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Since China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, the city has prospered economically, but festered politically. Now, one of the world’s richest cities is engulfed by protests, which have blocked roads, paralyzed the airport and at times descended into violence. Far from a uniquely Chinese problem, however, the current chaos should be viewed as a bellwether for capitalist systems that fail to address inequality.

In times of crisis, it is easy for emotion to overwhelm reason, and for dramatic and deceptive narratives to take root. This tendency is exemplified by media reports that frame the unrest as a clash of cultures symbolizing a broader global struggle between autocracy and democracy, or references to a “fight between two civilizations,” as Hong Kong legislator Fernando Cheung put it.

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