The Unstimulus

If your predictions are wildly out-of-whack with reality, you need to change your approach.

Here’s a 2009 Obama administration graph authored by Jared Bernstein and Christy Romer showing their calculations for future unemployment levels with and without the Obama stimulus, updated by James Pethikoukis to show the actual figures:

These predictions have been an unmitigated disaster. Not only did the real figures not match up to the advertised ones, but they are also much worse than the baseline expectations. Romer and Bernstein appear to have both severely under-estimated the depth of the crisis, and over-estimated the effectiveness of the stimulus package.

The stimulus is a large and complex piece of legislation, and it sent lots of money to lots of different places. Money went both to projects like building roads and bridges, as well as to projects like Solyndra, and to many other kinds of projects. Here’s a rough breakdown (a deeper breakdown is available here):

To get the full picture, we need to look at the broad outcomes. So, who benefited in the wake of the stimulus?

Wages and salaries as a percentage-of-GDP in blue, corporate profits after tax as a percentage-of-GDP in red:

Obama might talk about spreading the wealth around, but the aggregate effect of the policies pursued during his administration have squarely benefited large corporations and the financial sector, and not the middle class or small business. Is reinflating financial bubbles and pumping up corporate profits Obama’s idea of recovery? The money isn’t trickling down, and small businesses and the middle class are more in debt than they were before the crisis started. Income inequality is soaring. The financial sector is richer than ever. American infrastructure is still crumbling. Housing starts are still deeply depressed, even as homelessness rises. And of course, employment is still deeply, deeply depressed. The stimulus didn’t get America working again. With a monstrous and broken financial sector still totally failing to provide adequate capital to Main Street, totally broken algorithm-driven markets that have alienated retail investors, and budget deficits that remain persistently high, this should surprise precisely nobody.

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46 thoughts on “The Unstimulus

  1. Just read Krugman’s latest article today in the NY Times.

    We needed MORE stimulus to solve our current problems, according to him.

    Apparently 4 years of Trillion deficits (Just in the USA), lowest IR in anybody’s lifetime, Central Banks around the world printing Tillions of $ and changing accounting rules to hide losses on the balance sheets is NOT ENOUGH!

    We needed more according to Krugman (And his crack-pot readers!)

    And yet there are still people who cannot even imagine hyperinflation. To them, it CANNOT HAPPEN!. Its Impossible, its absurd, its downright lunacy they tell us!

    Like the Marxist right before the collapse of the USSR, today’s Neo-Keynesian WILL NOT be the group that predicts the secular turning in western economic paradigm (Some could point out that the date has already came and went in 2008.) The very definition of a paradigm shift is that most of the establishment did not see its coming and refuse to acknowledge it even as the raw data overwhelming proves them wrong.

    And so here we sit. The data is in. The recovery promised, promoted and pumped came and went. How many jobs did the current administration say they created or saved? 5 million is the number they quote. 5 million jobs sounds good right? That is until the number $5.2 Trillion is added to make a simple cost-benefit equation. Yes, Obama spent more then $1 million for each job created or saved. Also notice, that the prior equation doesn’t include $2 Trillion+ expansion of the FED balance sheet, making the current recovery one of the most epic failures in economic history!

    In regards to full disclosure, I believe the US and Europe will endure a decade or more of Japanese-type malaise before we enter the hyperinflation stage. I found an article from the NY Times dated 1996 that describes economic conditions in 1996 Japan. Just change the names to Smith and Jones and replace “Japan” with “US” or “Europe” in the article. If this article doesn’t blow your mind (And scare you a bit), you maybe a Neo-Keynesian.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/11/business/small-japanese-savers-find-the-return-barely-worth-it.html

      • Did you ever consider what your life would look like if you were right and the Krugman’s of the world were wrong?

        To go from the Krugman’s POV to yours (dare I say somewhat our POV!?) would be one massive cluster *&^% for everybody!

        Is the GREAT RESET avoidable? Is it needed?

        Gotta go! Off to the bank! I still can’t pay bills with gold yet. My creditors still only take FRNs. Which is good, I guess.

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    • Don,
      Your question presumes that Obama and Romney are both significantly and sufficiently different to warrant caring. Does anyone still believe that either Romney (or the Republican Party establishment) will actually hew to the principles of smaller and less intrusive government, reduce total taxation, and produce fiscal discipline from a massive reduction of our imperialist and socialist economic super-structure?

      • Totally agree with the health care analysis.

        A weird thing happened to me this summer, I hungout with a bunch of doctors and lawyers. They could easily be described as the current and future 1%.

        A long story short, the doctors (economically speaking) are as dumb as bag of a hammers.

        I actually had one gal (Famous in her circle for scoring a 1590 on the SAT) tell me that health insurers in the USA have profit margins of 60% and thats why health care in the US is so expensive. No amount sanity could be allowed into the discusion. That health insurers (Or any other industry in the history of the world has never had profit margins at 60%) could not sway the conversation in my favor. Yes, at certain times, there have been individual companies that have seen profit margins at or above 60%. Microsoft, with their Word product had amazing margins. Too bad this pissed it away on other, mostly failed, porducts and services.

        The lawyers, suprisingly were down to earth and level headed.

      • This cynicism — “there’s no hope” — could kill our (the people, grass roots, “tea party”) chances of taking back our country! Romney is no Libertarian, but a lot of new members of Congress are. Old time Republican members are being replaced and pushed into action. Wake up! — if Obama wins and the Democrats still control the Senate (which must confirm Justices and ratify treaties), there will be no Constitutional Republic for another generation if ever! To clarify: Romney and the Republican party establishment won’t do all that you (and I and tens of millions “tea party*” adherents) wish. But it’s an enormous step toward building — on top of 2010 gains — a true Constitutional party and, even more importantly, ending the Marxist, anti-Judeo-Christian, racist, utterly corrupt regime in Washington D.C.

        Just today I read a Ron Paul piece. He disagrees with Romney’s 47%; he says it’s 53% or more depending on what you count as dependence on government!

        * Our local tea party — and all are local with independent but very similar objectives — has three, and only three, values: Free markets. Fiscal responsibility. Constitutionally limited government.

        • I’m advocating neither cynicism nor hopelessness; quite the opposite. I propose that you NOT support a big-government, warmongering, statist simply because he is the less bad big-government, warmongering, statist of the two who have been selected for your pool of presidential choices.

          The worst thing that could have happened to (our) tea party movement is precisely what did happen, ideological subsumption by a major party. It was a clever move on the part of the Republican establishment, but a disaster for the cause of liberty (and I’m speaking as a registered Republican).

          Certainly I am relieved that there is increased attention to the cause of liberty and that people actually are reading Rothbard (or at least starting to). But I am under no illusions that we’re going to achieve a “soft-landing” on the runway of a free society. Frankly, we’ve got a long way to go before the citizenry at large realizes that it is rapidly being enslaved, much like my ancestors were, but with greater efficiency and a much better technological toolset for maintaining control.

          To quote a certain surprisingly well written, acted, and directed TV show, “All this has happened before and it will all happen again.” We are beyond the point where enough of us will wake up in time to stave off a tyrannical police state. That state is already here and we’re living in the early stages of its revelation. Those who don’t realize that by now will (unfortunately) have to learn it the hard way as our civil society continues to shrink before an omnipotent and harsh central government overseer. To argue who heads up the administration of the overseeing and how harsh the whippings may be is the equivalent of shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

          Again, this is neither cynicism nor hopelessness. It is an admission that this ship is lost and the job for those of us who have the wherewithal to understand how we lost it is to:
          1. Survive the sinking
          2. Help rescue as many others as possible
          3. Build out the universe of knowledge about how liberty is both won and lost so that we don’t make the same mistakes all over again with the next ship that we build

          To the extent that we let two-party politics distract us from that, we’ll lose the next ship too.

          Bottom line: don’t ever vote for the lesser of two evils because you still get evil and you wasted your time. Instead focus on getting off the sinking ship and start planning to build a better one. I do believe that’s what the Tea party WAS doing before aligning Republican and getting dragged into the process of trying to bail out the old boat that’s not gonna make it to port.

  3. Nothing is really going to change until an alternative system is constructed. Take my profession, medicine. How is it possible to work outside of the present corporate/government system of health care when you must have either private health or government insurance to receive care [of any technological significance]?

    Even if you wanted to exist outside of this system [as a private citizen], how many could possible afford it? This health care system will do you in [financially] in just a couple of very short days.

    This is going to be more like a last straw that broke the camel’s back sort of thing. In health care, it’s going to be a battle between the health care interests and the rest of corporate America [leading essentially to a universal health care system]; in other sectors, similar confrontations will take place between competing interests.

    The average citizen will not become the beneficiary of any of this until the financial oligarchy chokes on the caviar and champagne they are stuffing down their throats.

    • Would you say the high cost of health care is due to the highly litigious nature of the US legal system? Would you perform lots of unnecessary tests to ensure you are not liable? These tests cost money and I think the old fashioned judgement of an experienced Dr. is bypassed by fear.

      I am still convinced that the stimulus is ineffective until the election is over. Then the clarity of who’s in charge will stimulate private business to make business investment decisions.

      • No price mechanism in the market place and much of the healthcare is financed through through debt.

        True story, I dated a gal a while back who had knee surgery. On the bill two items caught my eye, $740 for crutches and $440 for gauze.

        • !!!!! If US citizens put up with this, then no wonder Obamacare is such an election issue.

          My mother had knee surgery. Free. She had to hire the crutches from the Chemist (Drug Store) about $15 per week.

          But 1.5% of her taxable income is taxed every year to fund our Medical system. So I guess being her first operation for a non life threatening treatment (She hit her head while horse riding, scalped half her head, she died on the way to hospital was revived, this also cost nothing), her taxes over the year, probably amount to 30-40 thousand.

          http://www.ato.gov.au/content/00250854.htm

          Do people self insure? Do people with genetic issues get unfair insurance treatment? Do you open up the medical profession to overseas competition? Like free trade.

        • Buddy,

          You know the answers to your questions.

          Do you know how much the hospital charged for renting the room for surgery?

          $2,250. Thats no joke and I can prove it if I have to!

    • Wrong. The various “health care programs” do not IN ANY WAY lower health care costs. So any claim that people cannot afford health care without “health care programs” is utterly and completely back-ass-wards. The FACT is, if ALL government involvement in health-care was eliminated, health-care costs would PLUMMET.

      I’ll tell you what I suspect is the most effective system — not that I would ever consider forcing it on anyone. That would be a system in which there is NO health insurance plan that has less than $10,000 deductable. I guess some call these “catastrophic health care plans”. What would happen in such a world?

      Answer: Patients would DISCUSS with doctors the cost/risk/benefit tradeoff of EVERY test and medication before they decide to PAY FOR IT… because THEY have to pay for it. This would greatly reduce useless tests that doctors prescribe because “why not” and “cover my ass in the extraordinarily unlikely event something serious might be found that could be treated”.

      This system also eliminates a large portion of bogus malpractice worries, because it is the PATIENT who decides whether to get tests and take medication. Let patients sue themselves if they don’t like the consequences of their choices.

      The current system has made seeing doctors DANGEROUS. Or more correctly, it has made taking advice from doctors very dangerous. My experience with my own health and the few people I know well is this: my own research has been vastly more accurate and sensible than the doctors I have seen. My doctors agree, and are often stunned at the effectiveness of solutions I have found on my own. Doctors have been forced to follow very bad practices forced upon them by government, drug companies, AMA, etc. Those bad practices exist to support all sorts of predatory interests, and NEVER the interests of the patients (and often not the doctors either).

        • Annie & kkflash: Two supporting dicta (dictums?) come to mind: (1) Competition is good; (2) Government can do only two things: make war and print money, and it’s not very good at those. [Maybe money-printing is now efficient because of economies of scale].

  4. My view of the high cost of medical care in the US is because of a lack of competition. If competition were allowed there would be CAT, MRI scanners on every street corner. Fix the government mandates on health care and prices will drop.

    • Relatively speaking, there technological marvels do exist on every street corner. The problem is not availability, it is over-use [to try to pay for them].

      Only a very small percentage of the population needs super high technology. In a market based system, this technology would never be built because it would not be economically feasible.

      This is a wonderful example of the mal-investment which define the present day economy .

      • I fixed a broken lamb’s leg with sticks from an old fruit box, and duct tape. It is healed and running around with a very straight leg. Perhaps people have an option of using a standard of equipment and care, and malpractice lawsuits are lowered as a result of their choice!

  5. The high cost of health care is due to technology and corporate/government control.

    Corporate control mandates that the shareholder [not the patient] be the priority of the health care system. Therefore, profitability becomes the main motivation and patients are the means to this end. Government means that if you can bribe the right people, the government will do just about anything.

    Technology is the way corporations increase productivity [on a mass scale] in order to bring down the cost per unit production. And although this does work to a certain extent in health care, it does not work on a scale large enough to make high technology affordable, the reason being that not that the market for these levels of care is relatively small.

    Because the corporate system is so incredibly profitable [due to the nearly unlimited amount of money put into the system], much of these profits go back into research which then deliver an new generation of even more expensive technology, and the wheel goes round and round.

    The idea that you can fix and heal everybody is absurd. The only solution to this “problem” is what I have put out to this forum previously, i.e., prevention only. Since people are not really nor willing to take responsibility for their own health [care], only a universal system makes any sense with the structure of modern societies [although this option is not affordable either].

    If you could de-corprotize and get the government out of health care altogether, then the costs would plummet, but, so would the technological advances. Attempting to provide state of the art health care to an entire population would be like trying to subsidize everybody driving around in a Ferrari. Absurd.

    The insanity of the approach to health care in the West [be it private or public] shows how much thinking has been altered in order to support the corporate agenda. How it has possibly gotten this far is completely beyond me.

    Perhaps, one of these days, people will actually begin to talk about the real problems in health care instead of people just lusting after the $.

  6. I have lived in several foreign countries where excellent health care cost 1/10th what it cost in the US.

    My wife had a complete hysterectomy in Thailand for $1650 US. That was the total cost. The hospital was like a five star hotel, the medical equipment was state of the art, and doctors trained in the US. They did not charge $20 for an aspirin.

    I had a MRI in Doha Qatar for $438 total cost. I brought it to my neurologist in the US and he said it was as high a quality MRI as he had seen.

    Something is wrong with medical costs in America. Wonder what that could be? Maybe the lawyers you were speaking with?

    • Setting aside the lawyer issue, much of the issue lays in your post. You use the “price mechanism” as comparison to make a judgement.

      There is no “price mechanism” in US health care. The doctors don’t know how much things cost and the consumer has no effective way make a cost-benefit analysis because the PRICE of the service is not offered.

      Also, much of Medicare and Medicad programs are financed through Federal Gov. debt.

      I could go on to say that much of the Fed. debt has been bought by the FED and other Central Banks around the world. (Thats is, if we really wanted to look at the whole problem.)

    • When you look at what something costs, you have to consider all kinds of things. The two biggest factors in the U.S. are, money into the system and who controls the pricing.

      You have a corporate controlled private insurance system dinging the private sector for extortion-like monthly premiums on top of the government taxing/printing trillions. When you add up this amount of money, it’s not so hard to imagine how everybody in the systems finds all kinds of inventive ways to spend it.

      I am sure in Thailand, they use their technology much more efficiently, pay their health care workers less, do not support a global military empire, do not print trillions of dollars, is not home to the greatest financial parasites the world has ever seen, etc., etc.

      All these things going on in the U.S. has led to a rise in the cost of everything [in real terms]. The U.S. economy is plagued by mal-investment [essentially, theft] everywhere you look.

      • I agree your post.

        But, I have yet to meet a person that uses “price” to grade the hospital A vs. hospital B.

        We use price in virtually everyother aspect of our lives. That $10 steak at restuarant A is good, but I prefer the $20 steak at restuarant B because of quality or setting or service.

        In the above scenerio, we use price as the measure of quality of steak.

        Now, if the $10 steak is actually BETTER then the $20 steak, the steak eaters will vote with their mouths and no longer order the $20 steak. This loss of business selling steaks will send a message the mangement of restuarant B that either their steak is PRICED to high and/or not of the same value a restuarant A.

        You see, the price mechanism of money, informs both the consumer and the provider of a good or service and allows all participants to effectively maximise the scarce resource that is money.

        • The price mechanism is working. People are going overseas in droves. My friend is a beauty therapist, and all the women are doing it. There are horror stories but as Dan mentions above, you can shop for quality. You obviously don’t read womens blogs! They all discuss the best hospitals. Russia specialises in leg lengthening!

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  9. The high cost of health care in the US is due to complex, multifactorial mechanisms, including:
    1. General inflation (varies from 1-10% over the years)
    2. Lawsuits and fear of lawsuits (malpractice insurance alone adds perhaps $20 billion or more to the cost of healthcare, only a relatively small portion of which ends up helping patients who have suffered from medical mistakes; unnecessary tests and hospitalizations adds an estimated $50-$100 billion; ” risk management” tasks and employees cost hospitals $100s of millions annually; it costs nearly $1 billion to bring a new drug to market due in part to liability and regulations; add in the public’s impossibly absurd expectation of absolute perfection for outcome)
    3. Ever-increasing government regulations (tons of paperwork, 100s of thousands of added employees[“compliance officers”] to initiate and monitor compliance, HIPPA alone has been estimated to cost $50 billion over 10 years to implement, etc.)
    4. Technology (compare the cost of a $50 xray in 1960 to a $1000 MRI or CT in 2012[that’s a 2000% increase; and once a new technology becomes available, liability concerns mandate that it be used, even if it may not really provide better care)
    5. Medicare (almost unlimited resources [$hundreds of billions] get provided to medicare patients, even when the outcome is suspected to be dismal; 90% of many persons’ health care expenses are created during the last few weeks of their lives)
    6. Business interests and business expenses, including health insurance companies, malpractice insurance companies, oxygen and drug companies, medical equipment companies, etc., etc. cost the health care system $billions for corporate profits; a single doctor’s office may need 1 or 2 employees just to bill patients
    7. Medicare, Medicaid, and no pay patients shift $100s of billions to paying patients (if a hospital receives $1000 for a Medicare patient’s operation that actually costs the hospital $3000, private patients are charged the extra $2000 just for the hospital to break even)

    There are many other factors- no wonder solving this problem is such an enigma. In the end, it will require less utilization, reduction of liability, lowering of expectations, and many other changes. Getting the lawyers, politicians, government bureaucrats, and business parasites out of the system would be a good start.

    • dwalker, yes, there are many factors, but the one that matters most is the individual’s inability to cope with a couple of facts of life; that we all age, we all get sick [or atrophy], and we all die.

      The system, on many levels, uses the above the to nudge along people’s fears of these natural processes, to the point where people are unable to effectively deal with much of it. In other words, many people want to avoid the unavoidable.

      So, there becomes a huge market for health care [really, sick care]. Initially, run by individuals with little to no technology, and it works fine. As technology forges ahead, the inherent paradoxes begin to reveal themselves [the notion that we can heal, repair and replace everybody’s body parts], and the system begins to break-down.

      So, it then gets back to, what is an alternative to attempting to live forever? or attempting to fix everybody? Seems to me that it is to stay as healthy as you possibly can and hope for the best.

      This is an approach that would deliver the greatest benefit for the least cost [sustainable]. It will make people responsible for their own health [care], and allow people re-prioritize somewhat, that is, spend time and effort doing productive activities [or not, if they so choose].

      Regardless, people should not be made responsible for the bad choices made by others. This goes for all things. As far as those who might be affected by diseases/conditions through no fault of their own, I guess people would deal with them the same way people do now when there are no treatments known for a malady.

      Societal avoidance of the only thing we know for sure [our own mortality] in combination with the fantasy that we can overcome the same, has led humanity down this path where these fictions are colliding with reality.

      The battle to be waged over the next several decades is going to be quite interesting as it will bring in all institutions, medicine, the legal profession, government, ethicists, and probably everybody else and their grandmother, as people finally have to confront their mortality on a more realistic level.

      Unfortunately, we have yet to take the first step on this journey. The good news is that out of severe economic and financial crises come serious good. In a generation or three, people should be much healthier.

      • I completely agree with your statements and include some of your solution in my suggestion of “decreased utilization”, which is a synoptic phrase that for me includes making wise and responsible lifestyle choices and the realization that we must relinquish our hope for immortality through expensive medical care. One way or another, we will (and already have) some form(s) of rationing- we have to decide whether it will be haphazard (like it is now), through government mandates (such as is becoming evident with “Obamacare”), or through a thoughtful, relatively democratic process reminiscent of the Oregon Health Plan. None of these solutions is politically palatable, as the former governor of Colorado learned after stating that the elderly (especially those with severe or terminal illness) needed to decrease their health care utilization in favor of younger Americans.

        • Thanks for your contribution. As an Australian you have summarised the US problems quite succinctly. And Impermananence makes the best point that people want to be 18 for the rest of their lives.

          I have a relative in Ukraine. He is in his mid 70’s. He still farms his plot of land with manual implements (Sickle, pitchfork, and hoe) He has some medications but that is about it. His wife died a slow death at home in the village. This is life. It has happened for millenia. They prayed for her. He accepts his loss.

          A market health care system would ensure the Billionaires live to 90, and the poor to 70. Perhaps the poor would have a higher standard of life for those 70 years if funding was diverted to other areas, or taxation lower.

          But according to Krugman, this malinvestment still contributes to GDP growth!

          GDP is rising but the Product is unpalatable!

      • You make a number of undeniably valid points about the current system, but haven’t focused on the number one driver of ridiculously high costs for medical care: the supply/demand equation. Government intervention and regulation of all aspects of the health care industry has assured there will be a small supply of every kind of healthcare product of service (How do you spell monopoly? F.D.A.!) At the same time, we have been coached from birth into believing that there is no economic price too high to pay to prolong a human life, even though it is the one quest that is ultimately 100% certain to fail. This viewpoint translates into nearly unlimited demand for healthcare services, particularly if someone else (or everyone else in the case of government controlled healthcare) has to pay for it. Obamacare, for example, requires health insurance companies to provide all policyholders with unlimited lifetime benefits (a very bad idea economically speaking). This means that once a sick person has incurred expenses greater than their deductible, they don’t care one iota what treatment costs. Unlimited demand + supply limited by design = astronomical cost.

        As you’ve said, our society must come to terms with our mortality, and recognize that the economic value of a single human life to society, is not unlimited. Perhaps if more of us were more focused on our immortal souls, and less on our mortal bodies, we could accept sickness and death as a part of life.

  10. Right on, Imp! I renew my promise to appoint you Secretary of HEW (or Surgeon General if you prefer) when I become president. Be patient — I’m not yet 85!

    [Seriously, I agree with your post].

    • P.S. Looking back, I also agree with FO-SHO’s and dwalker’s last posts. Improvement would thrive on competition (customer/user choice) and is blocked by monopoly (government). The cure is simple — but not quick or easy! But we can slow and ultimately reverse allowing the lazy, selfish, ignorant and brainwashed to sell out our rights under Constitutionally limited government. It’s called grass roots political action! Join/support a “tea party”.

      • DG, do you truly believe that the people who votes these numbskulls into office are the same people who are all of a sudden going to vote enlightened people into office instead?

        People are willing to give every g**d*** away just so they never have to grow up [and take personal responsibility for their own lives].

        The political process is a scam.

    • If you fall short of funds to keep you alive, I will try and put a hat around to fund your care. We’ll ensure your nurses are witty, and very caring. We need you on this message board for years to come!

      • Buddy w/ cc to Imp just above your Oct 10 @ 21:10:07: Much thanks, but I don’t need funds for functional or otherwise longevity — at least not yet. But there is one Australian-caused wellness concern. Your red wines are too damn good and too damn cheap to resist! Could you drink enough to eliminate export? Or let just enough through for me to have the recommended two glasses per day.

        Please see if you can get Imp and others off the ceiling long enough to consider that we don’t need the votes of ALL the numbskull supporters — only a very few, in fact. Then we can start to gradually restore integrity to education, journalism, and maybe even government, entertainment and — gasp — family! The political process is a tool/weapon — let’s not continue to disarm and let the bad guys take take over!

        • Clarification: we need “only a very few” additional votes to ADD to those of the awake and awakening good citizens. A great example: in the first “debate” millions were shocked by their first look at the real candidates free of media bias — Romney unsmeared and Obama unmasked and un-telepromptered.

        • I was just given 3 1/2 gallon bottles of home made red wine made by a 77 year old Sicilian. The best I have ever downed! 2 glasses a day for me too!

          I give him lambs, he gives me vegetables sausage and home made pasta and sauce. Like the old days. Life can not be better!

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