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I saw the Globe and Mail article yesterday. I chuckled to myself when I saw "Dene Rogers, president and CEO of Sears Canada, saw an increase in his compensation of 209 per cent. He earned $3.5-million..." because I thought "wow, that's almost as much as Vesa Toskala!"

In all seriousness, though, the huge jumps in the 99.99% group seems to occur right around the same time NHL salaries exploded. I wonder how many of the people in this group are athletes (or alimony collecting ex-spouses?)

Probably quite a few. After all, 0.01% of 16m files works out to only 1600 people. How many of those are hockey players? How many Canadians playing in the US file here?

What is the income at each breakpoint? That might give us a better sense of what levels of income we're talking about.

They're in that last table.

Further demonstrating the need for an additional tax bracket for insanely high income earners.

Apologies. Perhaps an additional tax bracket at somewhere around $1 million might make sense. I think it might be just as fruitful to examine what 'loopholes' people in this group are using to shield income from taxes, whether it's holding companies, off-shore accounts, etc.

More importantly, the Czechs continue to dominate the world cup, and yet have rising wage shares.

"Further demonstrating the need for an additional tax bracket for insanely high income earners."

Serious question:

The marginal income tax rate for those earning $127,021 in Ontario is 46.41%. How high should the marginal tax rate for high income earners be?

I could see increases to 50 - 55% being manageable. Like I said, I'd be curious to see whether high income earners are actually paying anything like a 46% marginal rate.

Andrew,

Based on these numbers, the insanely rich aren't using that many loopholes to shield income from taxes, since all the data is based on reported income for tax purposes. And using offshore accounts or holding companys aren't particularly effective methods for shielding income for tax purposes (since offshore accounts are subject to a whole whack of anti-avoidance rules and holding companys are typically subject to more or less the same tax rate as people in the top marginal tax bracket - the Tax Act has tightened up a lot since the 1960s so there really aren't that many "loopholes"). It is interesting that much of the growth in income of the top 1% has come in the form of eageincome which is practically impossible to hide (because employers have reporting and withholding obligations in the tax system and, at least for large public companies, often have public disclosure obligations for their senior CEOs). There are some tax advantaged ways of earning "wages" (stock-options, for example), but those are explicitly permitted under the Tax Act.

"Like I said, I'd be curious to see whether high income earners are actually paying anything like a 46% marginal rate."

You'd be surprised. AS I noted earlier, the big increase in income of the truly rich has come in the form of wage income which doesn't provide a whole lot of opportunity for reducings taxes(stock options are the one exception, although to get the preferential tax rate on those entails a degree of risk - over the past few years a lot of people have found themselves with worthless stock options as share prices have fallen). In some cases, people can try to characterize themselves as consultants or independent contractors (which at least allows them to deduct expenses - often dodgy ones) but even then, they're still subject to the top marginal rates on whatever their income turns out to be.

It is true that the top marginal tax rate on certain forms of investment income (capital gains and dividends) are lower than 46% (in Ontario roughly 23% and 26%, respectively) those lower tax rates reflect important policy considerations. In the case of the lower rate on capital gains, that reflects, in part, the fact that we tax nominal gains rather than real ones, and the lower tax rate on dividends reflects the reality that income is already taxed once at the corporate level (the integrated corporate tax rate, once you take into account tax at the corporate and shareholder level is pretty close to 46%).

I do find the suggestion that we add a top marginal tax rate of 50% to be somewhat odd, though, given your belief that high-income earners are generally not paying tax at the existing top marginal rate. If that were the case (and it certainly hasn't been what I've observed), adding an extra (and higher) tax bracket won't do any good, it may just encourage those who currently pay taxes to find some other way to avoid it). In fact, in that scenario, the ideal solution might be to add a new, lower, top marginal rate. With a lower top marginal tax rate you'd induce high income earners who would otherwise engage in all sorts of sketchy (and expensive to implement) schemes to avoid taxes to just pay up and leave it at that. In fact, I seem to recall somewhere there being a rather famous public finance paper which suggested that the ideal tax system, in terms of raising revenue, was one with a very low marginal rate on the very richest person (I think it was Diamond, but it's been years since I read it.

Is this a standard diminishing returns argument?

If the top .001% are paid 200K, then Canada wins the world cup 10% of the time. If they are paid 400K, then that bumps up to 12%. But additional increases do not result in additional medals, and the Czechs continue to dominate.

According that logic, the top marginal rates, if the brackets are sufficiently high, could be 90%, with no further hits to productivity, right?

And why wouldn't the same principle, so clearly demonstrated by world cup performance (in which Czechs continue to outperform), apply to other superstar fields?

Bob: I was making no specific allegations about tax avoidance (both legitimate and illicit), only wondering whether it is an issue. You certainly hear stories, but logically, as you say, wage income would be largely taxed at the full marginal rate. Things I can think of might be expense accounts and other perks that may not be reported as taxable benefits. Perhaps a business meeting in a sunny locale. Who knows. I haven't seen any stats on what actually average tax rate is paid by the wealthy, and then that relies on accurate reporting of all investment income.

"So the main thing to come away with is that the trend to higher income shares a the very top of the income distribution - particularly in the top 0.5% - is still ongoing."

I think this is exactly what the central bankers, most economists, and the rich want. I believe Micheal Hudson calls it neofeudalism.

Neofeudalism would be where the very, very few rich own all the currency and assets (including currency denominated debt) and everyone else constantly rents from them. That means everyone else can never retire.

EDIT: Michael Hudson

Mike Moffatt said: "Serious question:

The marginal income tax rate for those earning $127,021 in Ontario is 46.41%. How high should the marginal tax rate for high income earners be?"

I would say at some point between 1 million and 5 million, it should be at least 80%, preferably 100%. Make it include all types of income.

Mike Moffatt said: "In all seriousness, though, the huge jumps in the 99.99% group seems to occur right around the same time NHL salaries exploded. I wonder how many of the people in this group are athletes (or alimony collecting ex-spouses?)"

And just how "productive" are these people?

"So the main thing to come away with is that the trend to higher income shares a the very top of the income distribution - particularly in the top 0.5% - is still ongoing."

I believe this is happening in most countries.

Speaking of something close to neofeudalism, here is this:

https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/money/revealed-the-home-loan-that-could-save-you-a-fortune/story-e6fredkc-1225870019522

It starts with "HOMEBUYERS are to be offered NEVER-ENDING (my emphasis) mortgages in a bid to overcome Australia's affordability crisis."

On the 'is it hockey players driving the top .01%'question - my resident expert pointed out that hockey players are paid in US dollars.

I wonder how many others in that top .01% have US dollar contracts and how much of the rise in their shares can be attributed to changes in exchange rates?

Some back of the envelope calculations suggest hockey players could matter. 6 Cdn NHL teams*15 to 20 players right at the top=90 to 120 people - that's more than 5% of that top .01%. (https://www.nhlnumbers.com/ is a web site with salary info).

My ballpark guess-timate of the number of Cdn players on US teams paying Cdn income taxes: 0.

What I don't know but perhaps Bob Smith might is how common deferred compensation arrangements are for professional athletes. They aren't particular advantageous from a tax point of view, I don't think, because the marginal tax rate is effectively flat after a couple of hundred thousand dollars. But there may be other reasons for athletes/clubs to adopt them. A substantial amount of deferred compensation would put some hockey players below the 0.01% of the income distribution.

Andrew,

The tax treatment of expense accounts and perks are typically not very favourable. Basically, anything that smacks of providing a personal benefit rather than a business purpose is liable to be included in the employees income and taxed (we saw this in the city of Toronto last week where the CRA announced that it would be reassessing a whole whack of civil servants for free parking provided by their employer). Moreover, even where they have a business purpose, food and entertainment expenses are only deductible at a 50% rate by the company (assuming that they are incurred for a business purpose), so they're a fairly inefficient way of compensating employees. There's always a bit of a grey area between what's a legitimate business expense and what's a employee benefit (liable to tax) but, it's not a huge grey area.

Frances,
At least in Canada, the ability to arrange for deferred compensation schemes is limited by various provisions of the Tax Act which prevent the deferral of income into future years in most circumstances (there are exceptions, for example, for teachers who take, for example 3 years of salary over 4 years and take a year's sabatical or for various incentive compensation schemes, although I doubt those would work for athletes). It has been suggested taht some of the long-term contracts for aging athletes are intended as a form of deferred compensation scheme on the theory it spreads out their income over more years (instead of earning very high income in their peak years, and lower incomes as they get older). In practice, though, I think that's driven more by salary cap considerations (a lower salary up front means the team can put better players around them) than tax considerations because, as you say, once you get over that $126k threshold, there isn't much tax savings.

Also, I would be very surprised if Canadian players on US teams didn't pay a significant amount of Canadian tax. First, taxes are imposed where you're ordinarily resident. I suppose if you live full time in the US, you might be considered to be ordinarily resident there, but then again, in that case are you really "Canadian"? To the extent that Canadian players actually live in Canada and have their families here, they would pay Canadian income taxes. And truth be told, unless you live in Texas (and what self-respecting hockey player would?) US personal income tax rates are often not much more favourable than Canadian ones. For example, once you take into account state taxes, the top margina rate in the US can be much higher than in Canada (in New York state, for example, it's close to, if not more than, 50%). It's true that the top marginal rate tends to kick in at a higher level in the US than Canada, but if you'er making a few million a year, that's probably not a noticeable difference.

Moreover, even non-resident players may pay Canadian taxes on income earned in Canada (i.e., in respect of games played in Canada) unless they can find an exemption under one of Canada's tax treaties (and I seem to recall there were a number of cases from the late 1990's dealing with this issue for players from former Soviet republics who didn't have a tax treaty with Canada).

"For example, once you take into account state taxes, the top margina rate in the US can be much higher than in Canada (in New York state, for example, it's close to, if not more than, 50%). "

I believe the highest marginal tax rate in the U.S. is 46% in Hawaii (35% federal, 11% state) with California in second at 45.55%. New York is 43.97% for those earning $500,000 or more and Michigan is under 40%. I do not believe any U.S. state has a higher combined rate than Ontario currently has. Of course, actual taxes paid will differ due to differences in allowable exemptions, etc.

Of course, if the top U.S. federal rate rises from 35% to 39.6%, as it appears it will, you can add another 4.6% to all the figures above. In that case a number of U.S. states will have a combined rate higher than Ontario's.

Fair enough, I was probably thinking of the upcoming federal tax rate increase. But keep in mind, unlike Canada, US cities often impose their own income tax. New York's top local rate is 3.648% (so, the top marginal tax rate for a New York City resident isn't 43.97%, but 47.618%, higher than Ontario's and almost as bad as Quebec's). With the proposed change to the US federal rate, the US tax rate will be well over 50%. And New York isn't alone. Amongst NHL cities, Detroit, Philly, Columbus, as examples, all charge an extra couple of percent in tax on their residents (though, seriously, does anyone live in Detroit anymore?), though other big ones (LA, Boston) don't.

Moreover, at least from the perspective of the NHL, Ontario isn't really representative of Canadian personal tax rates. After all, half of the NHL's Canadian hockey teams are located in jurisdictions with substantially lower tax rates than Ontario (Alberta's 39% and BC's 43.7%). If the US federal rate goes up, Alberta will be the lowest taxed jurisdiction in North America.

OK, so by Frances' calculations, at least 5% of the top 0.01% are NHL players. Who else is up there? What other sports pay that sort of salary? Top entertainers? I wonder how many of them are CEOs, and others earning salaries, and how many are earning portfolio income?

Am I right in thinking that people are less likely to be upset by the high incomes of hockey players than faceless CEOs? Because they can observe the skills of hockey players, but can't observe or understand the skills of other high income earners?

" But keep in mind, unlike Canada, US cities often impose their own income tax. New York's top local rate is 3.648%"

Whoops - you're right. I should have remembered that. I know most cities in Michigan and Maryland have rates between 1-3%. Though I wonder how easy they are to avoid - could you just live in the suburb next to the city and avoid the tax? I'm not too sure.

Nick writes: Am I right in thinking that people are less likely to be upset by the high incomes of hockey players than faceless CEOs?

This makes me think of Nozick's Wilt Chamberlain argument that persuade people that inequality can be justified if it's a result of people's free choices. How much less convincing would it have been if his example had been a corporate CEO instead of a basketball star? I'm figuring there's some behavioural economics study that could be done here (or more likely has been done already)....

"10-figure salaries"

A 10-figure income is between $1 billion and $10 billion. I didn't see any salaries of that magnitude!

Gaah! Sorry - I guess I lost count...

Well, CFL players barely beat university professors, so they aren't in the very top range. Average salary probably around $100,000. Pathetic!
https://ca.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071228110946AAWqzOF

Aha!, NBA: 13 Toronto Raptors are in the top 0.01%. https://hoopshype.com/salaries/toronto.htm

Who else is in that top 0.01%?

Nick,

There might be a handful of baseball and basketball players who pay some income tax in Canada (though I suspect many of them are entitled to relief from Canadian tax under some tax treaty). Its probably a little bit different for actors or performers, because they're typically not employees but independent contractors and are subject to tax based on where they perform (so that US residents performing in Canada may be subject to Canadian tax) - so we probably tax US actors and peformers in Canada (i'd be curious, in that regard, if the reported income data is limited to Canadian residents or includes all Canadian taxpayers). It's also easier to restructure income earned by artists as something other than business income (i.e., royalties, etc.).

But you're right that most of the group are probably CEOs (and if anyone had the time or inclination, they could probably go through the public disclosure documents of big Canadian companies and amass a pretty thorough database of which CEOs account for the bulk of the high income earners). You're right that it's a little bit odd that people seem very hot and bothered by having highly paid CEOs but less so highly paid hockey players. Granted, one might question the skills of some highly paid CEOs (whose companies perform terribly), but the same could be said of some highly paid hockey players (who individually perform poorly - I'm a leafs fan, take your pick)

Mike,

Well, I couldn't tell you how easy it is to avoid city income tax (I think some cities also impose tax on non-residents who are employed in the city or who are employed by the city government). But, that's tax avoidance that comes at a cost. Sure, you can avoid New York City tax by living in New Jersey, but then you have to live in New Jersey.

Nick,

The raptors may make income in the top 0.1%, but if the above data is based on tax return information, they might not be included in the data set out above (if they don't have to pay tax in Canada, they likely won't file a return).

"I would say at some point between 1 million and 5 million, it should be at least 80%, preferably 100%. Make it include all types of income."

With this type of taxation do you think we'd have any high income earners? They'd all go somewhere where they can keep their income.... I would. And they'd take a lot of jobs along with them.

"Sure, you can avoid New York City tax by living in New Jersey, but then you have to live in New Jersey."

LOL - my brother-in-law lives in one of those NJ communities.

It's really too bad (at least for the purposes of this discussion) that there's no sunshine law for the private sector. It feels a little weird to guess who is making what, when at Ivey I know the exact salaries of all the full-time faculty members.

Mike,

There's not an easy list, like the sunshine list, but a lot of the salary data for the top-paid executives of public company, and their subsidiaries,.(who would probably be a big portion of the high income earners) is publicly disclosed in commpany annual information form. It would be tedious as hell, but with the help of a moderately reliable research assistant, someone could probably put together a pretty thorough listing of the top income earners and their employment income in Canada each year.

One of the Globe and Mail stories that Stephen links to above has done that work, at least for the 100 largest companies.

I'm biased, of course. But I can't help think there's something wrong with an economy where NBA and NHL players get paid as much as some of the CEOs of the largest 100 companies. ;-) After all, what matters more? Running one of those companies well, or bouncing a ball around well? Where do you really want to attract the top talent? Would our enjoyment of the game be that much less if each team played with second-rate players, who didn't quite make the NHL or NBA cut? Hockey, and basketball, are largely zero-sum games, in terms of their value as spectator sports. Not quite, because we get slightly less enjoyment out of watching two teams of slightly less skilled players.

In fact, couldn't we make an efficiency argument for an especially high tax rate on NHL and NBA salaries? Sacrilege, I know.

Has anyone made such an argument?

"Am I right in thinking that people are less likely to be upset by the high incomes of hockey players than faceless CEOs? Because they can observe the skills of hockey players, but can't observe or understand the skills of other high income earners?"

I think the pay is outrageous in both cases.

What I'm wondering is: what is it about being white, male, and taller than average that sends your marginal product into the stratosphere?

https://www.gladwell.com/blink/blink_excerpt2.html
https://www.diversityinc.com/content/1757/article/2696/?Why_Are_So_Few_CEOs_People_of_Color_and_Women

could you just live in the suburb next to the city and avoid the tax? I'm not too sure.

In St Louis where the city and St Louis county are separate counties the city taxes you a 2% "earnings tax" if you live in the city even though you work in the county and a 2% earnings tax if you work in the city even though you live in the county.

"couldn't we make an efficiency argument for an especially high tax rate on NHL and NBA salaries? Sacrilege, I know."

First, look for the market failure. In this case, the blatantly anti-competitive practices of the NHL and NBA. If the NHL is generating huge monopoly rents, why shouldn't the players get a slice?

When comparing CEO and hockey player salaries, life-time earnings matter. Over a life-time, the earnings of a university professor probably compare reasonably well to a journey-man NHLer (e.g. Corey Locke, Brendan Bell). Especially if they pick up one too many concussions, as many of them do. What price a life time of back or knee or hip or all of the above pain? From this perspective NFL players, in particular, really aren't particularly well paid.

There's a literature out there that justifies what might seem to the uneducated as totally outrageous CEO salaries as prizes in a "tournament". To induce the hundreds of middle managers in a corporation to work brutally long hours, you pay one person at the top really well.

I don't know if I actually buy that story when it comes to CEOs. But for hockey and basketball players certainly the high salaries at the top induce absolutely enormous efforts on the part of those trying to get into the NHL. That's a good reason (from a league point of view, if not from a social point of view) for paying salaries in excess of opportunity costs - if not quite as much in excess of opportunity costs as they are at present.

On your question of whether or not you can get equal enjoyment from watching second rate players - a lot of truly serious hockey fans go to major junior games, e.g. the Ottawa '67s, Vancouver Giants etc. The quality of hockey isn't that different - lower skill, but a lot more heart and guts and passion. So why do people pay $150 to see Jamie McGinn play for San Jose when they could have seen him play for the Ottawa '67s last year for $15? I think an enormous amount of it is the social status of going to the hockey games - Veblen and all that (a subject for another post).

Frances: you are right. I had forgotten that the market does say that people do enjoy watching the Senators a lot more than the 67s. And I expect the NHL salary cap can in principle internalise the externality of the training war between hockey players.

And yes, it's a short career, compared to profs. Plus, as our late colleague Eddie West once said about being a prof: "Nice indoor job; no heavy lifting".

I don't quite buy the "tournament" story of CEO's as presented. If each company deliberately overpaid CEOs in order to induce effort from underpaid middle managers, you would never expect to see them hire CEOs from outside. Because that would reduce the incentive for their own middle managers to work hard. I would want to see some sort of Austrian "unintended consequence" explanation of the tournament, if I were to believe it.

Nick: "Would our enjoyment of the game be that much less if each team played with second-rate players, who didn't quite make the NHL or NBA cut? Hockey, and basketball, are largely zero-sum games, in terms of their value as spectator sports. Not quite, because we get slightly less enjoyment out of watching two teams of slightly less skilled players."

Well, I think we know the answer to that. In a town like Toronto you can pay $36 for platinum seats next to center-ice to watch the Toronto Marlies (the Leafs AHL affiliate) play. Or you can pay $400 for platinum seats next to center ice to watch the Leafs, the second worst team in the NHL, play. Yet, you can always get good seats for Marlies games, while people leave their Leafs tickets in their wills. Clearly, people value (for whatever reason) the NHL experience over the (practically indistinguishable, in terms of on-ice performance, at least in Toronto - heck, half of the Leafs this year started their season with the Marlies) AHL experience.

In any event, it's hard to say that hockey players are over-paid relative to CEOs. Heck, most hockey players are probably significantly more important to their respective organizations than your average CEO is to his or her company. Most companies, if their CEO goes AWOL or has a stroke will probably go on, more or less, unhindered (the exceptions probably being where the CEO is the founder or something like that). Lose the best player on your team to an injury in the NHL and, for many teams, you can probably right-off your season (and the ever so-important post-season profits - players are only paid for the regular season, so everything that comes in in the post season goes straight to the owners pockets).

If the data set is coming from Tax returns then.... it will obviously include returns on capital. Dividends, rental income etc. Prior to the 2008 melt down we had seen a massive creation of wealth via the stock market. Those increases were often accompanied by large gains in dividend income. Which is taxed in a favourable manner, relative to other sources of income (mostly because already taxed in corporation hands).

I have seen charts on the ownership of equities by the top deciles and percentiles of US earners and the numbers are truly staggering. I would guess the accumulated wealth of the top 0.01 percent are similar in Canada if not worse due to the lack of material estate taxes in Canada.

Rather than tax high earners we should have an estate tax system and reduce the discrepancies of major family fortunes on these numbers.

James,

It's interesting, if you look at the original paper by Mike Viell that Stephen cited, it doesn't look like income from capital accounts for much of the income disparity. In fact, whereas 50 years ago, capital income would have accounted for over half of the income of the top 0.01% of income earners, by 2007 capital income accounted for a little over 20% of the incomes of the top 0.01%. 70+% of what the top 0.01% earns is employment income. While the paper doesn't show the evolution of capital income over the years, it appears that the big growh in the incomes of the people in the top 0.01 (and other top income earners) has come from employment income, not income from capital.

The one caveat to that is that it looks like the dataset doesn't include capital gains - presumably because that might be reflective of a person's true annual income (if you sell your stake in your company in one year, you'll have a huge income inclusion for that year, which won't neccesarily reflect your income over the longer time horizon). But that means that those numbers probably understate the "income" of the the top 0.1% of income earners.

Take a look at the data files (excel). There are numbers with and without capital gains.

Stephen,

Much obliged, that's quite helpful. There's a clear cyclical trend in the capital gains numbers (probably reflecting stock market performance - 2008 will be ugly), but it isn't clear that there's a noticeable temporal trend which is driving income inequality, or that capital gains account for a significant portion of the incomes of the top 0.01%, they probably average about 10% of their income in any given year.

Bob: "In fact, whereas 50 years ago, capital income would have accounted for over half of the income of the top 0.01% of income earners, by 2007 capital income accounted for a little over 20% of the incomes of the top 0.01%. 70+% of what the top 0.01% earns is employment income."

That fact *really* surprised me. I must have paid too much attention to Marx. The rich are supposed to be all capitalists. 70% is about the same as, or even greater than, the percentage of labour income to total income in aggregate! My God! Are capitalists poorer than average? Are they all pensioners?

That's one of the things that strikes me about these numbers as well. It made sense to think of capitalist==rich in 1848, and even in 1948. But it's not so easy to make that equivalence now. Is a CEO making $10m a worker whose interests must be defended, while a retired teacher is a reviled capitalist?

I suppose we could go back to the point about who *controls* the means of production, but that simply begs the question of how CEOs managed to gain control without ownership.

The line that the Barenaked Ladies cut at the last minute:

"If I had a million dollars, I'd set up a trust fund...one for my kids."

Or buy an apartment building, set up a holding company, buy an island ... Just because people don't have taxable capital income doesn't mean they aren't capitalists. All it means is that they have a good tax accountant,


"simply begs the question of how CEOs managed to gain control without ownership."

You mean being white, male, and taller than average doesn't explain it? ;)

I think they hold the capital hostage and demand a ransom: "Pay me tons of money or I'll kill this stock". So no dividends for granny.

To figure out why top corporate income earners get the compensation they do (not so much in Japan or Europe BTW), you have to read Galbraith, not Marx.

Galbraith identified the consequences of corporate structure a long time ago ("The New Industrial State"). In particular, he noted a transfer of income from owners to officers.

DH said: "With this type of taxation do you think we'd have any high income earners?"

That is the point, no high income earners who won't retire and spend down some to most of what they made.

DH said :"They'd all go somewhere where they can keep their income.... I would."

Bye and replace them.

DH said: "And they'd take a lot of jobs along with them."

The businesses and the jobs stay. If they try to net export from somewhere else, don't allow it.

The point of loopholes and tax evasion is to get a nominal low income on the tax returns that doesnt reflect reality. Capital income is far easier to circumvent. Actual income share for labour is most likely much lower.

That may be trueto a degree (although, in practice, I think you'd find it's not that easy to circumvent tax on capital income, at most you can defer it or have it recharacterized as something to be taxed at a more favourable rate), but that would have been true 50 or 35 years ago as well (more so, since the Income Tax Act has been tighened up considerably since the 1970's to prevent what is seen as abusive tax avoidance). That wage income has increased steadily as a proportion of the incomes of the very rich suggests a more fundamental structural change than mere tax avoidance.

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