Carlos

Justification for Import Tariffs?

30 posts in this topic

I agree with the idea that compulsory-taxation (a redundant phrase?) should not exist, that a government ideally should be supported by voluntary revenue. There is however one sector of taxation I am hung up on: I can't find a reason to be against import tariffs for large freight or shipments of goods.

The idea in my head is that if Bob at company X orders something from Syria for example, and two months later 15 large crates, weighing 500 pounds each arrives at an American port, the Government should have the right to acquire at least a general idea of what exactly is within these large and numerous crates. Is it Plutonium or bananas? Automatic weapons to be sold to organized crime or beanie-babies being sent to McDonalds?

To me, when a person enters a country carrying goods, he is implicitly signing a contract with the country as a whole stating that what he possesses is of a benevolent nature: because our borders are a barrier protecting the peace of our civilized nation from whatever barbarous elements may exist outside, and this individual's entrance is a penetration of our border. Therefore I think it to be the Government's right, in the interest of protecting her citizen's rights, to place a fee on imports in order for goods and freight entering our country to pay for their own inspection, and thus admission into America.

Thoughts, criticism? This is an issue that I'm still perplexed by :D

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the Government should have the right to acquire at least a general idea of what exactly is within these large and numerous crates.  Is it Plutonium or bananas?  Automatic weapons to be sold to organized crime or beanie-babies being sent to McDonalds?
You seem to be assuming that trade should be restricted, so that guns and plutonium cannot be sold or at least sold across national borders. I don't make that assumption. But even if you prohibit imporation of guns or plutonium, that doesn't justify an import tax.
To me, when a person enters a country carrying goods, he is implicitly signing a contract with the country as a whole stating that what he possesses is of a benevolent nature
There is no such thing as implicitly signing a contract. Contracts are explicit, and they involve named parties (not "the country"). They require both consent and consideration (in the technical sense) from all bound parties. There is no such implied contract on importation of goods. Perhaps you're thinking of an obligation, i.e. the obligation to not initiate force. There is definitely no obligation to not transport "malevolent" cargo.
Therefore I think it to be the Government's right, in the interest of protecting her citizen's rights, to place a fee on imports in order for goods and freight entering our country to pay for their own inspection, and thus admission into America.
This is not what tariffs are designed for. Their purpose is to restrict trade, by adding an unjustified costs to an imported product.

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Ok, you picked apart pieces of what I was asking without addressing what my question was:

"You seem to be assuming that trade should be restricted, so that guns and plutonium cannot be sold or at least sold across national borders. I don't make that assumption. But even if you prohibit imporation of guns or plutonium, that doesn't justify an import tax."

I don't assume trade should be restricted, don't make that kind of judgment on me from one sentence. I don't see why individuals should be allowed to own fully automatic firearms and I don't see why individuals should be allowed to purchase crates of Plutonium from overseas, or in America for that matter.

Is it not logical to think there are some things that should not be imported to America?

Should the Government have the right to inspect goods to be imported that qualify as suspicious?

If they do have the right to do so, should the individual requiring inspection not be the one to pay for it?

In essence, isn't paying a fee for admission of goods into a country an import tariff?

I did not mean a flat tariff on everyone, just excessive and/or peculiar freight that deserve inquiry.

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I don't assume trade should be restricted, don't make that kind of judgment on me from one sentence.  I don't see why individuals should be allowed to own fully automatic firearms and I don't see why individuals should be allowed to purchase crates of Plutonium from overseas, or in America for that matter.
Now I have more than one sentence: how am I to avoid the conclusion that you think that trade should be restricted?
I did not mean a flat tariff on everyone, just excessive and/or peculiar freight that deserve inquiry.
Then you don't mean a tariff: you mean you want to prohibit the importation of something. Bananas? Guns? Uranium? Gasoline? At any rate, whatever you want to prohibit, then prohibit it. That has nothing to do with taxation.

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I can't find a reason to be against import tariffs for large freight or shipments of goods.

As you outlined the issue it is really one of security. Just as we have the right, nay, obligation, to screen out the criminal element, as well as those with contagious diseases, from crossing our border, so too we have the right to ensure that nuclear devices or other such harmful weapons do not make their way into our country. This is an issue of national defense. So the only remaining question is, how do we finance the operation? Offhand I see nothing wrong per se with charging those who use the facility. Which, if I understood you correctly, is what you have essentially suggested.

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Just as we have the right, nay, obligation, to screen out the criminal element, as well as those with contagious diseases, from crossing our border, so too we have the right to ensure that nuclear devices or other such harmful weapons do not make their way into our country.
I've gotten the impression that some Objectivists believe that private citizens have no right to own guns, but I haven't seen any explicit statement to that effect. Is it your position that citizens have no right to own guns?

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*laughs* You (DavidOdden) did it again :D (take this as good natured humor, not maliciously sarcastic)

You keep picking apart the pieces rather than answer the big question I'm trying to ask.

"Now I have more than one sentence: how am I to avoid the conclusion that you think that trade should be restricted?"

Ok, I was expecting you to think this is what I meant, so I'll explain a bit more:

I don't think trade should be restricted, and I don't think preventing warlords in Africa from importing slaves into America is "trade-restriction". I would view trade the same as I view individual rights: you have the right to do whatever you want, so long as you don't infringe on someone's right to do the same. I think you should be able to trade/import whatever you want, so long as it does not interfere with the rights of men.

So I guess we need to agree on what we mean by a "restriction".

I view a trade restriction as something that violates your individual right to trade across borders. Preventing Bob from importing tanks of nerve-gas is not violating his individual right to trade, because in his attempt to import such a good, he was already violating the rights of men; therefore, I don't call that trade-restriction.

And I guess I need to specify what I meant by tariff:

In hindsight I will concede that tariff may have been the wrong term to use, that another term may be more appropriate. I guess I meant tariff to mean anything from "broadly levied tax" to "individually applied fee".

But all these things aside:

do you understand the essence of what I'm asking?

Is it appropriate to charge an importation fee on suspicious goods to support a sector of Government to screen these goods, so as to decide whether they should be allowed admission into the USA or not?

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"I've gotten the impression that some Objectivists believe that private citizens have no right to own guns, but I haven't seen any explicit statement to that effect. Is it your position that citizens have no right to own guns?"

I thought the general idea expressed was that individuals should have the right to own firearms meant for individual protection and/or recreation, not mass destruction.

A 12 gauge shotgun with a five shell magazine is quite obviously, used for hunting. A fully automatic rifle with a banana clip that holds 50 rounds, is quite obviously a tool of destruction/mass-murder.

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"As you outlined the issue it is really one of security. Just as we have the right, nay, obligation, to screen out the criminal element, as well as those with contagious diseases, from crossing our border, so too we have the right to ensure that nuclear devices or other such harmful weapons do not make their way into our country. This is an issue of national defense. So the only remaining question is, how do we finance the operation? Offhand I see nothing wrong per se with charging those who use the facility. Which, if I understood you correctly, is what you have essentially suggested."

*nods* Yes, this is what I meant.

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I don't think trade should be restricted, and I don't think preventing warlords in Africa from importing slaves into America is "trade-restriction".  I would view trade the same as I view individual rights:  you have the right to do whatever you want, so long as you don't infringe on someone's right to do the same.  I think you should be able to trade/import whatever you want, so long as it does not interfere with the rights of men.

So I guess we need to agree on what we mean by a "restriction".

If the question is "Supposing that an act X is rightfully prohibited, since it violates the rights of others; then does the government have the right to prohibit/restrict that act", then the answer is clearly "Yes".
I view a trade restriction as something that violates your individual right to trade across borders.
That isn't what restriction means; the problem may arise because it's hard to think of proper trade restrictions. But, a restriction is, simply, a restriction or probihition, and whether you have the right to that action is a separate question. A restriction against dealing in stolen goods is a restriction, and it's a righteous restriction.
Preventing Bob from importing tanks of nerve-gas is not violating his individual right to trade, because in his attempt to import such a good, he was already violating the rights of men; therefore, I don't call that trade-restriction.
I would suggest using a dictionary definition of the term "restriction", also "tariff". Whether or not the importation of nerve gas is an intrinsic violation of the rights of others is a separate question. I'd suggest, first, focusing on the fact that there is no basis for distinguishing possession from importation, so if you have a right toown X, you have a right to import X (and vice-versa). Since you clearly have a right to own a gun, you have a right to import one. Now all that remains is to get clear on the intrinsically dangerous objects that are absolutely forbidden. I'm not clear what the deal is with plutonium, but certainly it is entirely legitimate for a person to own uranium and therefore it is wrong to prohibit importing uranium.
But all these things aside:

do you understand the essence of what I'm asking?

Not really, but I'm getting closer to understanding.
Is it appropriate to charge an importation fee on suspicious goods to support a sector of Government to screen these goods, so as to decide whether they should be allowed admission into the USA or not?
No, I don't see how it would. If it is illegal to possess something, then it is right for the government to act to prohibit you from possessing it, just as it is right for the government to prohibit you from robbing a bank. If the government catches you bringing a prohibited item into the country, they have the same right to stop you as they have to stop you from moving it about, manufacturing it, or selling it within the country. Importation does not introduce anything new. As for the question of how to pay for law enforcement, I point you to "Government Financing in a Free Society". However it is that you finance random spot-checks of citizens on the street in order to check that they are not transporting prohibited goods, that is how you would finance inspection of goods and people coming into the country. By voluntary means.

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Since you clearly have a right to own a gun, you have a right to import one.

A 9mm handgun or a vehicle mounted .50 cal. machine gun with armor piercing rounds? There's a difference.

Now all that remains is to get clear on the intrinsically dangerous objects that are absolutely forbidden.

Intrinsically dangerous does, actually, imply an intrinsicist philosophic perspective about it. Dangerous implies an object of the danger, and in a certain objective context. I have less fear (though, not zero fear, given the culture today) about the U.S. government possessing .50 cal. machine guns or nuclear weapons, by far, than the totally unjustified possession of them by a private person or organization. In the hands of a (relatively, and less all the time) rights respecting government, such weapons are under objective control and are a real danger only to villains.

I'm not clear what the deal is with plutonium,

I don't know what you mean by this. Plutonium is a key element in the construction of a nuclear bomb. With that in hand, any nation in the world, and many rogue organizations such as Al Qaeda, possess the mechanical and electrical engineering and physics resources to use it to make a nuclear bomb from scratch. Even a well funded individual with the right knowledge and resources could do it alone.

but certainly it is entirely legitimate for a person to own uranium and therefore it is wrong to prohibit importing uranium.

What isotope, U-235 or U-238? Highly enriched U-235 is even easier to make into a nuclear bomb than Plutonium. A ridiculously simple design employing U-235 was used in the Hiroshima bomb, it shot two sub-critical pieces of the metal together at high speed in a tube to form a supercritical mass that exploded. The Nagasaki bomb used a far more sophisticated design with Plutonium. U-238, sometimes called depleted Uranium because U-235 has been removed from it, is used by the military in non-nuclear ways such as in some kinds of armor piercing rounds, as I understand it, and some other uses. But even U-238 can be transformed to Plutonium (Pu-239) by neutron irradiation in a certain kind of nuclear reactor (a breeder reactor.) A rogue country with a breeder reactor and a ready supply of U-238 could crank out quite a bit of Plutonium for warheads. I would not be surprised if this describes Iran today.

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I've gotten the impression that some Objectivists believe that private citizens have no right to own guns, but I haven't seen any explicit statement to that effect. Is it your position that citizens have no right to own guns?

Just speaking for myself, I have no problem with individual gun ownership -- handgun, rifle, etc. -- but I would draw the line with any substantial weaponry. Own a hunting rifle is one thing, but a bazooka is entirely different.

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Intrinsically dangerous does, actually, imply an intrinsicist philosophic perspective about it. Dangerous implies an object of the danger, and in a certain objective context. I have less fear (though, not zero fear, given the culture today) about the U.S. government possessing .50 cal. machine guns or nuclear weapons, by far, than the totally unjustified possession of them by a private person or organization.
I'm glad you noticed my use of the word "intrinsically". I would argue against the absolute ban on possession of so-called dangerous objects (but that wasn't the main thrust of my argument here -- instead, I just want to drive home the point that importation is not the issue, and that ownership is). One of the flaws in the proposal (or, proposal implied by the question) is the presumption that arms are universally so dangerous that they should not be imported. Thermonuclear explosives are legitimate private property, in the right context -- obviously I don't mean high-yield city-vaporisers. Explosives are explosives, and there are many legitimate uses for explosives. The issue is not whether A-bombs (and the things that can be used to make them) are so universally bad that they cannot be legitimately owned, but rather whether their ownership should sometimes be prohibited. I presume a positive answer to that question. Exactly when it is legitimate to own an explosive or a chemical, then it is legitimate to import it. The matter then reduces entirely to the question of when it is legitimate for the government to restrict the right to own particular objects.

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Sticks of TNT can have a practical use in mining, the swift and safe destruction of condemned buildings, etc. That is because an explosion of TNT is potentially quite small.

A nuclear weapon is COMPLETELY different: there is foreseeably absolutely no way or manner to justify private ownership of nuclear weapons for any private purpose of construction, etc.

A stick of dynamite is not even close to being within the same ballpark as a nuclear weapon:

with a stick of TNT we are talking about an explosion with a blast radius no more than five or ten meters.

A nuclear weapon's yield is measured in terms of kilotons or megatons of TNT equivalent.

One of the smallest nuclear weapons ever made, the Davy Crockett weighed about 51lbs, that is something you could easily carry in your arms, and still had a variable payload of 10-250 tons and at the lowest yield would produce lethal radiation levels for up to a quarter mile radius :D

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davy_Crockett...clear_device%29

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Explosives could be treated the same as firearms: a pistol is a weapon of personal protection and recreation, a fully automatic AR-15 is a weapon for mass and rapid killing, a weapon created for the goal of devastation. Therefore, citizens should not be allowed to own a fully automatic AR-15

Sticks of dynamite are constructive tools for mining companies, highway departments, etc. Nuclear weapons are tools of mass destruction and instant annihilation. Therefore, citizens should not be allowed to own nuclear weapons.

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I think Carlos makes a good point that some things are simply too potentially dangerous to allow a private citizen to possess(and, as David pointed out, the real question is whether or not they should be allowed to possess these things, not whether they should be allowed to import them). Nuclear weapons are a good example, since there's really no legitimate use a private citizen could have for them, and one falling into the wrong hands could have devastating consquences.

I'm not sure where you'd draw the line as to what things people should be allowed to possess... that's a dicey issue. But as to the question of tariffs, I'd say you make a good point. Only, I wouldn't call them tariffs, because as I understand it that's a tax on the value of the goods being imported... the cost of the actual importation has nothing to do with it. This would be just a fee to cover the necessary cost of inspection.

But, on the other hand... wouldn't a fee (even a low one) serve as an incentive to make people try and smuggle goods into the country, rather than paying to have them inspected?

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I have heard of some legit potential uses for nuclear weapons i.e. Set off a nuclear bomb and BOOM, a ready made crater used for open-cut mining for you to extract ore from.

Or I heard some ideas that nuclear explosions could be used to launch space ships.

That isn't to say that any person in the street should be allowed to walk into "Nukes r us" in their local walmart, purchase a nuke and keep it in their basement.

On the ancient capmag forums approximately 2.5 to 3 years ago; the post is long gone now, I heard someone describe a solution to this.

You gauge the primary use of a device and then the level of threat it represents.

The government restricts devices of force accordingly to the level of threat it represents and the onus of proof is on you to prove that it is not a threat since the primary use of that tool is force.

An example of such a device is a gun, its primary use was that it was designed for is force.

But a 9mm handgun, they would be completely deregulated due to their low level of threat.

A tank or bomber aircraft will be medium regulated(most private citizens wouldn't pass since most won't be able to demonstrate a legitament secondary use for them) but if you were a corporation supplying the tanks to various militaries, it makes sense for you to own some in stock that are not presently sold to any military.

Then you got nuclear weapons which have virtually no secondary use so you better supply some mighty good paperwork to illustrate just why you need it, how it will be used, how you will protect it to stop it falling in the hands of people who shouldn't have it and so on.

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Sticks of TNT can have a practical use in mining, the swift and safe destruction of condemned buildings, etc.  That is because an explosion of TNT is potentially quite small.

A nuclear weapon is COMPLETELY different: there is foreseeably absolutely no way or manner to justify private ownership of nuclear weapons for any private purpose of construction, etc.

And a stick of dynamite is also not even close to being in the same ballpark as the amount of explosives needed for a large-scale excavation project. Perhaps the problem is that you're talking about something totally different -- I'm not advocating the private ownership of nuclear weapons, I'm advocating allowing private ownership of nuclear explosives, which have a totally different purpose from weapons. If you are think that there is no possibility of using thermonuclear explosives peacefully, you are totally wrong, though it's not surprising that a person might hold such a mistaken belief. The left has been absolutely rabid about this for decades, stirring up frothing fear at the thought of actually using nukes, even reactors, to the point that they believe that all life on Earth will end if someone dares to use a nuke. Note here that "The W54 warhead used in the Davy Crockett had a minimum mass of about 23 kg, and had yields ranging from 10 tons up to 1 kt in various mods", which is a rather modest yield. This page lists actual (historical) peaceful uses. It is obvious that you don't want to be exploding nukes in the atmosphere, because of the pollution problem.

Fertilizer and diesel oil can be used to obliterate buildings. Remember that Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 innocent people using a ton of simple fertilizer in a rented truck. Do you advocate regulating their possession? I would hope not. A thousand gallons of gasoline stored in a Manhattan apartment building is much more of a WMD than a 10 ton nuclear mining device stored in the Rockies. A simplistic equation "Nukes are always bad, everything else is always good" is simply wrong -- you have to keep context. The proper question to be asking is, under what circumstances should the government prohibit a person from owning such-and-such. The reason for such a prohibition would have to be that possession of the object would constitute a threat to initiate force. Just in case ownership of the thing is not a threat to initiate force, then a person has the right to own the thing and use it as his means of survival.

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I'm not sure where you'd draw the line as to what things people should be allowed to possess... that's a dicey issue.

As long as the principle is clear then "dicey issue" are just details to be worked out. I have heard people argue (not Charlie) that it is arbitrary to decide the number of years penalty a given crime deserves, therefore criminal justice itself is arbitrary. Here on THE FORUM there were those for whom the very notion of restricting permissible actions in public places hinged on whether some particular act seemed offensive to them. As long as you deal in principles then these sort of "dicey" issues can be seen as practical matters to be worked by those most knowledgeable in the field.

But, on the other hand... wouldn't a fee (even a low one) serve as an incentive to make people try and smuggle goods into the country, rather than paying to have them inspected?

Isn't that like saying "wouldn't checking people crossing our border to weed out criminals and those with contagious diseases make people try to sneak into our country?" I personally am not wed to the idea of an inspection fee, but regardless of how it is financed, protection against force, potential or imminent, is the proper function of a government. It is a reality that in today's world massive destruction can be delivered in the form of a simple cargo box. Equipment to detect chemical components, radiation, and other potentially dangerous signatures are necessary to protect the rights of our citizens.

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I think you need to have some level of "contextual ownership".

While an individual may not need the explosives that David speaks of, a mining company would. In the hands of one, it is a dangerous weapon; in the hands of the other, it is a tool to further their business.

Since it is the job of the government to protect from force, and is itself an agent of force, it is the government's job to have a monopoly on that force. I see massive weapons, large quantities of gasoline, nuclear explosives, etc. as tools of force. Because these issues are rare (I don't know too many people who own massive weapons or explosives), I see no problem in the government creating a "right to own" limit. Essentially, the person who wanted to use them would have to present a case to the government on why they are going to use them, and then sign a contract to use them for that purpose.

To "draw the line", I would have the government make an objective list of the items in hand. Instead of saying "The government shall...any dangerous material object," which can lead to many other bad effects, the government would say, "Items X, Y, and Z are subject to contextual ownership...". This will: 1.) Stop the government from gaining too much power via fuzzy phrases, and 2.) Set a precedent for the future (ie. "New material W shall also").

If this was enacted, the government would have a much easier job monitoring the border. "Companies A, B, and C combined need 100 bits of X". If they find 101 imported, they can easily track where it is going and who is breaking their contract (or who is importing something for destructive purposes).

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It is a reality that in today's world massive destruction can be delivered in the form of a simple cargo box. Equipment to detect chemical components, radiation, and other potentially dangerous signatures are necessary to protect the rights of our citizens.
Quite so: and that danger exists both within the country and outside the country.

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It is a reality that in today's world massive destruction can be delivered in the form of a simple cargo box. Equipment to detect chemical components, radiation, and other potentially dangerous signatures are necessary to protect the rights of our citizens.

Quite so: and that danger exists both within the country and outside the country.

If by this comment you mean to imply that we need to monitor the ability of rogue nations to create weapons that could do us harm, then I agree wholeheartedly. It is obscene that we ever let the likes of Russia, then China, and now North Korea and Iran, develop nuclear weapons.

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If by this comment you mean to imply that we need to monitor the ability of rogue nations to create weapons that could do us harm, then I agree wholeheartedly. It is obscene that we ever let the likes of Russia, then China, and now North Korea and Iran, develop nuclear weapons.
That wasn't specifically what I meant -- I was referring to McVeigh, Ted Bundy, Eric Rudolph et al. But it's equally true of the development of weapons inside foreign nations. The residents of London have an up-close and highly personal acquaintance with the consequences of weapons created within England; as do the residents of Spain following the Madrid bombing.

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Nuclear explosives indeed have many potential peaceful uses.

- Somebody once proposed blasting a new canal across Central America using underground nuclear explosives.

- They could be used to excavate new harbors.

- In mining, where cost is so important, nuclear explosives might have some applications in breaking up large masses of ore. (As an aside, I doubt that TNT is used in mining: it would be too expensive. Better to use something cheap like dynamite or amonium nitrate + fuel oil, even though they are not as powerful. Likewise, nuclear explosives might turn out to not be economical for mining.)

- Possibly underground fusion bomb explosions could be used to generate electricity using nuclear fusion: explode a bomb in an underground chamber, generating a large quantity of high-pressure steam that one then uses to drive a turbine. (Probably generating electricity using controlled fusion would be better, if it eventually is achieved.)

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I actually think that this topic should be split. One topic can be the original, and the other about ownership of weapons/importation of weapons.

Going back to the original topic, I would say that this would (as Stephen pointed out) fall under defense. This would be a job of the defense department to handle and fund. Under a proper government, the funds would be available for the defense department to check import/exports. They wouldn't have to worry about Welfare/Social Security/etc.

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