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Posts Tagged ‘Welfare State’

I wrote the other day about the importance of “social capital,” which is a catch-all phrase for a society’s attitudes about things such as the work ethic, a sense of self-reliance, and the spirit of independence.

Today we’re going to look at the flip side of social capital. I’m not sure whether this is an example of “anti-social capital” or “social anti-capital,” but our newest entrant in the Moocher Hall of Fame is symbolic of what’s wrong with the mental attitude of too many people in today’s welfare states.

Here are some details from a story about Christina in the U.K.-based Daily Mail. As you read the story, keep in mind that a “stone” is 14 pounds and £20,000 equals more than $31,000.

An obese mother-of-two who lives on benefits says she needs more of taxpayers’ money to overhaul her unhealthy lifestyle. Christina Briggs, 26, from Wigan, says she hates being 25 stone but she can’t do anything about it because she can only afford junk food. Meanwhile, exercise is out of the question because she doesn’t have the funds to join a gym. …’I tried swimming but it cost £22 a month and it meant I had to cut back on my favourite pizza and Chinese takeaways.’ Unemployed Christina gets £20,000 in benefits a year and lives in a council house with her two children by different fathers, Helena, 10, and Robert, two. …The family feast everyday on takeaways, chocolate and crisps as Christina says they can’t afford low fat foods. As a result, the mother is currently a dress size 26. …But she insists ‘it’s not my fault – healthy food is too expensive’. She feels her only hope is for the government to give her more money so she can afford to buy fruit and vegetables and join a gym. …She told the magazine: ‘I need more benefits to eat healthily and exercise. It would be good if the government offered a cash incentive for me to lose weight. I’d like to get £1 for every pound I lose, or healthy food vouchers…” She added that she can’t get a job to gain more money because she’s needed at home to care for her children… She explained: ‘There’s no way I could get a job. I don’t feel bad about the taxpayer funding my life…because I don’t treat myself or buy anything excessive.

Wow. Maybe we should add gym memberships to our satirical list of government-manufactured “human rights.”

But the bigger issue is that this story shows the destructive impact of the welfare state. From the perspective of taxpayers, redistribution programs are a rip-off.

However, even from the perspective of recipients, the welfare state is bad news. Christina is not a sympathetic character, to be sure, but one can’t help but think that she would have become a much better person if she hadn’t been seduced into a life of government dependency.

In other words, big government is causing an erosion of social capital.

Just as it has for other British members of the Moocher Hall of Fame, such as  NatailijaTraceyAnjem, Gina, and Danny.

Heck, there’s even a TV show called “Benefits Street” on British TV. Though “poverty porn” would be a better description.

P.S. The Princess of the Levant gets credit for today’s blog post since she sent me the story about Christina.

And she also sent me this cartoon, which is a very good advertisement for the libertarian philosophy.

Sort of like this cartoon, but even better since it accurately identifies the hypocrisy that is found with some left wingers and some right wingers.

By the way, you may recognize the woman on the left. She’s already appeared in one of my posts mocking the statist mentality on gun control.

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Back in 2010, I shared some wise words from Walter Williams and Theodore Dalrymple about how society can become unstable when people figure they can “vote themselves money.”

On a related note, I shared the famous “riding in the wagon” cartoons in 2011 and the “Danish party boat” image in 2014. Both of these posts highlighted the danger that exists when societies reach a tipping point, which occurs when too many people vote themselves into dependency and expect (and vote) for never-ending handouts.

Indeed, this is why I’m very pessimistic about the future of welfare states such as Greece.

And, depending what happens in an upcoming run-off election, I probably won’t be very optimistic about Brazil.

Investor’s Business Daily has shared some fascinating – and disturbing – data from that country’s recent election.

A Brazilian economist has shown a near-exact correlation between last Sunday’s presidential election voting choices and each state’s welfare ratios. Sure enough, handouts are the lifeblood of the left. …Neves won 34% of the vote, Rousseff took 42% and green party candidate Marina Silva took about 20% — and on Thursday, Silva endorsed Neves, making it a contest of free-market ideas vs. big-government statism. But what’s even more telling is an old story — shown in an infographic by popular Brazilian economist Ricardo Amorim. …Amorim showed a near-exact correlation among Brazil’s states’ welfare dependency and their votes for leftist Workers Party incumbent Rousseff. Virtually every state that went for Rousseff has at least 25% of the population dependent on Brazil’s Bolsa Familia welfare program of cash for single mothers… States with less than 25% of the population on Bolsa Familia overwhelmingly went for Neves and his policies of growth. …Fact is, the left cannot survive without a vast class of dependents. And once in, dependents have difficulty getting out.So Brazil’s election may come down to a question of whether it wants to be a an economic powerhouse — or a handout republic.

Here’s the map from IBD showing the close link between votes for the left-wing candidate and the extent of welfare dependency.

It’s not a 100 percent overlap, but the relationship is very strong.

Sort of like the maps I shared on language and voting in Ukraine.

That being said, I’m a policy wonk who wants economic liberty, not a political hack with partisan motives. So let’s look at the implications of growing dependency.

As IBD explains, the greatest risk is that people get trapped in dependency. We see that in advanced nations like the United States and United Kingdom (and the Nordic nations) so is it any surprise that it’s also a problem in a developing country like Brazil (or South Africa)?

Problem is, “some experts warn that a wide majority cannot get out of this dependence relationship with the government,” as the U.K. Guardian put it. And whether it’s best for a country that aspires to become a global economic powerhouse to have a quarter of the population — 50 million people — dependent on welfare and producing nothing is questionable.

I especially appreciate the last part of this excerpt. Economic output is a function of how capital and labor are productively utilized.

In other words, a welfare state imposes a human cost and an economic cost.

Now let’s consider possible implications for the United States. A few years ago, I put together a “Moocher Index” to show which states had the highest percentage of non-poor households receiving some form of redistribution.

Do the moocher states vote for leftists? Well, it we use the 2012 presidential election as a guidepost, 7 of the top 10 moocher states voted for Obama.  That suggests that there is a relationship.

But if you look at the states with the lowest levels of dependency, they were evenly split, with 5 for Obama and 5 for Romney. So perhaps there aren’t any big lessons for America, though Obama’s margins in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada were relatively small.

For what it’s worth, I’m far more worried about these economic numbers, not the aforementioned political numbers.

P.S. I probably shouldn’t assume that a leftist victory automatically means more statism in Brazil. After all, keep in mind that we got more economic freedom during the Clinton years and bigger government during the Bush years. Moreover, it was a left-leaning Brazilian president who had the wisdom to acknowledge that you can’t redistribute unless someone first produces.

P.P.S. At least one honest leftist admits there is a heavy cost to government dependency.

P.P.P.S. If you live in a nation that already has passed the tipping point of too much dependency and you want to live more freely, you can always escape. As reported by the U.K.-based Independent.

Up to 2.5 million French people now live abroad, and more are bidding “au revoir” each year. …the “lifeblood” of France are leaving because of “the impression that it’s impossible to succeed”… There is “an anti-work mentality, absurd fiscal pressure, a lack of promotion prospects, and the burden of debt hanging over future generations,” he told Le Figaro. …while the figure of 2.5 million expatriates is “not enormous”, what is more troubling is the increase of about 2 per cent each year. “Young people feel stuck, and they want interesting jobs. Businessmen say the labour code is complex and they’re taxed even before they start working. Pensioners can also pay less tax abroad,” she says. France’s unemployment rate is hovering around 10 per cent. As for high-earners, almost 600 people subject to a wealth tax on assets of more than €800,000 (£630,000) left France in 2012, 20 per cent more than the previous year.

The good news is that some people escape. The bad news is that the political environment becomes even worse for those remaining.

P.P.P.P.S. And don’t forget that the Obama campaign celebrated dependency during the 2012 campaign.

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We know the welfare state is good news for people inside government. Lots of bureaucrats are required, after all, to oversee a plethora of redistribution programs.

Walter Williams refers to these paper pushers as poverty pimps, and there’s even a ranking showing which states have the greatest number of these folks who profit by creating dependency.

But does anybody else benefit from welfare programs?

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation explains in the Washington Times that the War on Poverty certainly hasn’t been a success for taxpayers or poor people. Instead, it’s created a costly web of dependency.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty. …Since then, the taxpayers have spent $22 trillion on Johnson’s war. Adjusted for inflation, that’s three times the cost of all military wars since the American Revolution. Last year, government spent $943 billion providing cash, food, housing and medical care to poor and low-income Americans. …More than 100 million people, or one third of Americans, received some type of welfare aid, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient.

Here are some of the unpleasant details.

The U.S. Census Bureau has just released its annual poverty report. The report claims that in 2013, 14.5 percent of Americans were poor. Remarkably, that’s almost the same poverty rate as in 1967, three years after the War on Poverty started. How can that be? …When Johnson launched the War on Poverty, he wanted to give the poor a “hand up, not a hand out.” He stated that his war would shrink welfare rolls and turn the poor from “tax-eaters” into “taxpayers.” Johnson’s aim was to make poor families self-sufficient — able to rise above poverty through their own earnings without dependence on welfare. The exact opposite happened. For a decade-and-a-half before the War on Poverty began, self-sufficiency in America improved dramatically. For the past 45 years, though, there has been no improvement at all.

The final two sentences of that excerpt are the most important words in Robert’s column.

We were making lots of progress in the fight against poverty in the 1950s. That’s because we relied on the private economy and self sufficiency, as seen on the right side of this Chuck Asay cartoon..

But once politicians decided government was responsible for fighting poverty, progress ceased.

Why did progress stop? Because, as Robert explains, the welfare state creates a dependency trap and enables self-destructive behavior.

The culprit is, in part, the welfare system itself, which discourages work and penalizes marriage. …The welfare state is self-perpetuating. By undermining the social norms necessary for self-reliance, welfare creates a need for even greater assistance in the future. President Obama plans to spend $13 trillion over the next decade on welfare programs that will discourage work, penalize marriage and undermine self-sufficiency.

By the way, being “poor” in America rarely means material deprivation.

Most Americans who live in “poverty” have much higher living standards that people elsewhere in the world.

The actual living conditions of households labeled as poor by Census are surprising to most people. According to the government’s own surveys, 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning; nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television; half have a personal computer; 40 percent have a wide-screen HDTV. Three-quarters own a car or truck; nearly a third has two or more vehicles. Ninety-six percent of poor parents state that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food. …As a group, poor children are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children, and in most cases is well above recommended norms. …the average poor American has more living space than the typical nonpoor individual living in Sweden, France, Germany or the United Kingdom.

By the way, don’t be surprised by the final sentence in that excerpt. Most people have no idea that Americans have far higher living standards than their cousins in Europe.

For more information on how best to help the poor, watch this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

Bono actually agrees that capitalism is the best approach to fighting poverty. Too bad the Pope lacks the same insight.

P.S. Here’s a map showing which states have the biggest welfare benefits.

P.P.S. If you want to see an utterly dishonest approach to public policy, read how the OECD tried to exaggerate poverty in the United States, so much so that it even tried to imply that there was more poverty in America than Greece.

P.P.P.S. Thomas Sowell has wise thoughts on how the welfare state hurts the less fortunate.

P.P.P.P.S. Some libertarians have suggested a “basic income” to replace the dozens of inefficient and failed welfare programs in Washington. For what it’s worth, I think there’s a better alternative.

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I’m a pessimist about public policy for two simple reasons:

1) Seeking power and votes, elected officials generally can’t resist making short-sighted and politically motivated choices that expand the burden of government.

2) Voters are susceptible to bribery, particularly over time as social capital (the work ethic, spirit of self reliance, etc) erodes and the entitlement mentality takes hold.

Actually, let me add a third reason.

The first two reasons explain why countries get into trouble. Our last reason explains why it’s oftentimes so hard to then fix the mess created by statism.

3) Once a nation adopts big government, reform is difficult because too many voters are riding in the wagon of dependency and they reflexively oppose good policy.

Or they’re riding in the party boat, but you get the idea.

Now that I’ve explained why I’m a Cassandra, let me try to be a Pollyanna.

And I’m going to be Super Pollyanna, because my task is to explain how Greece can be saved.

I’ll start by pointing out that government spending has actually been cut in recent years. And we’re talking about genuine spending cuts, not the make-believe cuts you find in Washington, which occur when spending doesn’t grow as fast as previously planned.

This chart, based on IMF data, shows that the budget increased dramatically in Greece from 1980-2009. But once the fiscal crisis started and Greek politicians no longer had the ability to finance spending with borrowed money, they had no choice but to reduce the burden of government spending.

This seems like great news, but there’s one minor problem and one major problem.

The minor problem is that there hasn’t been nearly enough structural reform of the welfare state in Greece. For long-run fiscal recovery, it’s very important to save money by reducing handouts that create dependency, while also shrinking the country’s bloated bureaucracy. By comparison, it’s less important (or perhaps even harmful) to save money by letting physical infrastructure deteriorate.

The major problem is that controlling government spending is just one piece of the puzzle. There are five major factors that determine economic performance, with experts assigning equal importance to fiscal policy, trade policy, regulatory policy, monetary policy, and rule of law.

Moreover, not only is fiscal policy just 20 percent of the puzzle, it’s also important to understand that spending is just part of that 20 percent. You also have to consider the tax burden.

And the progress Greece has made on the spending side of the budget has been offset by a bunch of destructive tax increases.

But there is a glimmer of hope because Greek politicians apparently realize that this is a problem.

Here are some excerpts from the Wall Street Journal’s coverage.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised tax-relief measures to help jump-start the country’s economy and boost the government’s popularity as it faces a series of political challenges in the months ahead. “The overtaxation has to end,” Mr. Samaras said Saturday during a speech.

It’s easy to see why there’s a desire to boost economic performance.

Since entering recession in 2008, Greece’s economy has shrunk by more than a quarter… This year, however, the country is expected to emerge from recession and post growth of 0.6%. But the recovery has yet to trickle down to ordinary Greeks who continue to face a jobless rate of more than 27% and higher taxes imposed during the past few years.

However, don’t get too excited. The Premier isn’t talking about sweeping reforms.

Instead, it appears that the proposed changes will be very minor.

In his remarks, the Greek premier announced a number of tax changes, including a 30% reduction in the levy on home heating oil and amendments to a new unified property tax that has been so far marred by errors and miscalculations in implementation.

Geesh, talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Indeed, at least one of the tax cuts may be designed to bring in more money for the government. The New York Times, for instance, reports that the energy tax didn’t generate any extra tax revenue.

That levy, which was introduced in 2012, raised the tax on heating oil 450 percent. But it has failed to bring in additional revenue and has led to environmental damage as Greeks turned to burning wood for heat.

I guess it’s progress that both the Greek government and the New York Times are acknowledging the Laffer Curve, but this is a perfect example of why it’s important to be on the growth-maximizing point of the curve rather than the revenue-maximizing point.

So why am I expressing a tiny sliver of optimism when the Greek government’s tax agenda is so timid?

Well, there’s at least some hope of bigger and more pro-growth reforms.

He also announced a reduction to a so-called solidarity tax on income, the size of which is to be determined when the state budget for 2015 is drafted in October. The changes would be part of a “road map” for lowering taxation with cuts to the property tax, income tax and corporate tax to come later, he said. “Overtaxation may have been necessary, but now it must stop,” he said.

And the Greek press is reporting further details indicating that the government wants to reduce marginal tax rates

Samaras said that it his ultimate aim to reduce the top income tax rate to 32 percent and for business to pay no more than 15 percent.

If these policies actually took place, then I suspect Greece’s economy would enjoy robust growth.

Particularly if policy makers also dealt with the major problem of excessive regulation (see here and here to get a flavor of the awful nature of red tape in Greece).

In other words, any nation can prosper if good policy is adopted.

Including Greece, though I must admit in closing that I suspect that there’s a less-than-15-percent chance that my optimistic scenario will materialize. And if you read this Mark Steyn column, you’ll understand why the pessimistic scenario is much more likely.

P.S. Click here and here for two very funny (or sad) cartoons about Obama and Greece. And here’s another cartoon about Greece that’s worth sharing.

P.P.S. Click here and here for some amusing Greek policy humor.

P.P.P.S. The IMF also has admitted that Greece is on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve.

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I’ve written many times about America’s looming fiscal collapse, and I’ve also pontificated about America’s costly and failed welfare state.

I even have speculated about when America reaches a tipping point, with too many people riding in the wagon of government dependency (as illustrated by these famous cartoons, which even have a Danish equivalent).

If you read all my posts on these issues, I like to think you’d be very well informed on these topics. But if you want to save time, my colleague Tom Palmer put all these issues together in a recent speech in Australia.

Best of all, he includes lots of great material on the moral and historical aspects of this discussion.

The good news is that there are signs of progress, at least outside the United States. Denmark, for instance, has cut back on its welfare state.

And now, even the United Kingdom has engaged in some serious welfare reform.

Here are some excerpts from a column in the UK-based Telegraph.

 Why should there have been this improvement in the labour market? …The most convincing explanation is surely the Government’s welfare reforms. They have made it more difficult and less attractive to live off benefits, thereby increasing the supply of workers. In economists’ jargon, the natural rate of unemployment has fallen.

Another Telegraph column digs into the details.

…more jobs are being created in Britain than in the rest of Europe put together. …There has clearly been a game-changer… What confounded the eggheads was that the number of workers is growing four times faster than the number of working-age people: in other words, Britons have become far more likely than pretty much anyone else to look for –and find – work. Why?

The answer is simple economics and incentives.

Fewer people now claim the three main out-of-work benefits than at any time during the Labour years. This, of course, is perfectly explained by IDS’s reforms, which make it a lot harder to live on welfare. Those who have been on incapacity benefit for years have been summoned to assessment centres to see what work they’re fit to do. Far more of the unemployed are being penalised for missing job interviews. A benefits cap has been imposed; housing benefit is being reformed; and the so-called “spare room subsidy” has been abolished, making life more expensive for those on benefits with unused rooms. …this is not about punishing “shirkers”, but helping good people trapped in a bad system. Fixing that system means making life harder for people who have it pretty tough already, at least for a short while. But under the Labour regime, such people were being led down the path to dependency and poverty. A new road had to be built, leading to work. And only now is it becoming clear quite how many people are taking it.

Here’s a chart showing how actual job creation is beating the forecasts.

These are remarkable numbers, particularly when you compare them to the job forecast put forth by the Obama White House, which grossly over-stated the number of jobs that would exist under the so-called stimulus.

The key takeaway is that incentives matter. When you give people unemployment insurance, you reduce incentives to find work. When you give people Obamacare, you reduce incentives to earn income. When you give people welfare and food stamps, you reduce incentives for self-reliance.

And when you add together the panoply of redistribution programs operated by government, it’s easy to see why far too many people are being trapped in government dependency.

If you like charts, here’s a very sobering image of how the welfare state destroys incentives for upward mobility. And if you like anecdotes, here’s a dismal story about government making leisure more attractive than productivity.

P.S. At least one honest leftist acknowledges that there’s a problem.

P.P.S. On a lighter note, here’s a satirical Declaration of Dependency from the left.

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I periodically (some would say over and over and over again, though occasionally made more palatable by using humor and cartoons) warn that the United States should not become a European-style welfare state.

But I wonder whether I spend enough time explaining why this would be a bad idea.

After all, some people may think that you get more security and benefits with the European approach, so why not head in that direction. And these folks aren’t just pointing with approval to the Nordic nations. A writer for the New York Times actually thinks we should copy Italy.

So it is fortuitous that I’m currently in Poland as part of the Free Market Road Show and got to hear a speech by Prof. Leszek Balcerowicz of the Warsaw School of Economics (and former Deputy Prime Minister and head of Poland’s central bank).

Prof. Balcerowicz specifically compared economic performance in Western Europe and the United States, and the results are not very favorable to the welfare state.

Standard economic theory suggests that poor nations should catch up with rich nations. This “convergence theory” actually worked for the first few decades after World War II.

But as you can see from Prof. Balcerowicz’s chart, the convergence process slowed down after the welfare state began to expand in the 1960s. And after the pro-growth reforms of the Reagan years and Clinton years, the United States actually has opened up a bigger lead.

Convergence Balcerowicz

But maybe this chart doesn’t make things sufficiently clear. So I went to the OECD website and found the most recently available data on “average individual consumption,” which is a measure of actual living standards.

OECD AIC

The United States is way ahead of Europe. The only three nations close to us include Norway, which has the good fortune of major oil fields, and Luxembourg and Switzerland, which have the advantage of being tax havens.

By the way, I also shared that data series last year, and you can also see some older AIC data in this 2010 post. But it doesn’t matter how you slice the numbers or when you look at the numbers, the United States has a big lead.

And that lead is now getting larger over time. Heck, the Europeans apparently think any growth – even anemic growth of less than 1 percent – is worth celebrating. Talk about low expectations!

This is why we don’t want to copy Europe. If higher living standards are a good idea (and they are!), then we should copy Hong Kong and Singapore, not France and Italy.

P.S. I’ve always thought that this comparison of the per-capita income of Swedes in Sweden and the per-capita income of folks of Swedish ancestry in the United States is very persuasive.

P.P.S. Leszek Balcerowicz has the honor of being named this year’s winner of the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. He’ll receive his award at a very nice black-tie dinner in New York City on May 21.

P.P.P.S. Speaking of swanky black-tie events, the PotL and I got dressed up last Thursday for the annual CIFA dinner in Monaco.

CIFA0941

She’s a lucky girl, huh?

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About one year ago, I decided to create a “Moocher Hall of Fame” to highlight how certain people went above and beyond the call of indolence in their efforts to sponge off taxpayers.

This award isn’t for ordinary deadbeats. You have to do something really special (the bad kind of special) to get recognized.

* Like convincing a government to give you “disability” benefits so you can satisfy your diaper-wearing fetish.

* Such as cutting off your own foot to maintain handouts from the state.

* Or trying to impregnate 12-year old girls to increase household welfare payments.

* And how about plotting to kill the people who are subsidizing your laziness.

We have a new candidate for the MHoF.

Or perhaps I should say candidates. Our contestants are a husband and wife who enjoyed a first class lifestyle at taxpayer expense. Here are some passages from a Fox News report.

A Minnesota couple who allegedly lived in expensive homes and owned a yacht while taking more than $160,000 in state welfare benefits has been arrested. …Court documents allege the pair illegally obtained food stamps and other benefits from 2005 to 2012. According to the criminal complaints, over the years, the Chisholms received medical assistance, welfare payments and food stamp benefits. …When they first applied for welfare benefits, the couple allegedly listed their residence as Andrea Chisholm’s mother’s home in Minneapolis. Shortly after getting approved, they moved to Florida, according to court documents. They remained in that state for at least 28 months, first on their $1.2 million yacht, and then moving to a house, officials said. They collected welfare from Florida, as well as Minnesota during that time, which is prohibited, according to court documents.

So why should the Chisholms win an award?

Well, I thought it was supposed to be difficult for married adults to sponge off taxpayers, particularly if there was an able-bodied male in the household, yet that didn’t stop the Chisholms from raking in the cash.

I guess you could consider them to be the older – and American – version of Danny and Gina (though I don’t know if that deadbeat couple is/was married).

But that’s not why the Chisholms deserve to be in the MHoF. What caught my attention is that they financed a yacht with welfare payments. That’s going above and beyond the call of indolence.

P.S. I have to confess that Mr. Chisholm reminded me of Rand Paul, at least at first glance.

Separated at birth?

Though I feel like apologizing for implying any connection. After all, Senator Paul has been kind enough to give me credit for jokes I steal from other people. More important, he defends taxpayers.

Whereas Mr. Chisholm likes to steal from taxpayers.

That’s a big difference.

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