden was forced to withdraw British forces in a humiliating defeat, the once-mighty British pound trembled at the precipice of collapse and, overnight, the sense of imperial power in England seemed to vanish like a desert mirage.

Two decades of delusions

In a similar manner, Washington’s hubris is finding its nemesis in China’s President Xi Jinping and his grand strategy for uniting Eurasia into the world’s largest economic bloc. For two decades, as China climbed, step by step, toward global eminence, Washington’s inside-the-Beltway power elite was blinded by its overarching dreams of eternal military omnipotence. In the process, from Bill Clinton’s administration to Joe Biden’s, Washington’s China policy has morphed from illusion directly into a state of bipartisan delusion.

Back in 2000, the Clinton administration believed that, if admitted to the World Trade Organization, Beijing would play the global game strictly by Washington’s rules. When China started playing imperial hardball instead — stealing patents, forcing companies to turn over trade secrets, and manipulating its currency to increase its exports — the elite journal Foreign Affairs tut-tutted that such charges had “little merit,” urging Washington to avoid “an all-out trade war” by learning to “respect difference and look for common ground.”

Within just three years, a flood of exports produced by China’s low-wage workforce, drawn from 20% of the world’s population, began shutting down factories across America. The AFL-CIO labor confederation then started accusing Beijing of illegally “dumping” its goods in the U.S. at below-market prices. The administration of George W. Bush, however, dismissed the charges for lack of “conclusive evidence,” allowing Beijing’s export juggernaut to grind on unimpeded.

For the most part, the Bush-Cheney White House simply ignored China, instead invading Iraq in 2003, launching a strategy that was supposed to give the U.S. lasting dominion over the Middle East’s vast oil reserves. By the time Washington withdrew from Baghdad in 2011, having wasted up to $5.4 trillion on the misbegotten invasion and occupation of that country, fracking had left America on the edge of energy independence, while oil was joining cordwood and coal as a fuel whose days were numbered, potentially rendering the future Middle East geopolitically irrelevant.

While Washington had been pouring blood and treasure into desert sands, Beijing was making itself into the world’s workshop. It had amassed $4 trillion in foreign exchange, which it began investing in an ambitious scheme it called the Belt and Road Initiative to unify Eurasia via history’s largest set of infrastructure projects. Hoping to counter that move with a bold geopolitical gambit, President Barack Obama tried to check China with a new strategy that he called a “pivot to Asia.” It was to entail a global military shift of U.S. forces to the Pacific and a drawing of Eurasia’s commerce toward America through a new set of trade pacts. The scheme, brilliant in the abstract, soon crashed head-first into some harsh realities. As a start, extricating the U.S. military from the mess it had made in the Greater Middle East proved far harder than imagined. Meanwhile, getting big global trade treaties approved as anti-globalization populism surged across America — fueled by factory closures and stagnant wages — turned out, in the end, to be impossible.

Even President Obama underestimated the seriousness of China’s sustained challenge to this country’s global power. “Across the ideological spectrum, we in the U.S. foreign policy community,” two senior Obama officials would later write, “shared the underlying belief that U.S. power and hegemony could readily mold China to the United States’ liking… All sides of the policy debate erred.”

Breaking with the Beltway consensus about China, Donald Trump would spend two years of his presidency fighting a trade war, thinking he could use America’s economic power — in the end, just a few tariffs — to bring Beijing to its knees. Despite his administration’s incredibly erratic foreign policy, its recognition of China’s challenge would prove surprisingly consistent. Trump’s former national security adviser H.R. McMaster would, for instance, observe that Washington had empowered “a nation whose leaders were determined not only to displace the United States in Asia, but also to promote a rival economic and governance model globally.” Similarly, Trump’s State Department warned that Beijing harbored “hegemonic ambitions” aimed at “displacing the United States as the world’s foremost power.”

In the end, however, Trump would capitulate. By January 2020, his trade war would have devastated this country’s agricultural exports, while inflicting heavy losses on its commercial supply chain, forcing the White House to rescind some of those punitive tariffs in exchange for Beijing’s unenforceable promises to purchase more American goods. Despite a celebratory White House signing ceremony, that deal represented little more than a surrender.

Even now, after these 20 years of bipartisan failure, Washington’s imperial illusions persist. The Biden administration and its inside-the-Beltway foreign-policy experts seem to think that China is a problem like Covid-19 that can be managed simply by being the un-Trump. Last December, a pair of professors writing in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs typically opined that “America may one day look back on China the way they now view the Soviet Union,” that is, “as a dangerous rival whose evident strengths concealed stagnation and vulnerability.”

Sure, China might be surpassing this country in multiple economic metrics and building up its military power, said Ryan Hass, the former China director in Obama’s National Security Council, but it is not 10 feet tall. China’s population, he pointed out, is aging, its debt ballooning, and its politics “increasingly sclerotic.” In the event of conflict, China is geopolitically “vulnerable when it comes to food and energy security,” since its navy is unable to prevent it “from being cut off from vital supplies.”

In the months before the 2020 presidential election, a former official in Obama’s State Department, Jake Sullivan, began auditioning for appointment as Biden’s national security adviser by staking out a similar position. In Foreign Affairs, he argued that China might be “more formidable economically… than the Soviet Union ever was,” but Washington could still achieve “a steady state of… coexistence on terms favorable to U.S. interests and values.” Although China was clearly trying “to establish itself as the world’s leading power,” he added, America “still has the ability to more than hold its own in that competition,” just as long as it avoids Trump’s “trajectory of self-sabotage.”

As expected from such a skilled courtier, Sullivan’s views coincided carefully with those of his future boss, Joe Biden. In his main foreign policy manifesto for the 2020 presidential campaign, candidate Biden argued that “to win the competition for the future against China,” the U.S. had to “sharpen its innovative edge and unite the economic might of democracies around the world.”

All these men are veteran foreign policy professionals with a wealth of international experience. Yet they seem oblivious to the geopolitical foundations for global power that Xi Jinping, like Nasser before him, seemed to grasp so intuitively. Like the British establishment of the 1950s, these American leaders have been on top of the world for so long that they’ve forgotten how they got there.

In the aftermath of World War II, America’s Cold War leaders had a clear understanding that their global power, like Britain’s before it, would depend on control over Eurasia. For the previous 400 years, every would-be global hegemony had struggled to dominate that vast land mass. In the sixteenth century, Portugal had dotted continental coastlines with 50 fortified ports (feitorias) stretching from Lisbon to the Straits of Malacca (which connect the Indian Ocean to the Pacific), just as, in the late nineteenth century, Great Britain would rule the waves through naval bastions that stretched from Scapa Flow, Scotland, to Singapore.

While Portugal’s strategy, as recorded in royal decrees, was focused on controlling maritime choke points, Britain benefited from the systematic study of geopolitics by the geographer Sir Halford Mackinder, who argued that the key to global power was control over Eurasia and, more broadly, a tri-continental “world island” comprised of Asia, Europe, and Africa. As strong as those empires were in their day, no imperial power fully perfected its global reach by capturing both axial ends of Eurasia — until America came on the scene.

The Cold War struggle for control over Eurasia

During its first decade as the globe’s great hegemon at the close of World War II, Washington quite self-consciously set out to build an apparatus of awesome military power that would allow it to dominate the sprawling Eurasian land mass. With each passing decade, layer upon layer of weaponry and an ever-growing network of military bastions were combined to “contain” communism behind a 5,000-mile Iron Curtain that arched across Eurasia, from the Berlin Wall to the Demilitarized Zone near Seoul, South Korea.

Through its post-World War II occupation of the defeated Axis powers, Germany and Japan, Washington seized military bases, large and small, at both ends of Eurasia. In Japan, for example, its military would occupy approximately 100 installations from Misawa air base in the far north to Sasebo naval base in the south.

Soon after, as Washington reeled from the twin shocks of a communist victory in China and the start of the Korean war in June 1950, the National Security Council adopted NSC-68, a memorandum making it clear that control of Eurasia would be the key to its global power struggle against communism. “Soviet efforts are now directed toward the domination of the Eurasian land mass,” read that foundational document. The U.S., it insisted, must expand its military yet again “to deter, if possible, Soviet expansion, and to defeat, if necessary, aggressive Soviet or Soviet-directed actions.”

As the Pentagon’s budget quadrupled from $13.5 billion to $48.2 billion in the early 1950s in pursuit of that strategic mission, Washington quickly built a chain of 500 military installations ringing that landmass, from the massive Ramstein air base in West Germany to vast, sprawling naval bases at Subic Bay in the Philippines and Yokosuka, Japan.

Such bases were the visible manifestation of a chain of mutual defense pacts organized across the breadth of Eurasia, from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe to a security treaty, ANZUS, involving Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. in the South Pacific. Along the strategic island chain facing Asia known as the Pacific littoral, Washington quickly cemented its position through bilateral defense pacts with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia.

Along the Iron Curtain running through the heart of Europe, 25 active-duty NATO divisions faced 150 Soviet-led Warsaw Pact divisions, both backed by armadas of artillery, tanks, strategic bombers, and nuclear-armed missiles. To patrol the Eurasian continent’s sprawling coastline, Washington mobilized massive naval armadas stiffened by nuclear-armed submarines and aircraft carriers — the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean and the massive 7th Fleet in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

For the next 40 years, Washington’s secret Cold War weapon, the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, fought its largest and longest covert wars around the rim of Eurasia. Probing relentlessly for vulnerabilities of any sort in the Sino-Soviet bloc, the CIA mounted a series of small invasions of Tibet and southwest China in the early 1950s; fought a secret war in Laos, mobilizing a 30,000-strong militia of local Hmong villagers during the 1960s; and launched a massive, multibillion dollar covert war against the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

During those same four decades, America’s only hot wars were similarly fought at the edge of Eurasia, seeking to contain the expansion of Communist China. On the Korean Peninsula from 1950 to 1953, almost 40,000 Americans (and untold numbers of Koreans) died in Washington’s effort to block the advance of North Korean and Chinese forces across the 38th parallel. In Southeast Asia from 1962 to 1975, some 58,000 American troops (and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians) died in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the expansion of communists south of the 17th parallel that divided North and South Vietnam.

By the time the Soviet Union imploded in 1990 (just as China was turning into a Communist Party-run capitalist power), the U.S. military had become a global behemoth standing astride the Eurasian continent with more than 700 overseas bases, an air force of 1,763 jet fighters, more than 1,000 ballistic missiles, and a navy of nearly 600 ships, including 15 nuclear carrier battle groups — all linked together by a global system of satellites for communication, navigation, and espionage.

Despite its name, the Global War on Terror after 2001 was actually fought, like the Cold War before it, at the edge of Eurasia. Apart from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Air Force and CIA had, within a decade, ringed the southern rim of that landmass with a network of 60 bases for its growing arsenal of Reaper and Predator drones, stretching all the way from the Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily to Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam. And yet, in that series of failed, never-ending conflicts, the old military formula for “containing,” constraining, and dominating Eurasia was visibly failing. The Global War on Terror proved, in some sense, a long-drawn-out version of Britain’s imperial Suez disaster.

China’s Eurasian strategy

After all that, it seems remarkable that Washington’s current generation of foreign policy leaders, like Britain’s in the 1950s, is so blindingly oblivious to the geopolitics of empire — in this case, to Beijing’s largely economic bid for global power on that same “world island” (Eurasia plus an adjoining Africa).

It’s not as if China has been hiding some secret strategy. In a 2013 speech at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, President Xi typically urged the peoples of Central Asia to join with his country to “forge closer economic ties, deepen cooperation, and expand development space in the Eurasian region.” Through trade and infrastructure “connecting the Pacific and the Baltic Sea,” this vast landmass inhabited by close to three billion people could, he said, become “the biggest market in the world with unparalleled potential.”

This development scheme, soon to be dubbed the Belt and Road Initiative, would become a massive effort to economically integrate that “world island” of Africa, Asia, and Europe by investing well more than a trillion dollars — a sum 10 times larger than the famed U.S. Marshall plan that rebuilt a ravaged Europe after World War II. Beijing also established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with an impressive $100 billion in capital and 103 member nations. More recently, China has formed the world’s largest trade bloc with 14 Asia-Pacific partners and, over Washington’s strenuous objections, signed an ambitious financial services agreement with the European Union.

Such investments, almost none of a military nature, quickly fostered the formation of a transcontinental grid of railroads and gas pipelines extending from East Asia to Europe, the Pacific to the Atlantic, all linked to Beijing. In a striking parallel with that sixteenth century chain of 50 fortified Portuguese ports, Beijing has also acquired special access through loans and leases to more than 40 seaports encompassing its own latter-day “world island” — from the Straits of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, around Africa, and along Europe’s extended coastline from Piraeus, Greece, to Zeebrugge, Belgium.

With its growing wealth, China also built a blue-water navy that, by 2020, already had 360 warships, backed by land-based missiles, jet fighters, and the planet’s second global system of military satellites. That growing force was meant to be the tip of China’s spear aimed at puncturing Washington’s encirclement of Asia. To cut the chain of American installations along the Pacific littoral, Beijing has built eight military bases on tiny (often dredged) islands in the South China Sea and imposed an air defense zone over a portion of the East China Sea. It has also challenged the U.S. Navy’s long-standing dominion over the Indian Ocean by opening its first foreign base at Djibouti in East Africa and building modern ports at Gwadar, Pakistan, and Hambantota, Sri Lanka, with potential military applications.

By now, the inherent strength of Beijing’s geopolitical strategy should be obvious to Washington foreign policy experts, were their insights not clouded by imperial hubris. Ignoring the unbending geopolitics of global power, centered as always on Eurasia, those Washington insiders now coming to power in the Biden administration somehow imagine that there is still a fight to be fought, a competition to be waged, a race to be run. Yet, as with the British in the 1950s, that ship may well have sailed.

By grasping the geopolitical logic of unifying Eurasia’s vast landmass — home to 70% of the world’s population — through transcontinental infrastructures for commerce, energy, finance, and transport, Beijing has rendered Washington’s encircling armadas of aircraft and warships redundant, even irrelevant.

As Sir Halford Mackinder might have put it, had he lived to celebrate his 160th birthday last month, the U.S. dominated Eurasia and thereby the world for 70 years. Now, China is taking control of that strategic continent and global power will surely follow.

However, it will do so on anything but the recognizable planet of the last 400 years. Sooner or later, Washington will undoubtedly have to accept the unbending geopolitical reality that under girds the latest shift in global power and adapt its foreign policy and fiscal priorities accordingly.

This current version of the Suez syndrome is, nonetheless, anything but the usual. Thanks to longterm imperial development based on fossil fuels, planet Earth itself is now changing in ways dangerous to any power, no matter how imperial or ascendant. So, sooner or later, both Washington and Beijing will have to recognize that we are now in a distinctly dangerous new world where, in the decades to come, without some kind of coordination and global cooperation to curtail climate change, old imperial truths of any sort are likely to be left in the attic of history in a house coming down around all our ears.

Corona-virus, Militarism And The End Of An Illusion…

4 Apr

People are waking people up to the fact that the US state and government does not belong to them but to a capitalist class that is only looking out for itself. The ‘sheltering in place’ order is starting to look like a convenient tool for the state to manage the growing frustration, fear and anger.”

“The nation that considers itself to be the apex of capitalist achievement on planet Earth turns out to have no health care system worthy of the name – a testament to the sucking moral vacuum at America’s imperial, white settler colony core. A lowly virus – a form of being that exists at the very border between “life” and “not-life” – has revealed the world’s superpower as butt-naked and very much afraid. (Glen Ford)

Coronavirus and second economic collapse in just ten years should finally put to rest the fairy-tale of U.S. Exceptionalism.
Trump’s “Make America Great” and Obama’s “U.S. Exceptionalism” are slogans that reflect an ongoing commitment to the normalized assumption of white racial and civilizational superiority. The idea that the territory that became the United States, and its settler population, were specially anointed by a god who gave them providence over the land and the Indigenous people is so ingrained in the national imagination that its extension to rationalize and justify U.S. imperialist policies was seamless.
The U.S. over the years shamelessly boasted of its “greatness” and being number one in all things, including having the best healthcare system in the world. And even though Bernie Sanders and healthcare movements in the U.S. consistently revealed the devastating reality of a system that generated billions of dollars for the healthcare industry while simultaneously generating unnecessary deaths, bankruptcies and millions without coverage — the mythology that the U.S. had a workable system remained in place, until now.
The coronavirus has dramatically stripped away the veneer of the for-profit healthcare system to expose a patchworked and completely dysfunctional system held together by state programs and two national programs, Medicare and Medicaid, that are still unable to provide basic coverage to millions of citizens and non-citizens.

 

 

The mythology that the U.S. had a workable system remained in place, until now.”

 

But it is not just the absence of a public healthcare system that exposes the lie of U.S. exceptionalism. Black Alliance for Peace Coordinating Committee and Black Agenda Report’s Margaret Kimberley writes that COVID-19 is not just a health emergency but it has exposed the causes of inequality and suffering in the U.S.
And what is the source of inequality and suffering?
Union del Barrio says that coronavirus has “unmasked the sick brutality of capitalism .”
The brutality and criminality of the colonial/capitalist system of state violence is reflected most graphically by the illegal and immoral policy of sanctions imposed on 39 nations by the U.S. and its Western allies. Sara Flounders from the International Action Center exposes the role of Big Pharma as part of U.S. effort to destroy the capacity of nations to protect their population’s health. She details the inhumane policies being imposed on nations like Venezuela and Iran, that are being denied the ability to import medicines and medical equipment to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. to accept draconian restrictions on basic civil liberties and human rights under the guise of the public health emergency.
BAP is concerned with the troubling signs that the global recession and disruption of the national economy that has resulted from the coronavirus crisis is now seen as a serious security threat by the capitalist oligarchy. The state, with the full support of corporate media, appears to be a conditioning the public to accept draconian restrictions on basic civil liberties and human rights under the guise of the public health emergency.

 

“Venezuela, Cuba and Iran are being denied the ability to import medicines.”

 

Ahjama Umi raises the very important point that we must resist efforts to panic the public into supporting a growing police state.
It is becoming clear that if the issue is really about containing the spread of the virus, there are effective protocols for combatting pandemics. Mark P. Fancher, a member of BAP’s Africa Team, discusses the measures that are in place in Africa, in nations like Nigeria, for preventing, tracking and containing infection; measures that could have been easily applied to the U.S.
But with the repressive proclivities of the U.S. national security state, it is important that we view critically some of the measures being called for: from the use of the military to national lockdowns.
The “sheltering in place” order is starting to look like a convenient tool for the state to manage the growing frustration, fear and anger as it becomes apparent that the economic and racially stratified healthcare delivery system are unable to protect the lives of the working class.
As the system finds itself immersed in a crisis that is deepening by the day, the propensity for violence and ferocious repression on the part of the U.S. state must be seen as a real threat to the people. BAP will continue to monitor the situation. The oppressed should have no illusions.
The conservative pro-business measures offered by the capitalist class to deal with the consequences of COVID-19 are waking people up to the fact that the state and government does not belong to them but to a capitalist class that is only looking out for itself.
That revelation of truth will be the only positive that will emerge from the crisis.
Netfa, Brandon, Vanessa, Jaribu, Margaret, Dedan, YahNe, Paul, Ajamu
BAP Coordinating Committee

The Black Alliance for Peace is a people(s)-centered human rights project against war, repression and imperialism.

 

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Disaster capitalism: This is the glaring culprit behind Italy’s Covid-19 catastrophe!

19 Mar

 

Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein worries that the Coron-avirus pandemic will provide another opportunity for neo-liberal elites to impose more of their right wing agenda on a citizenry scared and confused by this mysterious and dangerous disease. Klein of course is expanding on her award winning Shock Doctrine Naomi The Shock Doctrine. Klein showed how corporate elites worldwide have repeatedly and brutally used “the public’s disorientation following a collective shock — wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters — to push through radical pro-corporate measures.”

Klein is surely correct to be concerned. President Trump proposed temporary cuts in the payroll tax as afiscal stimulus. This act would in effect partially defund Social Security, forcing Democrats to choose between a tax increase or reductions in or means testing the program. Turning Social Security into a means tested program would undermine its popularity and probably destroy it, a long time goal of conservative epublicans and neolibereal Democrats. Fortunately enough politicians smelled the rat and this idea does not seem to have gone far. If elites do not always get what they want, it is also the case that crisis does provide opportunities for progressive activism. Social Security itself was born out of the economic and political turmoil of the thirties. In the context of the Covid19 epidemic Medicare for All has become more widely discussed than at any point in its development. Articulating the positive contribution to everyone’s health and fending off some of its more devious opponents is especially important now.

America’s patchwork, profit oriented healthcare has already played a destructive role in the unfolding of this crisis. One of the most important factors in limiting the spread of the disease is knowledge of who is being infected and where they are infected. When patients can’t come to the doctor they can’t be treated; they are more likely to spread the disease; and the physician is deprived of valuable information about the spread of the disease, information that improves possible interventions.

Although we do not yet know the full story of the CDC’s botched rollout of the Covid19 test kits, the Washington Post, never a fan of Senator Sanders or single payer, reported:”Unlike the United States… the single-payer countries have been especially nimble at making free, or low-cost, virus screening widely available for patients with coughs and fevers.” The benefits go beyond speed. Where public programs are well respected and well funded, that respect can also be reflected in the quality of the men and women who staff them. Jorgen Kurtzhals, the head of the University of Copenhagen medical school, told the Post that the strength of Denmark’s single-payer system is that it has “a lot of really highly educated and well-trained staff, and given some quite un-detailed instructions, they can actually develop plans for an extremely rapid response.”

No one claims that any of the single payer systems is perfect. Most importantly a system that is humane, egalitarian, and efficient cannot work as well if it is underfunded. Common Dreams notes: “Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), following years of austerity imposed by Conservative governments, is facing staff and supply shortages as hospitals are being overwhelmed with patients. Canada, like the U.K., is struggling with a shortage of ventilators.”

 

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In Italy Giacomo Gabbuti and Lorenzo Zamponi report: “The problem isn’t that this system is public and universal, but that it should be more so. Sadly, over time we have allowed the various Italian equivalents of Donald Trump and Joe Biden to make it a bit more like the American system.”(Jacobin)

This is part of the political dilemma single payer advocates face. Their systems are widely popular. Italy’s health system is so well regarded that even parties of the right and far right would not dare call for its elimination. But conservatives understand that if fiscal constraints—real or imagined–necessitate cuts in funding, the system will not perform as well. Its inadequacies can then be cited in defense of privatization and eventual dismantling of the entire system.

Italians have the fifth longest longevity in the world (the United States is a distant 35th) and their public healthcare makes a great contribution to that end. If one is looking for a culprit to blame for continuing deficiencies, start by looking at the Eurozone’s fiscal iron cage—to borrow former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis’s perfect phrase– limiting what democracies can spend on behalf of their people.

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