Governments must recapture some of the resources that are wasted in this highly financialized, highly unequal, highly concentrated world to fund a genuine Green New Deal. Kozul-Wright joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news podcast.
Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast, and please don’t forget there is a
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So this is the last segment of a series we’ve been doing on the report titled ‘From Global
Pandemic to Prosperity for All: Avoiding Another Lost Decade,’ that’s produced by the United
Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and this is its 2020 report. Now joining us
from Geneva to continue our conversation is the principal author of the report, Richard
Kozul-Wright. He’s the director division of Globalization and Development Strategies at
UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. There’s a lot of words
going on here. He’s the author of ‘Transforming Economies: Making Industrial Policy Work
for Growth, Jobs, and Development.’ Thanks for joining me, Richard.
Nice to be back, Paul. We love acronyms in the United Nations. That’s part of our problem.
Yeah, I should just stick with the UNCTAD, but I have to explain what UNCTAD is. At any
rate, if you’re listening or you’re just joining us, it probably would be good to go back and
start from the first part of the series as we work our way through the report. We’re now at the
end, and we’re going to start talking about solutions and the sections titled ‘The Great
Escape’; there is a couple of parts to it. But the theme is to embrace bold ideas. So, Richard,
start with that. What are the bold ideas presented in the report about what should be done
about the current crisis?
Just to add a little context, just before this chapter, you ended the previous section with this:
“The economic damages from rigging the rules of the game are not the end of the problem.
The concentration of economic power is politically corrosive. National constitutions instruct
legislatures to make and enforce the same rules for everyone, whether operating within or
without a corporation. The response to the global financial crisis suggested otherwise. Banks
were bailed out and austerity-hit jobs, wages, public services, while financial asset holders
made further gains from the recovery.”
So, Richard, when you make the proposals of what should be done, obviously you’re saying,
well, let’s not do that. Because pre-pandemic, as you’ve argued in the course of our
conversations and as you said in the report, pre-pandemic, the global economy was already;
I don’t know if you could say the crisis is the problem, but on the verge of one because of a
growing gap in incomes and the enormous growth in inequality. So what should be done?
You know, what we argued was that as a result of this failure to deal properly with the
aftermath of the global financial crisis, we had this set of pre-existing conditions that were
there before COVID struck but have been, in many respects, worsened and exaggerated by
the current crisis. This is honestly the obvious one of inequality; as you mentioned, this is the
one that people obviously talk about a lot. The very high levels of debt, not just public debt,
but private debt and debt of households and students and corporations, declining public
services, very weak public investment across most of the developed world, but also private
investment as being pretty static for a lot of this period.
Behind this kind of growing power of the corporate sector, not just finance, but with finance
somehow being typical of this kind of world of rent-seeking behavior of repressed wages and
weak aggregate demand. These are the pre-existing conditions that have been exposed and
exaggerated by COVID-19. Any strategy, at least as we understand it, does recover better or
builds back better in the language of the day, has not only to deal with the immediate
consequences of COVID-19 but if it’s going to be effective, has to at the same time deal with
these pre-existing problems that survived beyond 2009-2010.
When we look at the kind of measures that we think are necessary, particularly in the
developed world, but also in the developing world. That distinction we’re going to have to talk
about because there are obvious differences between developed and developing countries
and developing countries that are particularly concerned about much of this.
We do believe very strongly that an active macroeconomic policy has a critical role in terms
of responding to the current situation. As we’ve argued before, a much more prolonged fiscal
expansion to complement unorthodox monetary policy that has to be part of the policy
package with a very strong emphasis on employment creation and repairing social services.
We talk a lot in the report about the need to strengthen the CARE economy as a central
component of that. That’s in the context of the health pandemic we’re going through. A
particular emphasis on public investment, infrastructure, repairing, in the case of advanced
economies, infrastructure that has been degraded over decades. But also and arguably,
more importantly, this need to use public investment to shift the energy mix away from
carbon fuels to renewables of one kind or another.
So, I think most people in one way or another believe that’s a fairly familiar set of policies.
People argue about the dimensions. I think anyone in the progressive tradition will be
pushing that. We want to go beyond that by insisting, for example, that you can’t do the
kinds of transition that we’re talking about and build resilience without seeing some fairly
significant structural changes in the economy. You need an industrial policy to raise
productivity. Productivity has been sluggish across the Western world for some time now. So
you’re going to need an industrial policy to be able to make the necessary shifts into higher
productivity sectors and to boost skills in those sectors.
So we make a big pitch for an industrial policy as part of a just and green transition.
Obviously, a very strong pitch for the need for progressive tax reforms, not only of high
wealth individuals but also of corporations moving away from indirect taxes, which tend to be
highly regressive. Towards direct taxation of those that are in a position to be able to pay
and should be paying.
I think critically for us, regulation of the financial sector. We’ve constantly made the argument
that you can’t have a progressive economic policy in a world where footloose capital is able
to dictate the kind of pace and policy of economic change. The need for regulation, cutting
down, not only dealing with banks in a more effective way than what was done after 2009
but in particular of the shadow banking sector that has mushroomed over the course of the
last decade: private equity, insurance companies, etc.
It’s that combination of reflation, redistribution, and regulation that we associate with the
New Deal, and we think needs to be revived and stoked in response to COVID-19 with a
particular focus on addressing these pre-existing conditions that are holding back a more
inclusive and sustainable future.
One of the recommendations you make is, I’ve been told, something that the corporate elite,
the finance sector is wildly opposed to. That’s a wealth tax. You write, “in light of the further
increase in inequality resulting from the crisis, the case for a wealth tax seems irrefutable.”
I once asked a friend who knows a lot of the Wall Street people what they thought of
Sanders and Warren. I asked if they had to choose between a Warren or Sanders and a
Trumpist kind of authoritarianism, even some people use the word fascism. What would they
choose? And he says, well, if Warren and Sanders are serious about a wealth tax, they
choose a Trump or Trump type.
The wealth tax, though, isn’t it the only way to get at the serious money. So you guys must
have talked about whether to include this or not and concluded you would. So what was your
thinking on the issue that the wealth tax seems irrefutable?
When we talk about inequality, people talk about the one percent versus the 99 percent.
There is usually a focus on household incomes, and we know the shifts that have taken
place in that area over the last three or four decades, although not so much over the last
couple of decades. The real shift in income inequality occurred in the 80s and the 90s in
most advanced economies. We usually pan that out with a discussion of functional income
and the shift and the relationship between wages and profits, which most conventional
economics and most conventional policymakers tend to ignore. Although there’s been a
relentless decline in the wage share in most advanced economies, not all, but most
advanced economies. That is quite significant over the last three or four decades. This is why we think the focus on wages and how to strengthen wages is particularly important
when it comes to the redistribution story.
At the same time, because of the nature of 21st-century capitalism, which is driven by
incessant financial dealmaking and asset price rises. The degrees of wealth inequality now
have just become obscene to a point that we haven’t really seen since the post-war era, and
arguably some people would say even before that. So tackling that problem seems to be an
obvious part of the economics of inequality.
It goes back to the point that you made about this kind of vicious circle between economic
power and wealth and political power and influence. There’s a term that, funnily enough, a
Chicago economist Zingales coined, which we do like, which is to refer to this relationship,
this incestuous relationship between economic and political power as a Medici vicious circle,
the conjuring of the images of 15th-16th century Florence and the Italian renaissance.
This accumulation of wealth of assets and rising asset prices, which lies behind that, it
seems to be intimately connected with the ability to capture political power. The idea of
Zingales Chicago based economist, of a Medici vicious circle kind of drawing on the
Florentin state of the 14th-15th century, where you had this kind of powerful interlocking of
economic and financial wealth, seems to describe very closely the state of affairs in the 21st-
We know this. Your colleagues, like Tom Ferguson, have shown the extent to which politics
and policymaking have been captured by small elites in the United States. It applies beyond
the United States, too. Tackling not just the economic side of it but the political side of that
inequality story strikes us as being central to rebalancing the body politic and being able to
forge a more kind of inclusive and sustainable future.
So in that context, how you deal with this massive accumulation of wealth and how you
begin to tackle that is central. We can see it in the pandemic. The recent figure for the
growing wealth of U.S. billionaires since COVID-19 hit is something like $840 billion; I think
that was a figure I saw from the Institute for Policy Studies. In a time when economies are
collapsing, these people’s wealth has mushroomed, and it’s based upon the ability of asset
prices to sustain themselves during this crisis.
I think there used to be, as the American state and the post-World War, two European states
emerged and matured, and I guess you could say FDR in the 30s was even the best
representative of what I’m about to say. In the United States, the role of government and the
state is to look after the longer-term systemic interests of capitalism and the capitalist class
and the elites, which means there has to be some compromise with working people for the
sake of the system. With FDR’s New Deal clearly, he didn’t want the United States to
gravitate towards socialism. The Soviet Union, for better or worse, looked like it had full
employment and so on. There was pressure that not to go towards fascism; there had to be
a kind of New Deal.
The idea that the state and government looked after the long-term class interests of the
elites seemed to get more and more eroded post-World War Two. To the point where, as
you get into the 1990s, it’s considered naive. That finance, the corporate sector, and thus
their political representatives should be worried about anything other than the short term
return for finance in the corporate sector. I don’t think we should even talk about these two
things as separate in the sense that, if you look at who owns the corporate sector, it’s mostly
financial institutions. In almost every case, financial institutions, either directly own or
through asset managers like BlackRock, indirectly owned, but do control the shares of all the
big publicly owned companies. I don’t even think you can talk about a separate corporate
and finance sector anymore.
My main point is that Trump is like the culmination of this, the most banal, self-serving,
narrow self-interest in the state itself. Forget the state playing the role of government and
doing what’s good for the system.
There’s always been that argument in progressive forces that there is a conflict between kind
of industrial capitalist interests and financial capitalism interest. There is a long-standing
debate about that. I think that’s probably true still in many developing countries, that potential
conflict between industrial capital and finance capital. I think you’re right; one of the features
of this financialization process has been the much greater coincidence of interest between
what we think of as the financial sector and industrial capital in its modern forms. Part of that
is the kind of crisscrossing of ownership that you’ve described, but also the evolution of
industrial capital in which things like brands and monopoly positions, intellectual property
rights have become the basis on which profit-making is made in pharmaceutical sectors and
I think it’s true that the interest between industrial and finance capital has become much
more intertwined in the advanced economies under this world of hyper globalization,
although I think it’s probably less true in much of the developing world.
So if the state governments in most of the advanced capitalist countries and certainly most
exaggerated in the United States, it’s not just that it’s hard to tell the difference between
corporate and financial interest. It’s hard to find some space between corporate/financial
interest in the government anymore.
It’s not like politics in the United States was ever for a single day, not dominated by the
interests of the elites. But as the state matured, and particularly under FDR, there was a role
carved out for the state to make sure the system survived. One of the threats to the system
was a grossly exaggerated inequality. FDR with the New Deal tried to address that.
To a large extent, that kind of consciousness seems to be so subordinate in the elites; it’s
practically marginal. So when you talk about what kind of reforms are possible in terms of
what you’ve proposed, how do you see that kind of playing out? Do you see signs, even
amongst the elites themselves, that they actually need a state? And I’m talking more about
the United States, because I think at least in some countries of Europe, maybe they get it a
little more. Maybe that’s an illusion. I don’t know. But that the government needs to play a
kind of modifying role and not just be there to serve a banquet to finance.
In that sense, I think that is the greatest challenge in terms of how it’s possible to forge
progressive alliances that can push this kind of agenda against what appears to be such a
concentrated degree of economic wealth and political power.
When you look at the New Deal, the people in the New Deal, it included people like Marriner
S. Eccles, who was himself a kind of banker. Roosevelt himself and Morgenthau’s’ treasury
secretary came from that patrician class of upstate New York or wherever they were. So you
don’t really see many of those types around today. I think that’s certainly the case.
There’s clearly a growing opposition within the elite to the concentration of power, for
example, in digital cooperation. So these digital giants have kind of shifted from being
paragons of virtue and a bountiful future to being problems.
So you’ll get something like the Financial Times, to some extent a mouthpiece of the
establishment, worrying extensively about this concentration of power in the digital platforms.
In the United States, this issue of the concentration of power has clearly become a cross-
party issue. You’ve got people like Rubio worrying about these kinds of issues. There are
clear signs that within the establishment that things have gone too far.
Let me just add to what I said, which is the big problem right now is what the hell’s the
alternative? When you put in the time frame of the climate crisis, there is just no sign of a
kind of really conscious, progressive national people’s movement in any country I look at that
can actually get position to actually get elected and run one of the major countries or minor
countries for that matter.
Like if some of these kinds of people in the elites don’t emerge who get the gravity of the
crisis in a Rooseveltian way, they are only going to do it to save capitalism. But if they can
deal with the climate crisis, hoping to save capitalism along the way, well, good on them.
We are all in mixed economies here. All the major capitalist countries and maybe every
country in the world, more or less, is a mixed economy, even Cuba these days. You have socialistic aspects of the economy and capitalistic private aspects. In most countries, private
capitalists are certainly dominant. In China, maybe it’s a little different, and it’s somewhat
unique and more complicated. But my point is, in the United States and all the other Western
capitalist countries, I don’t see how you deal with the climate crisis without an enormous
strengthening of the socialistic characteristics of the economy, which will necessarily include
some kind of democratization and people’s movement and or some sections of the elites that
get that that’s the only way out of this.
Roosevelt, as I said, was out to save capitalism, talked about the importance of public
ownership. When a sector of the economy is vital and the private interests that are operating
in that sector either can’t make it affordable or can’t run it properly or kind of blackmail the
society with it, then they should be nationalized. They should be publicly owned.
One of the critiques of the UNCTAD report is that you don’t raise that in this report. Let me
just read you a guy who writes critically of UNCTAD. A guy named Michael Roberts, who
used to work in finance, in London. He wrote, “UNCTADs structural policies boiled down to
more regulation of monopolies and banks but not taking them over.” He says, “UNCTAD
presents a whole range of green measures to curb and control global warming. But there’s
no call for public ownership of the fossil fuel industries, and they’re phasing out”.
So my question, doesn’t this issue of public ownership need to be raised in the way
Roosevelt raised it? Even within the capitalist framework? I would just add to that there’s no
way to counter the power of the big financial institutions. I don’t think it can be done through
regulation. They just won’t allow it to happen. So you wind up needing public banking on a
scale that breaks the blackmail. And also, this issue of fossil fuel, I don’t know how you
phase out fossil fuel if you don’t seriously weaken them, which is essentially buy them.
I think these are the big questions. But just step back a bit, though. It’s interesting that you
would use the term mixed economy. When I was growing up a long time ago, in the 70s, the
use of the term mixed economy was prevalent everywhere. Most people would be
comfortable referring to advanced capitalist economies as mixed economies. The term
mixed economy has essentially disappeared from the lexicon of discussions about modern
economies. People don’t use that term anymore. We’ve moved away from that kind of
Rooseveltian idea. I don’t think the U.S., although it was part of the discussion in the U.S.,
there was very little public ownership in the New Deal agenda, in the way that we had in the
United Kingdom with the nationalization of the utilities in the coal mines, etc.
I know it was nothing compared to the U.K., and I’m no expert on this, but there was a fight
over the electrical sector and that the electrical companies were monopolizing things, and
they were extorting very high fees for electricity and so on.
So Roosevelt really started pushing public ownership, and I think the Hoover Dam was an
example of it. But never on the scale of the U.K. or even Canada, for that matter.
I think it’s true that Hoover used those kinds of ideas that were part of the New Deal in the
discussion in the run-up to the election of 32 to brandish Roosevelt as a closet Bolshevik,
which you hear in the election discussions to this day. It was not central to the U.S. New
Deal. I still think it’s true that the regulatory changes and the strengthening of organized
labor, which were clearly central to Roosevelt’s New Deal, did shift the economic structures
towards this idea of a mixed economy absent the role of public ownership. It’s not that public
ownership was a great success in the United Kingdom, as we know.
That’s not to say that I do think that ownership questions are critical. I do think there’s a very
strong case to be made for public ownership and particularly public ownership of large parts
of the financial sector. If you think of finance as a utility, as some people do, then the best
way to deal with that is through public ownership. After all, Central banks remain either
directly or indirectly public institutions. Part of the problem is that they’ve been captured by
financial interests. As you know, other parts of the state structures have been captured by
private interests in various ways.
But I still think there’s a discussion to be had. There’s a very important discussion to be had
about non-state forms of progressive ownership. The use of cooperatives and something
we’ve talked about in previous reports as being an alternative form of organizing production;
that I think should be in the mix of discussions of structural reforms.
I don’t think we rule those out of the discussion. I think you have to have a serious
discussion about the ways in which publicly owned enterprises have not been very
successful in terms of delivering the services or, indeed, the product in the sectors that the
public ownership takes hold. There’s a serious discussion to be had there, but I don’t think
we’d rule out public ownership as part of a progressive strategy. I just think it should be
nestled in ultimately with issues around redistribution and regulation, where I suspect, at
least in the current context, it’s probably easier to get traction in the Western world than
discussing those issues.
There are these issues of sovereign wealth funds. People like Yanis Varoufakis have put
forward serious ideas about the way in which you can shift ownership patterns by using a
certain amount of profits to be channeled into certain types of ownership schemes. These
should be part of the discussion. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
You talk about a Marshall Plan for global health recovery. What would that look like?
I mean, this is where we begin to shift away from issues, the kind of strategies of advanced
economies to the particular problems of developing countries. We would argue, and we are
strong advocates of a Green New Deal type strategy to address the problems around
economic injustice and environmental breakdown. That’s a strategy that we would want to
push and promote.
The policy ingredients of the Green New Deal: expansionary macroeconomic policy, the
strong use of public investment, use of public banks, progressive taxation, industrial policy,
the ingredients of a Green New Deal, I think policy ingredients at least are pretty much the
same. The problem for developing countries is that they have these long-standing and yet
unresolved development problems that most developed countries no longer face. For
example, the problems of the informality of their workforce, lack of diversification of their
economies, extreme vulnerability to external shocks, whether natural or financial. This puts
developing countries in a particularly difficult position when it comes to designing the kinds of
policies that can address economic and environmental challenges.
UNCTAD was set up on the grounds that these countries require supportive international
action, financial, technological, technical support if they are going to be able to kind of put
together the policy packages that can deliver on these various economic, social,
That remains as true today as it did back in 1964 when UNCTAD was established when the
world economy was less financialized. They were much more dependent on commodities,
which were highly rigged markets in favor of advanced economies, etc.. We would argue the
financialization has made the lives of many developing countries all the more difficult: piling
up the debt, particularly short-term debt, vulnerability to financial shocks of one kind or
another, capital flight, major gyrations in their exchange rates, etc.
In the world that we see now, we believe that the multilateral system that has evolved post-
1980 has essentially evolved against the interests of most, not all, of course, but most
developing countries. When it comes to responding to the COVID-19 shock, where the
health shock had been compounded by a very predictable set of economic shocks that we
saw hit developing countries immediately after the pandemic began in March and April, the
multilateral system, particularly the multilateral financial institutions, have failed abysmally to
provide the kind of support that people like Roosevelt and Keynes and Harry Dexter White
thought that the multilateralists they were putting into place 75 years ago would be designed
Even though developing countries are facing these huge debt problems, many of them at the
moment, the kinds of things that are being offered by the G20 and the IMF and World Bank
are just insignificant compared to the financial stresses that many of these countries are now
facing. So we then go back, as we’ve done with the New Deal, to the kind of thinking that
was present back in the late 40s about how you can provide finance to build back better for
countries under serious financial difficulties.
The classic case is the Marshall Plan, of course, but aimed differently as it was aimed at
other advanced economies. In the case of the original Marshall Plan, something like one
percent of U.S. GDP was channeled to Europe on an annual basis between 1948 and 1952
that put these countries back on their feet.
When we wind the clock forward 75 years, developed countries who had promised to give
developing countries 0.7 percent of their GDP in the form of overseas development
assistance for decades have never been able to push that figure above 0.3 percent on
average. There are exceptions. The Scandinavian countries, for example, have tended to
meet that target. We need to see a multilateral system that delivers on the promises on
which it was set up, which is to provide predictable, stable, cheap, long term finances,
possibly in the form of grants to developing countries, particularly in the face of the kind of
severe shock that they are now facing as a consequence not only of the health pandemic but
of the response of the advanced economies through lockdown to closing down export
markets, stopping remittances, etc.
The idea of a global Marshall Plan really goes back to that original intent of the multilateral
system and tries to link it to the particular challenges facing developing countries today.
The argument for doing so is the same argument of post-World War Two, which was that
reviving the global economy is good for all countries on the globe, including the United
States. Although given nationalist fervor, not just from the Trump side, but even Biden
pushing everything ‘buy’ American that’s going to be his big campaign promise, seems to be
going the other way.
Let me end by asking you maybe the biggest question in some ways, throughout the report,
there are references that whatever policy and reform one’s talking about, it needs to take
into account and be connected to policies that deal with the climate crisis.
There seems like there’s this pretty awful paradox here. When you look at anything possible
through market mechanisms and most government policy these days, even the
recommendations of the Biden campaign on climate rely on either carbon capture and
market mechanisms. Whether it’s a tax on carbon or cap and trade policies and such,
whereas the need, if one is going to meet any of the benchmarks set by scientists of not
crossing 1.5 °C global warming, which now I don’t think there’s much doubt we’re going to
cross, but certainly not hitting 2°C although the course we’re on, I don’t know how we don’t
All that being said, there needs to be serious government intervention, serious regulation,
serious government investment in green infrastructure, and dealing with phasing out fossil
fuel, not just carbon capture, which seems so untested, which leads to very socialistic
Let’s go back to this mixed economy discussion. It means greatly shifting the balance from
the private sector, which is in control, to a far more socialized economy, which to quote
Bernie Sanders requires some kind of political revolution. How do you see this playing out?
Because we don’t have much time.
The language of the mixed economy right back to the end of the Second World War was not
a language of socialism. It was in the way you described it. Given the extreme shift in most
advanced economies to this kind of adulation and infatuation with markets, that anything that
involves the state coming back in, which is you’re right, everything we say involves the state
coming back. In a significant way, that’s absolutely inevitable; it’s somehow immediately
That’s a sad reflection of the way in which advanced capitalist economies have evolved over
the last four decades—that kind of neoliberal thinking.
We make the argument that a shift to public investment of two to three, arguably, I would
argue more than four percent a year over the next decade is the minimum that we need to
be able to shift, certainly the energy mix, to meet the kinds of targets that have been set by
Paris. We don’t believe that private finance can do that job. There’s no evidence that we see
this. Within my world of multilateral institutions, the whole language is about how you get
private finance to deliver on these public goods; climate being the most pressing one, but
other public goods, including public services as well.
There’s no evidence to back this kind of story up, and the various attempts to do it through
public, private partnerships and unblended finance techniques, in many respects, make the
situation worse rather than better.
So the big challenge then is, well, how can you finance a big public investment push of the
kind that we are talking about? To some extent, the argument we heard immediately after
the great financial crisis, where’s the money? Governments don’t have the money for this
kind of stuff. To some extent, our friends in the Modern Monetary Theory tradition have
begun to erode that kind of logic. And certainly the behavior of governments in response to
the COVID-19 and, as well as before, in response to the global financial crisis, have to some
extent undermined the idea that governments don’t have access to money. But if you look at
others, in a funny way, all you’re arguing for is a return to the tax structure in the United
States that Richard Nixon was comfortable with.
If you simply went back to that kind of tax structure, you would generate trillions of dollars,
additional dollars available to government spending. And then you go into these issues of
stuff that you mentioned before. The IMF estimates that fossil fuel subsidies around the
world can be upwards of half a trillion dollars. Huge subsidies to the agricultural sector,
which itself is a major contributor to warming temperatures.
So it does require governments to essentially recapture some of the resources that we would
see are being wasted in this highly financialized, highly unequal, highly concentrated world
to be able to fund the kind of transition, public investments, retraining, etc., that we think are
the basis of a genuine Green New Deal. And to do that at a global level would also mean
ensuring that resources of a similar nature were being made available to developing
countries as well.
A lot of what we say when we look at the numbers are based upon experiences in countries
in the not too distant past. The kind of investment push that we’ve modeled in some of our
work is based upon numbers from the 1990s.
It’s not like it’s this kind of impossible dream that we’re talking about. It’s one that we think is
based upon reasonably sensible, realistic parameters that we have seen in our own
Thanks very much for joining us, Richard.
Thanks for having me, Paul. Pleasure.
And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news podcast. And again, please don’t forget, at
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