For just about anyone who spends time thinking about the future of the world, the fast-unfolding competition between the United States and China looms as one of the most important issues shaping both expectations and uncertainty over the near and medium term.

The rivalry between these two countries, which boast the biggest economies and most powerful militaries in the world, is ostensibly over global leadership. The international crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, however, has revealed another darker reality: Where it counts most—meaning for the well-being of the largest numbers of people in the world—there is no real leadership competition. What the ongoing crisis has revealed, instead, are the stark limitations of each of these global giants’ political systems and, above all, their fundamental selfishness.

COVID-19 is currently running nearly out of control in countries as diverse and far-flung as…

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