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Raj Chetty is a high-powered Harvard econ professor and Hillary Clinton adviser who talked his way into getting a ton of individualized tax data out of the federal government so he could compare social mobility across places in the country by comparing how much money the parents of teenagers made in 1996-2000 versus how much these now early-30s offspring made in 2011-2012.

He started off by looking at where people were from, which led to lots of curious results: for example, West Virginia was a much better place to be from than Charlotte, NC. I pointed out last month a large number of flaws in his methodology and analyses.

Whether or not Raj Chetty has figured out much of value about social mobility among Americans, his project has done wonders for his own social mobility, propelling him into advising the frontrunner in 2016 and today having a huge spread in the New York Times.

Now, Chetty is back with the more sensible-sounding analysis focusing on where families moved to. From today’s New York Times:

The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up: How Your Area Compares

Across the country, the researchers found five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households. In general, the effects of place are sharper for boys than for girls, and for lower-income children than for rich.

“The broader lesson of our analysis,” Mr. Chetty and Mr. Hendren write, “is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level.”

In some places, the new estimates of mobility conflict with earlier estimates. For example, previous estimates suggested that New York City was a good place for lower-income children to grow up: Children raised in lower-income families in New York had above-average outcomes in adulthood.

But New York appeared above average in part because it has a large number of immigrants, who have good rates of upward mobility no matter where they live: Nothing about New York in particular caused these children to do better.

To remove variation that was simply caused by different types of people living in different areas, Mr. Chetty and Mr. Hendren based the latest estimates on the incomes of more than five million children who moved between areas when they were growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. These estimates are causal: They suggest moving a given child to a new area would in fact cause him or her to do better or worse.

In the new estimates, Manhattan ranks among the worst counties in the country for girls from lower-income families.

Here, better or worse is measured by the household incomes of children in early adulthood. This makes New York look worse than it would if individual incomes were used, because it, along with Northern California, has some of the lowest marriage rates in the country. Manhattan is actually better than most of the country at raising the individual incomes of poor girls. Marriage rates, too, are strongly affected by where children grow up.

An Atlas of Upward Mobility Shows Paths Out of Poverty

Is Manhattan Bad for Affluent Children?

http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/

I haven’t looked at the data in much detail yet, but it appears to still suffer from many of the same problems as Chetty’s previous effort, such as being driven more by short-term local economic booms and busts than by underlying long-term realities (other than, of course, race). For example, if you enter “Williams County, N.D.” into the NYT’s “Atlas of Upward Mobility,” you get:

Williams County is extremely good for income mobility for children in poor families. It is among the best counties in the U.S.

Why is that? Is it because of:

– less segregation by income and race?

– lower levels of income inequality?

– better schools?

– lower rates of violent crime?

– or a larger share of two-parent households?

Well, maybe a little bit, but it’s mostly because Williams County, home of Williston, is home to the North Dakota oil boom. So youngish people whose blue collar families happened to move there since 1996 tended to make a lot of money in 2011-2012, just as teens who happened to be living there in 1996 tended to make a lot of money 2011-2012 as young adults.

Similarly, if you enter Mecklenburg County (home of Charlotte, NC), you are told:

Mecklenburg County is extremely bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It is among the worst counties in the U.S.

Is it because of Segregation and Inequality? Well, maybe a little, but mostly it’s because of two things:

– Unlike in North Dakota, a large fraction of the poor people in North Carolina are black, and blacks regress toward a lower mean of income over the generations than do whites. As I headlined when the NYT first started playing up Chetty’s research back in 2013:

Breakthrough study: Poor blacks tend to stay poor, black

– Charlotte grew steadily for a long time, becoming the nation’s second biggest banking center. Not surprisingly, however, Charlotte got hammered by the financial industry problems of 2008, which spilled over into a decline in home construction, and hurt the furniture and lumbering industries in Charlotte’s hinterlands.

But, let me admit I haven’t had time to fully give Chetty’s new work the gimlet eye yet, so we can still hope it’s a substantial improvement over the massive wasted opportunity he inflicted upon us in the first stage of his giant project.

 
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  1. The Manhattan Contrarian pours scorn and sarcasm all over this:

    http://manhattancontrarian.com/blog/2015/5/4/can-the-government-fix-poverty-part-iii

    I assume you’re reading this guy on a regular basis, Steve.

    • Replies: @dude
    Not impressed with that "Manhattan Contrarian" post at all. He talks about how the "Moving to Opportunity Program" has been demonstrated to be a total failure. But the NYT piece explains that Chetty et. al. re-examine this program based on more recent data and they find that it did indeed have positive long term effects for younger children.

    It's good to be skeptical of all research, including this. But before you go "pouring scorn and sarcasm," you should probably AT LEAST read all the way to the end of the Times article. Really you should look at the original research itself. And even then you should maintain a little intellectual humility.
  2. Please do give it the gimlet eye. Many policymakers and social scientists seem to be excited about it. Its influence is likely to be high. Should it be?

  3. So poor people become less poor when they move to a wealthy area? That seems obvious. Compare the per capita income of African Americans, to that of Nigeria, Ghana or Cameroun.

    The only thing about this that should be controversial is Chetty’s complete lack of interest in the *total* effect, ie taking account what happens to the incumbent residents of the wealthy areas. How is their net worth affected by, ahem, changes in property values? How does their disposible income change when they move their kids from the public school to private school?

  4. When I was taking econometrics a while back, one of the things they taught us about building models was that in addition to being mathematically sound, models had to pass the common sense test as well. Charlotte’s been growing so fast for so long the joke here is that nobody is actually from Charlotte. Perhaps Chetty should have actually talked with people to see if his models passed the common sense test? I’m not sure why so many people would keep moving into such a low-opportunity place year after year.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    That's a big part of what made Bill James so good at baseball statistics analysis: he constantly did reality checks about what his models produce.

    Bill Simmons isn't as good with statistics but his big NBA book was very good at reality checking images that naive glances at statistics would create. He'd compare, say, Elvin Hayes' impressive-looking stats to how many times he got traded, the tone of voice Curry Kirkpatrick would use writing about him in Sports Illustrated, and quotes he found in other players' autobiographies, then go back and show how the stats actually paint a different picture than you'd first think.
    , @An Observer
    "A Pathway Out of Poverty Offers A Change of Address" rather than "Change of Address Offers A Pathway Out of Poverty."

    The pathway out of poverty is taken and that provides the change of address.
  5. Across the country, the researchers found five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households. In general, the effects of place are sharper for boys than for girls, and for lower-income children than for rich.

    Why do I get the feeling that Raj Chetty started with the conclusion then molded the research around it? Conclusions that just so happen to sound a lot like modern day Democrat Party talking points and slogans. Except for the part about two-parent households; that’s not a Democrat Party talking point because it would offend most of the constituent parts in its coalition of the fringes; two-parent households and the desirability thereof is only for the red team.

    I guess all we have to do now is find some way to bring “less segregation,” “lower levels of income inequality,” “better schools,” and “lower rates of violent crime” to black Baltimore, (and it will involve more taxes and more Federal spending), and Baltimore will soon start showing a high rate of social mobility.

  6. As a young Southerner, I can point out a flaw in Chetty’s analysis that has been mentioned before. College graduates from the south keep on moving to the “immobile” cities like Charlotte, Charleston, Atlanta, and Nashville because that’s where the opportunity is. The reality check on all of Chetty’s data is to look at where new jobs are being created and where young talented workers are going. Here’s a hint, it’s not where his map says mobility is best like West Virginia, rural Iowa, and western Pennsylvania.

  7. Saint Louis City is extremely bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It is among the worst counties in the U.S.

    Location matters – enormously. If you’re poor and live in the St. Louis area, it’s better to be in Monroe County than in Saint Clair County or Saint Louis City. Not only that, the younger you are when you move to Monroe, the better you will do on average. Children who move at earlier ages are less likely to become single parents, more likely to go to college and more likely to earn more.

    Every year a poor child spends in Monroe County adds about $260 to his or her annual household income at age 26, compared with a childhood spent in the average American county. Over the course of a full childhood, which is up to age 20 for the purposes of this analysis, the difference adds up to about $5,300, or 20 percent, more in average income as a young adult.

    These findings, particularly those that show how much each additional year matters, are from a new study by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren that has huge consequences on how we think about poverty and mobility in the United States. The pair, economists at Harvard, have long been known for their work on income mobility, but the latest findings go further. Now, the researchers are no longer confined to talking about which counties merely correlate well with income mobility; new data suggests some places actually cause it.

    Consider Saint Louis City, Mo., our best guess for where you might be reading this article. (Feel free to change to another place by selecting a new county on the map or using the search boxes throughout this page.)

    It’s among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 59th out of 2,478 counties, better than only about 2 percent of counties.

    Okay, so according to Raj logic, all the destitute ratchet blacks from St. Louis City should move to a corn farm between Waterloo and Red Bud, and they’ll be all the more prosperous as adults. Gotcha.

    • Replies: @Bastion
    Well moving lots of low-income types out to Red Bud would have the advantage of emptying out lots of potentially prime real estate that now lies fallow. If they're going to be dependent on the dole they could do lots of real estate magnates a big favor by being dependent out in the sticks instead of 5 miles from downtown.
  8. @blah blah blah
    When I was taking econometrics a while back, one of the things they taught us about building models was that in addition to being mathematically sound, models had to pass the common sense test as well. Charlotte's been growing so fast for so long the joke here is that nobody is actually from Charlotte. Perhaps Chetty should have actually talked with people to see if his models passed the common sense test? I'm not sure why so many people would keep moving into such a low-opportunity place year after year.

    That’s a big part of what made Bill James so good at baseball statistics analysis: he constantly did reality checks about what his models produce.

    Bill Simmons isn’t as good with statistics but his big NBA book was very good at reality checking images that naive glances at statistics would create. He’d compare, say, Elvin Hayes’ impressive-looking stats to how many times he got traded, the tone of voice Curry Kirkpatrick would use writing about him in Sports Illustrated, and quotes he found in other players’ autobiographies, then go back and show how the stats actually paint a different picture than you’d first think.

  9. Apparently one of the worst places in the country to grow up as a member of the 1% is Orange County, CA. I think we can officially declare privilege over.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    I haven't checked to see if Chetty fixed this, but in his first stage analysis, Southern California looked like a terrible place to grow up affluent because so many Southern Californians have moved to lower cost of living, lower pay places.
  10. Why not assemble a short list of a dozen questions for Chetty to examine or theories to test with his data?

    Maybe commenters could make suggestions…

  11. @Publius
    Apparently one of the worst places in the country to grow up as a member of the 1% is Orange County, CA. I think we can officially declare privilege over.

    I haven’t checked to see if Chetty fixed this, but in his first stage analysis, Southern California looked like a terrible place to grow up affluent because so many Southern Californians have moved to lower cost of living, lower pay places.

    • Replies: @Publius
    I was going to guess that if you're the sort of person who's parents live there, there's no need for you to get a real job anyway.
  12. @Steve Sailer
    I haven't checked to see if Chetty fixed this, but in his first stage analysis, Southern California looked like a terrible place to grow up affluent because so many Southern Californians have moved to lower cost of living, lower pay places.

    I was going to guess that if you’re the sort of person who’s parents live there, there’s no need for you to get a real job anyway.

  13. Chetty has a disease common to Indians: numerophilia. The primary symptom is thinking you can create information by simply analyzing data. He gets mesmerized by the numbers themselves and loses track of what they mean. That’s a good trait in a mathematician but a very bad one in an economist.

    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar
    That's arithmophilia. And it produced Providian, who made all those robocalls trying to sell you their credit cards when you were climbing out of debt.
  14. Like you said, Chetty didn’t grow up here so his understanding lags.
    I wonder how much damage guys with 800 on their math SAT have done?
    The meme used to be that nerds with Visicalc and Lotus caused the real estate crash in the ’80s
    They need better supervision.

  15. I checked out my home county, Sioux in northwestern Iowa, which did very well indeed — plus over 9K in income, for an increase of 35%. I then scrolled over as many of the other ‘good’ counties as I could, and could not find better numbers. Sioux County appears to be the best county in the USA for upward mobility, at least according to this method.

    What’s driving these gains? No oil; Iowa is mostly unaffected by the boom in the Dakotas. It seems to be farming (of course), plus new industry. My home town (one of the two towns in Sioux County that exceed 5K people) has a surprising number of factories (including some fairly high-tech medical device and materials operations). I was chatting with my parents, who still live in Sioux County, this past weekend, and they mentioned that even the tiny town of Rock Valley (population ~3500) is booming, with new businesses and lots of home construction. I looked it up and sure enough, Rock Valley’s gained almost 800 people in the past 15 years.

    And then of course there are the deeply-held Calvinistic values that for many decades characterized this heavily Dutch-American area — perhaps the Protestant ethic is not wholly forgotten . . . and I am not really the Last Real Calvinist . . . .

    • Replies: @Desiderius

    I am not really the Last Real Calvinist . . . .
     
    Not by a long shot. There are four times as many Presbyterians in Korea as there are in the United States, thanks largely to this man and his parents:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_H._Moffett
    , @Diversity Heretic
    I s-till have relatives in central Iowa. Des Moines is booming and it appears to be a combination of factors. My hometown, Newton, survived the closing of Maytag about nine years ago. It's still a reasonably prosperous community. Don't know if it's Calvinism, but the German-Dutch-Scandinavian ethnic mix is surprisingly resilient.
  16. Is anyone else really pissed that this guy was given access to our tax returns?

    What about my frikken right to privacy?

    Is privacy limited to abortion and nothing else?

  17. It’s a ridiculous survey because it ignores the one glaring factor that skews and makes impossible any and all generic surveys about American mobility, education, income potential, etc.: Race, and specifically how the higher the percentage of NAMs in a location the worse ALL the data is for that location. All the Metro counties in Chetty’s study with a large black contingent invariably score really low for “being a place where you want to be born” even though those same metro counties contain some of the greatest concentrations of wealth and privilege in the state. Therefore, in pretty White states like Wisconsin or Minnesota the major metro areas containing the vast majority of the state’s blacks (Madison, Minn/St. Paul and Milwaukee) score exceptionally low while much poorer and White rural counties score much higher. The presence of blacks in one county and not in the other makes those weird data points make sense.

    Why go through all of the rigmarole? Race (as an indicator of IQ) dictates life outcomes better than anything. Nothing comes close.

    It was like when Ron Unz stunned himself when he discovered the correlation between crime and blacks. He couldn’t believe what his data were showing, how really obscene the correlation was. It was so obscene he created an incredibly convoluted model and approach to attempt to argue that White and Mexican crime rates are almost the same and in fact favor Mexicans in certain parts of the country.

  18. I would like to read of the affect on income of those in an area when newcomers arrive. Or when blacks are moved into a town do the test scores and scholastic achievement of the students of local schools change?

  19. dude says:
    @stillCARealist
    The Manhattan Contrarian pours scorn and sarcasm all over this:

    http://manhattancontrarian.com/blog/2015/5/4/can-the-government-fix-poverty-part-iii

    I assume you're reading this guy on a regular basis, Steve.

    Not impressed with that “Manhattan Contrarian” post at all. He talks about how the “Moving to Opportunity Program” has been demonstrated to be a total failure. But the NYT piece explains that Chetty et. al. re-examine this program based on more recent data and they find that it did indeed have positive long term effects for younger children.

    It’s good to be skeptical of all research, including this. But before you go “pouring scorn and sarcasm,” you should probably AT LEAST read all the way to the end of the Times article. Really you should look at the original research itself. And even then you should maintain a little intellectual humility.

  20. @countenance
    Saint Louis City is extremely bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It is among the worst counties in the U.S.

    Location matters – enormously. If you’re poor and live in the St. Louis area, it’s better to be in Monroe County than in Saint Clair County or Saint Louis City. Not only that, the younger you are when you move to Monroe, the better you will do on average. Children who move at earlier ages are less likely to become single parents, more likely to go to college and more likely to earn more.

    Every year a poor child spends in Monroe County adds about $260 to his or her annual household income at age 26, compared with a childhood spent in the average American county. Over the course of a full childhood, which is up to age 20 for the purposes of this analysis, the difference adds up to about $5,300, or 20 percent, more in average income as a young adult.

    These findings, particularly those that show how much each additional year matters, are from a new study by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren that has huge consequences on how we think about poverty and mobility in the United States. The pair, economists at Harvard, have long been known for their work on income mobility, but the latest findings go further. Now, the researchers are no longer confined to talking about which counties merely correlate well with income mobility; new data suggests some places actually cause it.

    Consider Saint Louis City, Mo., our best guess for where you might be reading this article. (Feel free to change to another place by selecting a new county on the map or using the search boxes throughout this page.)

    It’s among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 59th out of 2,478 counties, better than only about 2 percent of counties.

    Okay, so according to Raj logic, all the destitute ratchet blacks from St. Louis City should move to a corn farm between Waterloo and Red Bud, and they'll be all the more prosperous as adults. Gotcha.

    Well moving lots of low-income types out to Red Bud would have the advantage of emptying out lots of potentially prime real estate that now lies fallow. If they’re going to be dependent on the dole they could do lots of real estate magnates a big favor by being dependent out in the sticks instead of 5 miles from downtown.

  21. “Manhattan is actually better than most of the country at raising the individual incomes of poor girls. Marriage rates, too, are strongly affected by where children grow up.”

    Where exactly are poor girls living in Manhattan? My guess highly subsidized housing. Manhattan salaries for things like waiting tables and home health aid would be considered living wages elsewhere in the country, except for that problem of the very large rents. In particular a home health aid that is on call 24×7 would be very well paid considering the low qualifications, but unless you lived in Manhattan being on call 24×7 would be tough. On the other hand they are doing the work for very demanding clients, so maybe they deserve the subsidy.

    What about poor males? I am guessing they get caught up in the ‘street life’ and get stopped, frisked, and then jailed. They to can work service jobs for what might be considered elsewhere as high pay, but my guess is they are not impressed with lower middle class salaries.

  22. @The Last Real Calvinist
    I checked out my home county, Sioux in northwestern Iowa, which did very well indeed -- plus over 9K in income, for an increase of 35%. I then scrolled over as many of the other 'good' counties as I could, and could not find better numbers. Sioux County appears to be the best county in the USA for upward mobility, at least according to this method.

    What's driving these gains? No oil; Iowa is mostly unaffected by the boom in the Dakotas. It seems to be farming (of course), plus new industry. My home town (one of the two towns in Sioux County that exceed 5K people) has a surprising number of factories (including some fairly high-tech medical device and materials operations). I was chatting with my parents, who still live in Sioux County, this past weekend, and they mentioned that even the tiny town of Rock Valley (population ~3500) is booming, with new businesses and lots of home construction. I looked it up and sure enough, Rock Valley's gained almost 800 people in the past 15 years.

    And then of course there are the deeply-held Calvinistic values that for many decades characterized this heavily Dutch-American area -- perhaps the Protestant ethic is not wholly forgotten . . . and I am not really the Last Real Calvinist . . . .

    I am not really the Last Real Calvinist . . . .

    Not by a long shot. There are four times as many Presbyterians in Korea as there are in the United States, thanks largely to this man and his parents:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_H._Moffett

  23. @Jean Cocteausten
    Chetty has a disease common to Indians: numerophilia. The primary symptom is thinking you can create information by simply analyzing data. He gets mesmerized by the numbers themselves and loses track of what they mean. That's a good trait in a mathematician but a very bad one in an economist.

    That’s arithmophilia. And it produced Providian, who made all those robocalls trying to sell you their credit cards when you were climbing out of debt.

  24. @The Last Real Calvinist
    I checked out my home county, Sioux in northwestern Iowa, which did very well indeed -- plus over 9K in income, for an increase of 35%. I then scrolled over as many of the other 'good' counties as I could, and could not find better numbers. Sioux County appears to be the best county in the USA for upward mobility, at least according to this method.

    What's driving these gains? No oil; Iowa is mostly unaffected by the boom in the Dakotas. It seems to be farming (of course), plus new industry. My home town (one of the two towns in Sioux County that exceed 5K people) has a surprising number of factories (including some fairly high-tech medical device and materials operations). I was chatting with my parents, who still live in Sioux County, this past weekend, and they mentioned that even the tiny town of Rock Valley (population ~3500) is booming, with new businesses and lots of home construction. I looked it up and sure enough, Rock Valley's gained almost 800 people in the past 15 years.

    And then of course there are the deeply-held Calvinistic values that for many decades characterized this heavily Dutch-American area -- perhaps the Protestant ethic is not wholly forgotten . . . and I am not really the Last Real Calvinist . . . .

    I s-till have relatives in central Iowa. Des Moines is booming and it appears to be a combination of factors. My hometown, Newton, survived the closing of Maytag about nine years ago. It’s still a reasonably prosperous community. Don’t know if it’s Calvinism, but the German-Dutch-Scandinavian ethnic mix is surprisingly resilient.

    • Replies: @The Last Real Calvinist

    Don’t know if it’s Calvinism, but the German-Dutch-Scandinavian ethnic mix is surprisingly resilient.

     

    Yes, I was being a bit of a homer with my comment above; Sioux County is not an anomaly in the upper midwest. Des Moines is booming, Sioux Falls has grown almost beyond recognition, and the Omaha area also seems to be doing pretty well.

    I left the area in the late 80s, but have plenty of family around there still, so it's great to come back and visit places that don't have quite the miasma of decay hanging over them that some other parts of the USA do . . . .
  25. @Diversity Heretic
    I s-till have relatives in central Iowa. Des Moines is booming and it appears to be a combination of factors. My hometown, Newton, survived the closing of Maytag about nine years ago. It's still a reasonably prosperous community. Don't know if it's Calvinism, but the German-Dutch-Scandinavian ethnic mix is surprisingly resilient.

    Don’t know if it’s Calvinism, but the German-Dutch-Scandinavian ethnic mix is surprisingly resilient.

    Yes, I was being a bit of a homer with my comment above; Sioux County is not an anomaly in the upper midwest. Des Moines is booming, Sioux Falls has grown almost beyond recognition, and the Omaha area also seems to be doing pretty well.

    I left the area in the late 80s, but have plenty of family around there still, so it’s great to come back and visit places that don’t have quite the miasma of decay hanging over them that some other parts of the USA do . . . .

  26. While watching “Hoodlum Priest” on TCM last night–a 1958 story set in St Louis by the way–I noticed that in one scene where the cops are chasing the (white) robber, one of them said over his two-way radio “Suspect has entered the slum clearance area”. And sure enough, the perp was running through a scene all to familiar to those of us who grew up in the 1960’s; a neighborhood of three story, dilapidated brick buildings with broken windows and just a frayed about the edges look to it all that was in the process of a demolition flying under the banner of “urban renewal”.

    What struck me was the soundness and architectural neatness of the buildings themselves. In fact, a neighborhood made up of just such buildings was restored in my former home town and turned into an upscale, model community of bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, small businesses, condos etc.

    It wasn’t the buildings that made the neighborhood a slum. The buildings had good bones. Clearing the physical infrastructure wouldn’t change the fundamental character of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is a product of human enterprise. Blaming inanimate things for human problems is insane. To paraphrase a noble, cigar-loving man, “It’s the people, stupid.”

  27. If I compiled data in my job as a data analyst the same way Raj Chetty does, I would be fired!

  28. @blah blah blah
    When I was taking econometrics a while back, one of the things they taught us about building models was that in addition to being mathematically sound, models had to pass the common sense test as well. Charlotte's been growing so fast for so long the joke here is that nobody is actually from Charlotte. Perhaps Chetty should have actually talked with people to see if his models passed the common sense test? I'm not sure why so many people would keep moving into such a low-opportunity place year after year.

    “A Pathway Out of Poverty Offers A Change of Address” rather than “Change of Address Offers A Pathway Out of Poverty.”

    The pathway out of poverty is taken and that provides the change of address.

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