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Two philosophical questions

post #1 of 95
Thread Starter 
1. Are things better today than in the past? I'm talking about the long-term trend, and not the shifts that occur from year-to-year or decade-to-decade. I'm talking about today compared to 100 years ago, 500 years ago, a thousand years ago. This can be according to whatever definition of "better" you want.

2. Why? If things are better, why are they better today than in the past?
post #2 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

1. Are things better today than in the past? I'm talking about the long-term trend, and not the shifts that occur from year-to-year or decade-to-decade. I'm talking about today compared to 100 years ago, 500 years ago, a thousand years ago. This can be according to whatever definition of "better" you want.

Absolutely, positively, without question.


Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

2. Why? If things are better, why are they better today than in the past?

Free-market capitalism.

Furthermore things would be even better for more people in more places if the framework for free-market capitalism (which is really the framework for freedom)...that is a framework and rule of law, respect for and protection of both individual and property rights and the corresponding freedom to exchange without restriction. The extent that these are decreased people's well-being is also decreased. It should be noted that the destructive effect of limiting these things (i.e., framework and rule of law, respect for and protection of both individual and property rights and the corresponding freedom to exchange without restriction) often are not realized short-term.

I found more succinct description:

Quote:
Free-market capitalism "true capitalism" is based on secure private property rights, the division of labor, social cooperation, freedom of contract, freedom of association, and voluntary exchange on the free market.
post #3 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

1. Are things better today than in the past? I'm talking about the long-term trend, and not the shifts that occur from year-to-year or decade-to-decade. I'm talking about today compared to 100 years ago, 500 years ago, a thousand years ago. This can be according to whatever definition of "better" you want.

2. Why? If things are better, why are they better today than in the past?

1&2) Yes, but only in a very relative sense, for say about several percent of the world's 6,700,000,000 and counting population.

One cannot make absolute comparisons between different eras in time, one can only make relative comparisons between different eras in time.

One must also amortized all past, present, and likely future costs, otherwise known as robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Best example of that to date? Anthropogenic Global Warming.
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post #4 of 95
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

Absolutely, positively, without question.

Good. To me it's really obvious, but I wasn't certain everyone would agree.

Quote:
Free-market capitalism.

Furthermore things would be even better for more people in more places if the framework for free-market capitalism (which is really the framework for freedom)...that is a framework and rule of law, respect for and protection of both individual and property rights and the corresponding freedom to exchange without restriction. The extent that these are decreased people's well-being is also decreased. It should be noted that the destructive effect of limiting these things (i.e., framework and rule of law, respect for and protection of both individual and property rights and the corresponding freedom to exchange without restriction) often are not realized short-term.

OK.

I'm interested in what you mean by these frameworks. Certainly the market was freer from regulation during, say, the Middle Ages than today, not to mention 5000 years ago. There wasn't much in the way of regulation on what you could do if you wanted to sell people things, you could pollute the environment, you could hire basically whomever you pleased, there weren't any minimum wages, there weren't any social security taxes, etc. Not to mention that it was easier for someone with a bigger club or army to just steal your stuff and kill you. Aren't things a lot less free today, in that sense? Or are these the frameworks you're talking about?
post #5 of 95
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by franksargent View Post

1&2) Yes, but only in a very relative sense, for say about several percent of the world's 6,700,000,000 and counting population.

One cannot make absolute comparisons between different eras in time, one can only make relative comparisons between different eras in time.

Yeah, I'm asking for a relative comparison - a comparison of the distant past to the present. Which is better? Use whatever criteria you want.

I take your point about much of the world, but are things really no better today than 1000 years ago for 90+% of the world's population? My guess is that even in the average third-world country health is better, there's less violence, and there's more education, for example, even if they're much worse off compared to the wealthy countries.

Quote:
One must also amortized all past, present, and likely future costs, otherwise known as robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Best example of that to date? Anthropogenic Global Warming.

Good point. Loss of biodiversity also comes to mind.
post #6 of 95
I am not sure free market capitalism can be described accurately as the framework for freedom any more than french fries can be called freedom fries.

Things are better, but the reason for them is more fundamental than the lofty vocabulary we use to describe our frameworks for these better actions...

The end of the Malthusian agricultural cycle has cleared the way for the development of various methods for making use and growing resources. This has nothing to do with capitalism, I should say, and has more to do with the slow march of human progress which occurs regardless of economic system at about the same pace. People claim somewhat erroneously that capitalism increases innovation -- and while it may be true that in a capitalist system economic innovations are given liberties that would not be observed in other economic/social systems the same cannot be said of social innovations...etc etc etc. Indeed, I would argue that human civilization is benefited from having multiple socioeconomic systems running at the same time as no one system is the cure all...

The second major reason for our development in the last 500 years is the gradual warming of the Earth from the middle ages little ice age. This allowed the first development to occur and helped effectiveness of the third.

The third reason is a little intellectual trick, the realization that there are entities smaller than we can see and they cause diseases. This fundamental view shifted how humanity dealt with disease and led to a little more than a century of human activity which was unabated by disease (which, regardless of your socioeconomic system, is an economically wasteful event). This, of course, is synergistic with number 1 and 2... (Unfortunately, for those in the know, this little century of goodness may well be on the way out, MRSA is only the beginning of the end of the story...)

Regardless, no one socioeconomic framework could possibly account for the development of human society... Most of our growth has been either slow (natural) progress, or from natural events from which we greatly benefited...
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post #7 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

1. Are things better today than in the past? I'm talking about the long-term trend, and not the shifts that occur from year-to-year or decade-to-decade. I'm talking about today compared to 100 years ago, 500 years ago, a thousand years ago. This can be according to whatever definition of "better" you want.

Yes.

Quote:
2. Why? If things are better, why are they better today than in the past?

Science.

Not "free market capitalism."

To sslarson:
I am sure "free market capitalism" is all that a bunch of cavemen with no education, 20 year life expectancy, 50% infant mortality rate, no clean water, electricity or infrastructure need to be better off.
A silly, little and irrelevant political ideology is not what has made this world a better place.
post #8 of 95
Thread Starter 
Ha, soulcrusher you may want to edit that before you're banned.
post #9 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

Ha, soulcrusher you may want to edit that before you're banned.

edit what? ;-)
post #10 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by hardeeharhar

The end of the Malthusian agricultural cycle has cleared the way for the development of various methods for making use and growing resources. This has nothing to do with capitalism

It's interesting that both the opening questions and this post come.

This video (6-part series) is interesting in light of them.
post #11 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by soulcrusher View Post

Science

Well, except that science really emerged as a discipline to enable people to understand, deal with and transform their material world. The ultimate motivation for this comes from the desire to make the world a better place and to obtain the things people want by transforming their (private) property into more valuable forms and trading this for other things. Coupled, of course, with teh division and specialization of labor.


Quote:
Originally Posted by soulcrusher View Post

A silly, little and irrelevant political ideology is not what has made this world a better place.

I agree. Of course, that statement doesn't accurately describing free-market capitalism.
post #12 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

I'm interested in what you mean by these frameworks. Certainly the market was freer from regulation during, say, the Middle Ages than today, not to mention 5000 years ago. There wasn't much in the way of regulation on what you could do if you wanted to sell people things, you could pollute the environment, you could hire basically whomever you pleased, there weren't any minimum wages, there weren't any social security taxes, etc. Not to mention that it was easier for someone with a bigger club or army to just steal your stuff and kill you. Aren't things a lot less free today, in that sense? Or are these the frameworks you're talking about?

Yes, but they had not really established the idea of private property rights which is pretty central to the development of capitalism. In fact, where you typically see some of those things today (e.g., pollution) you see an absence of any private property rights, and instead you have so-called "public property" in which the problem of the tragedy of the commons comes into play.

Private property is probably the foundational principle. Things like the law which is established to protect private property and to ensure freedom support this foundational right.

There's certainly more to it than all of this (e.g., trade, division and specialization of labor, movement beyond barter to more efficient monetary systems, etc.) but these are really order emerging from this foundational thing.
post #13 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

(e.g., pollution) you see an absence of any private property rights, and instead you have so-called "public property" in which the problem of the tragedy of the commons comes into play.

Care to explain this?
post #14 of 95
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

Yes, but they had not really established the idea of private property rights which is pretty central to the development of capitalism. In fact, where you typically see some of those things today (e.g., pollution) you see an absence of any private property rights, and instead you have so-called "public property" in which the problem of the tragedy of the commons comes into play.

Private property is probably the foundational principle. Things like the law which is established to protect private property and to ensure freedom support this foundational right.

Wasn't property owned in the Middle Ages? It seems to me that there were property owners with private property rights, the problem is that there just weren't very many of them. Most everyone lived on some rich person's land - most people were renters, so to speak.
post #15 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

haha! This guy just said.

"The more we use of the natural resources....the more we have of them"

What a short-sighted fucking prick.

Interesting. Perhaps you'll take the time to read his book before jumping to conclusions and making any rash judgements. You should watch the video in its entirety.

Though your rapid dismissal of him is in good (though discredited) company:

Quote:
Today, many of Julian Simons views on population and natural resources are so triumphant that they are almost mainstream. No one can rationally look at the evidence today and still claim, for example, that we are running out of food or energy. But those who did not know Julian or of his writings in the 1970s and early 1980s cannot fully appreciate how viciously he was attackedfrom both the left and the right. Paul Ehrlich once snarled that Simons writings proved that "the one thing the earth will never run out of is imbeciles." A famous professor at the University of Wisconsin wrote, "Julian Simon could be dismissed as a simpleminded nut case, if his ideas werent so dangerous."

To this day I remain convinced that the endless ad hominem attacks were a result of the fact thattry as they wouldSimons critics never once succeeded in puncturing holes in his data or his theories.

That, folks, is an example of rational and scientific discourse at its finest.
post #16 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

But to think that this can go on forever - under the guise of more and more people using a resource - creates more of the resource more cheaply (especially when you're talking about mined resources FFS!) is just ridiculously dumb.

This guy - from watching the first video is a loon. He has no understanding of the concept that this system is unsustainable.

Then prove him wrong. Better minds than mine (and perhaps yours) have tried for years and failed. You have a challenge though. The data has been on his side.

In contrast, let's look at some statements from one of his chief, most vocal and highly educated critics:

Quote:
"In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish." Paul Ehrlich, Earth Day 1970

Quote:
"Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make, ... The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years." Paul Ehrlich in an interview with Peter Collier in the April 1970 of the magazine Mademoiselle.

Quote:
By...[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s." Paul Ehrlich in special Earth Day (1970) issue of the magazine Ramparts.

Quote:
"The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines . . . hundreds of millions of people (including Americans) are going to starve to death." (Population Bomb 1968)

Quote:
"Smog disasters" in 1973 might kill 200,000 people in New York and Los Angeles. (1969)

Quote:
"I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." (1969)

Quote:
"Before 1985, mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity . . . in which the accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion." (1976)

Quote:
"By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth's population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people." (1969)

Quote:
"By 1980 the United States would see its life expectancy drop to 42 because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would drop to 22.6 million." (1969)
post #17 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

Interesting. Perhaps you'll take the time to read his book before jumping to conclusions and making any rash judgements. You should watch the video in its entirety.

Though your rapid dismissal of him is in good (though discredited) company:



That, folks, is an example of rational and scientific discourse at its finest.

Was the endorsement by the Cato Institute where he was a Senior Fellow?
If so, not surprising.
post #18 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

in any of his videos, does he explain the sleigh of hand that has to occur, that once his ever increasing consumption has consumed all the (say) copper - where does the new copper come from

I don't recall if he does in the video. I may have read somewhere else that he suggested (and this could be in his book, again I don't recall for sure) that (possibly) copper could be produced derivatively. I don't have a direct link.

His ultimate theory (pardon the pun), simply put, is that the "ultimate resource" is the human mind and human ingenuity and that we have always found a way and that we alway will (when given the chance).

And to the point of copper (as only one specific example). We have had ever increasing demand (same for oil) and we haven't run out. If we do, he's wrong. Until we do, he's not.
post #19 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

Then prove him wrong. Better minds than mine (and perhaps yours) have tried for years and failed. You have a challenge though. The data has been on his side.

In contrast, let's look at some statements from one of his chief, most vocal and highly educated critics:

Is this wrong?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Lincoln_Simon
Quote:
Simon also listed numerous claims about severe environmental damage and health dangers from pollution as "definitely disproved". These included claims about lead pollution & IQ, DDT, PCBs, malathion, Agent Orange, asbestos, and the chemical contamination at Love Canal.

Definately disproved huh?
You willing to bet your health on these beliefs?
post #20 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

I don't recall if he does in the video. I may have read somewhere else that he suggested (and this could be in his book, again I don't recall for sure) that (possibly) copper could be produced derivatively. I don't have a direct link.

His ultimate theory (pardon the pun), simply put, is that the "ultimate resource" is the human mind and human ingenuity and that we have always found a way and that we alway will (when given the chance).

And to the point of copper (as only one specific example). We have had ever increasing demand (same for oil) and we haven't run out. If we do, he's wrong. Until we do, he's not.

That's not an argument and a pretty weak defense, don't you think?
post #21 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

Yeah, I'm asking for a relative comparison - a comparison of the distant past to the present. Which is better? Use whatever criteria you want.

I take your point about much of the world, but are things really no better today than 1000 years ago for 90+% of the world's population? My guess is that even in the average third-world country health is better, there's less violence, and there's more education, for example, even if they're much worse off compared to the wealthy countries.

Good point. Loss of biodiversity also comes to mind.

Our knowledge of our world and the universe has increased tremendously.

That is the only salient fact that has changed throughout time.

That this knowledge presists regardless of any economic system is also a single salient fact.

And I'll just skip the bogus "almost mainstream" ideas of some dead person.

TYVM
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post #22 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

When you say derivatively do you mean that it will be produced by nuclear synthesis?

It wasn't my claim, and I don't really know anything about copper, its related technologies or what could possibly be done to produce it derivatively. The point was that if we needed it, we'd find a way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

dont you think that is pushing the boundaries of his principle somewhat to suggest such a radical solution to the problem that there is a finite amount of resource in the Earth.

I think that the solution might not seem to radical at some point in the future. I'd say that many of the things we do today (technology-wise) would be considered radical or even inconceivable a few generations ago, so I'm unwilling to limit my imagination on the future.
post #23 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Thinking about being proven wrong.

If you take his principle that human ingenuity will solve all problems, he can never be proven wrong

Well he can be proven wrong if we run out of some resource that we need (or want) to survive.


Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

In reality - while his ideas can be true over the short term - until we invent such a device - his idea will eventually hit a brick wall and ultiimately fail.

Actually his theory has been more correct over the long term than the short term. In fact it's been in the short term we often do hit (perceived) "brick walls" but manage to go around, over, under or through them.


The fundamental problem that neo-Malthusians have is that they have precious little faith in the human ability to overcome (usually) through ingenuity. They are pessimists. And the root cause of their pessimism is this lack of faith.
post #24 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

It wasn't my claim

so I'm unwilling to limit my imagination on the future.

Not your claim but you're willing to bet the future on it.
post #25 of 95
Let me refine a couple of these statements to be a bit more scientifically correct:

Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Copper is a natural element - it is only produced in supernova.

Copper is an element that so far we know to date has been only produced in supernova.


Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

The only thing that has better properties than copper for what it is mainly used for is Silver - again produced in supernova and far more rare

Silver is an element that so far we know to date has been only produced in supernova.


Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Aluminum can be a replacement for copper in certain situations, but doesn't have as good properties for its general use.

Aluminum can be a replacement for copper in certain situations, but so far we know to date doesn't have as good properties for its general use.


Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Graphene might one day be a replacement for copper - if we work out a way to mass produce it.

There you go! You're already thinking. Probably other people are too.

You see, the point is that we haven't needed to explore these other things yet, because, well copper (for example) is cheap and readily available.
post #26 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

But if we say ran out of copper next year and there was no replacement available, you could say he was wrong.

But if then in 50 years time someone invents my nuclear-synthesis-replicator - would he still be right?

Good question. I'd say that overall he'd be right. I'd also say that the likelihood of things unfolding in that way (e.g., run out tomorrow, no replacement for 50 years) are quite low.
post #27 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

,well copper (for example) is cheap and readily available.

So cheap it's worth while for thieves to steal it.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/s...toryId=6073433
post #28 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

At about $7000 a ton in unprocessed state, it aint that cheap really!

Tell it to sslarson.

I think it's time to stop playing with him and end it.
post #29 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

Let me refine a couple of these statements to be a bit more scientifically correct:



Copper is an element that so far we know to date has been only produced in supernova.




Silver is an element that so far we know to date has been only produced in supernova.




Aluminum can be a replacement for copper in certain situations, but so far we know to date doesn't have as good properties for its general use.




There you go! You're already thinking. Probably other people are too.

You see, the point is that we haven't needed to explore these other things yet, because, well copper (for example) is cheap and readily available.

Ah, wake humankind up when we fuse anything higher up the atomic element table than say hydrogen.

But even then, I'll already be long gone.

Nature can and does produce the entire atomic chart way more efficiently than humankind will ever be capable of.

Nature is not of human origin.

TYVM
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post #30 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Well, I think we should just get back to the original questions...

In determining whether things are better today than in the past, how are we going to normalise the results to get a fair and meaningful comparison - and what criteria are we using?

Is the US national debt better today now than in the past?

It's all relative to the times really.
post #31 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Personally, to raise those sort of critiques, leads me to wonder whether im having a conversation with a Young-Earther!

Actually, I needed to add the word "controlled" since we already have the H-Bomb.

Which I guess we do control, in the sense of when one of them goes BOOM!

I guess we would first have to invent the Helium Bomb, then the Lithium Bomb, then the Beryllium Bomb, ...

You get the picture.
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post #32 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

At about $7000 a ton in unprocessed state, it aint that cheap really!

I meant that it is cheap relative to the alternatives being suggested. The point was (and is) that there isn't any rational point in pursuing those other methods because simply mining natural copper is still cheapest approach comparatively.

I thought my meaning was clear in the context. Sorry if it wasn't.
post #33 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

There has never been a time in human history so unbalanced

That might be true. However, at the times when things were more "balance" they were balanced at a much lower level of well being for everyone.

Another way of saying this is that we can choose to all be unequally rich or we can choose to be equally poor.
post #34 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

yes, but I didn't mean to imply i thought you were the young earther...

Fully understood the first time around.

But thanks for that reinforcement anyway.
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post #35 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Well, I think we should just get back to the original questions...

In determining whether things are better today than in the past, how are we going to normalise the results to get a fair and meaningful comparison - and what criteria are we using?

Why don't you simply propose a hypothesis about something you think is worse and then we can try to determine if the hypothesis is correct or not*.

*We might also want to determine whether the criteria you suggest is a meaningful or useful measurement of "better-ness" or "worse-ness".


Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Is the US national debt better today now than in the past?

Worse. But if we're going to have a discussion about the effects of massive government then perhaps we should start a new thread.
post #36 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Thats why I can never be a supply-side Republican.

The essence of humanity is not about profit and margin.

Huh? You totally lost me here. I haven't said anything (and I don't see anyone else who has either) about "supply side this" or "supply side that" or Republicanism or profit and margin. This statement seems out of left field to me.
post #37 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by sslarson View Post

That might be true. However, at the times when things were more "balance" they were balanced at a much lower level of well being for everyone.

Another way of saying this is that we can choose to all be unequally rich or we can choose to be equally poor.

Quantitatively define "well being" in a fully non-dimensional sense.

You can't. Not meaning you personally, because no one can define the undefinable.
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post #38 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

Is quality of life as good as can be expected given what is possible of the era in regards to quality of life.

I don't understand what you mean.

Are you asking if life as good as it could be given the current resources, knowledge and available technology? In other words are we currently living up to our fullest potential at this point in history? How do we determine that exactly? It's a fair question but it's quite a different one that the original poster presented.

I'd probably say (guess) that we are not. And if we want to discuss this question and get into why we're not (living up to our fullest potential), that would be fun too.
post #39 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by dollarcollapse View Post

I already have made a suggestion.

Is quality of life as good as can be expected given what is possible of the era in regards to quality of life?

Thats my suggestion for continuing the discussion in a meaningful way.

In that regard, no. Life will never be as good for the common good as it could otherwise be, given innate species selfishness.
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post #40 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

1. Are things better today than in the past? I'm talking about the long-term trend, and not the shifts that occur from year-to-year or decade-to-decade. I'm talking about today compared to 100 years ago, 500 years ago, a thousand years ago. This can be according to whatever definition of "better" you want.

Yes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BRussell View Post

2. Why? If things are better, why are they better today than in the past?

Anti-discrimination statutes such as:
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964 (amended in '91) (CRA)
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Fair Housing Act (FHA)

And so on.
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