Well, there you go again…

One of the few advantages to being very close to 60 years old is that you can put events like this 2008 election into perspective.

The United States has not gone commie, the Constitution will prevail, the sun will come out tomorrow.

After all, he can’t be any worse than Carter…

Quicklink http://wp.me/paM4C-3a

In many ways, the situation is not that different. The Democrats swept the 1976 election not based on general approval of their policies, but because Gerald Ford, a genuinely nice guy, had become very unpopular because he had pardoned Richard Nixon, frustrating the Democrats lust to see a Republican President sent to prison. Nixon had humiliated them in the 72 election, but they thought they would have their revenge by prosecuting him after he resigned in disgrace. The pardon, a step Ford thought would hasten healing, instead transferred their fury, and that of the Press, to his own administration. Carter was elected simply because Nixon had tainted the Republican Party with scandal and Ford had snatched their revenge from their grasp. But Carter and the Democrats controlling both houses of Congress mistook the rejection of the Republicans as a mandate for their policies.

Giddy with power and blind to the true motivation of the electorate, they overplayed their hand and enacted a number of new social programs, including the catastrophic Community Reinvestment Act, the seed that grew, with help from Bill Clinton’s expansion of Fannie Mae, into the financial crisis that afflicts us today. Unchallenged by a partisan Congress, Carter legislated from the Oval Office with a series of regulations and price controls on energy production, later passed into law by Congress, which destroyed the domestic oil and gas industry so thoroughly that they are still far below the capacity in place when he was elected.

Overseas, thugs and despots saw Carter’s talk of unilateral disarmament and pressure on Israel tp capitulate to Palestinian demands as weakness, and responded with aggression. Carter gave away the Panama Canal, and the Soviets sponsored surrogate insurgencies throughout Central America to fill that power vacuum. While we were distracted in our own hemisphere, Russia invaded Afghanistan as a preliminary move toward control of the Middle East. Finally, Iranian “students” backed by the Mullahs, overran the US Embassy, taking 52 hostages who were under the protection of Diplomatic Immunity under international law. Carter took no effective action.

Carter’s incessant meddling in the economy proved disastrous, no surprise to Libertarians, and as inflation, unemployment and interest rates soared to unheard of levels, new terms like Stagflation and Misery Index had to be coined to describe them. Carter responded by blaming a ‘crisis of confidence’ in the people for his failures in his “Malaise” speech.

Thankfully, after one term in office, Ronald Reagan took us out of Carter’s misery.

We have 3 years to find a Reagan.

Reagan did not resort to personal attacks, or guilt by association, instead stating principled policies of free trade, peace through strength, and low taxes and appealing to the strength and intelligence of the people. Where Carter saw only the faults and fears of the people, Reagan led us to look to our strengths and the power of Liberty to unleash that strength.

But with or without a Reagan, we will survive, simply because the hubris of the Democrats will, as before, lead them to overextend and try to make the leap to socialism at a time when only unbridled free markets can generate the prosperity required to overcome the economic problems we face. They are preparing to apply solution to our problems that will fail, and fail so quickly and obviously as to discredit them for another 30 years.

But if we want the next Reagan to be a Libertarian, we must learn from him. Libertarians tend toward the negative, harping on the personal faults of those in power. We need to learn to emphasize the bounties of Liberty and when we must criticize, frame that with humor and not with the bitterness and negativity as the GOP seems mired in today. So, lets keep Lew Rockwell safely in the closet and put on a happy, confident face and preach the joys of Liberty and let the evils of socialism reveal themselves as they certainly will.

Now is our time. Our opportunity for change we can believe in is upon us.

This is going to be fun.

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16 Responses to Well, there you go again…

  1. Reid Greenmun says:

    One can only hope.

    No, not that “one”, no the “hope” so many of his blind followers seek.

    One can only hope that there remain enough Americans that still undestand and appeciate the gift we have been given with the principles enshrined within our Constitution and a hertitage of Liberty and freedom.

  2. Michael says:

    I firmly believe in a country’s ability to screw itself over, If another one can, so can we, I hope you’re right though don.

  3. Len Rothman says:

    I think the referencing to Carter as to predicting how this upcoming Obama administration will act and whether or not they will be successful is kind of negative wishful thinking. The 70’s were a mess, and not just economically, but also psychologically for the country as a whole. Watergate, Vietnam, riots, crime rates, oil shortages, all took a nasty toll. And Carter was, unfortunately, the wrong man. The problems we are facing now are daunting, but I think the nation’s demeanor with an Obama victory is much better than had McCain won. Already, he has shown a willingness to roll up his sleeves, make intelligent cabinet and staff choices, combining smarts with experience, and wants to hit the ground running in January. The problems we now face required a transformational change, and although it may not have been your choice, anything from the GOP side would just have muddled along ineffectively while the country suffered. The big question is whether or not the money we have already spent (or misspent) will curtail the necessary Keynesian solutions that Obama is planning. We’ll see.
    (PS: I have taken up your offer to comment on this site, Don. I hope the others appreciate a different viewpoint occasionally. Thanks.)

  4. Don Tabor says:

    Len, Certainly you are welcome to post your point of view here.

    Unless you enjoy the role of a clay pigeon, though, you might want to back up assertions about things like “necessary Keynesian solutions” here. While it may be conventional wisdom on the Pilot blog that government should ‘manage’ the economy, that is like postulating that the sky is orange here. You can make the case if you want, but the burden of proof that Keynesian solutions are necessary, have ever succeeded in the past, or are worth the inevitable unintended consequences is on you.

    This is a Libertarian bar, after all.

    So, go ahead, make your case.

  5. Len Rothman says:

    Welcome to the circus, Len. Now your first job is to feed the lions, so just take this little bowl and don’t forget to pet him first.
    Actually, the sky is orange when it both sets and rises, depending upon the approaching storms. My reference to Keynes I think showed itself fairly well in the last 7 years. He was a great believer in the necessity of demand, and that demand had to come from the largest market, the middle class. It was spending by the middle class that spurred the bull market up until October of 2007, (and that showed pretty well the virtue of demand side economics, of money flowing up and spurring economic growth) when everything came crashing down because the credit cards were full and the housing values started to decline. That spending, had it come from rising income levels, would have been much more secure, but since it was based on credit, it came to an abrupt end.
    Our economy is 70% retail, and that GDP growth can only come from the middle class because that is where the consumers are. With unemployment expected to hit as high as 8.5% next year, you cannot expect the consumer spending to do anything but slow down even more. Unless you can show another way of infusing money into the economy except by the government, in a timely fashion, then the recovery will be very shaky and slow. Free market economics alone will not put food on the table of the unemployed, or make the house payments, or pay the medical bills until such time that a huge social cost becomes inevitable. Now I am not sure what the Libertarian solution to our economic malaise is, but the key words, for me, is timely. There is a human cost which is played out daily, and that needs to be addressed as well as adherence to pure theories.
    As far as unintended consequences, that is something which happens no matter what economic theory you embrace, and, of course, by definition, you don’t know what they are until much later.

  6. Don Tabor says:

    Len, You seem to have money and wealth confused. Stable money is a tool for exchanging wealth, but it is not actually wealth.

    Government can create money, but it cannot create wealth. Wealth can only be created by gathering resources and transforming them into something of higher value, whether a good or a service. Only people can create wealth.

    So, if government is going to stimulate demand by somehow placing money(representing wealth) into the hands of the “middle class” on top of what they create themselves through their labor, where does it get it?

    It can just tax everyone evenly, but that doesn’t really do anything. As Reagan described it, it would be giving oneself a transfusion by draining blood from one arm and injecting it into the other, with, of course, some portion lost in the process.

    You can’t tax the poor, they don’t have any money.

    If you heavily tax the rich, there will be less investment in the tools and equipment that make the middle class productive and allows them to create real wealth. They may continue at their current productivity for a while, but the rest of the world will continue investing in better tools and they will fall behind.

    If the government just prints (or the electronic equivalent) money, without an associated creation of wealth, we get inflation. Inflation is a hidden tax that falls heavily on those who are on fixed incomes. To put it bluntly, inflation is a tax on widows, orphans and pensioners. Or stealing from our parents.

    If government borrows to give us money to stimulate demand, that is a tax on our grandchildren for which we give them nothing. I don’t like stealing from my grandchildren.

    Or, if the government is really clever, it can stimulate demand in certain sectors, like housing, by creating agencies to extend highly leveraged loans for the middle class to buy stuff. The problem there, of course, is that these highly leveraged loans, which are packaged into debt instruments and resold to recover seed money to make more highly leveraged loans, only have value so long as people believe, or pretend to believe that they do. When doubt reasserts itself all that money abruptly disappears resulting in a deflation, which is what we have now.

    So, how does this magic stimulation take place without wrecking the economy at some point or stealing from children or old people?

    Even Keynes, when asked about FDR’s policies pursued in his name, said they would not withstand even ten minutes rational debate.

    There is no magic plan. Prosperity arises only from efficiency, and efficiency is best obtained by everyone solving his own little piece of the puzzle in a free market. No managed economy has ever successfully competed with a free market for even 50 years. Go ahead, show me a contrary example.

  7. Len Rothman says:

    You have made a number of points, but I am not sure they all follow economic realities. First of all, the money to the middle class is not a blank check, but through wages and product purchase for such things as R&D and infrastructure. Both of these components are what the government already does, but has neglected for too long. And there is the stimulation effect of this money that gets retail and commercial spending to go well beyond what the original amount provided by the government.

    Now in your statement, “efficiency is best obtained by everyone solving his own little piece of the puzzle in a free market”, you assume that a level playing field exists among employers, employees and consumers. That is not the case since, to put it simply, size matters. So while a large company can perhaps turn itself around in a severe recession or depression, it has the power to hire desperate employees at wages below any amount beyond barely surviving. Not, as Ford once said, at a wage with which they can buy what they make. The days before unions and workplace regulations saw the worst of such a power disparity. Child labor, low wages, company stores that kept the workers forever in debt, horrible safety records and the like. The vast majority of people are employees, not employers, as it has to be. After all, somebody has to do the actual labor.

    You also assume that I am talking about a “managed economy”; obviously the USSR and its original followers are topmost in your mind. Of course such an economy won’t survive. However, if we are talking about economies that have a greater government role than ours, and still are competitive, then take a closer look at Europe. Sure, they have their own ups and downs, but overall they have held their own against us for at least 50 years. And, in some instance, they are beating us, such as alternative energy, energy efficiency, auto manufacturing, ship building, etc. And they have high wages and strong unions. Now I am not naive enough to think that European style economies will fly here, but the bugaboo about them being failures is a serious red herring. I think many of them will weather this global economic meltdown better than we will. Of course, that remains to be seen.

    I asked you once at the VP site to show me a Libertarian nation, or even one that is close to that, and you said that it could not happen. Because once the candidate took office, then the political pressures would necessarily negate the Libertarian ideal. So. although some of the principles of keeping the government in check, the realities in a nation of 320 million people and countless multinational corporations will not allow but so much Libertarian ideal.

    You mentioned “heavily taxing the rich”. I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon. The last heavy taxes on the wealthy were pre-Reagan, and they approached 90% at the top levels. Moving from 36-39% is hardly onerous. And if you don’t want to put your grandchildren in debt, then that is a source to keep the costs reasonable. And it beats just printing more money.

    I think certain corporate tax reductions under certain circumstance would be a good idea. And, I am intrigued by the concept of Fair Tax. I am not sure the numbers add up, but even if a partial Fair Tax could be implemented in return for a huge simplification and reduction income tax, then that might also work.

    I do agree that there is “no magic plan”. Where we differ, is that I think government spending is part of the solution to help keep social chaos in check. What scares me, however, is that no matter what we do, we may still suffer. As the old saying goes: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

  8. Don Tabor says:

    Len,

    You mention “economic realities” but then go on to talk about fairness, and disparities in power and allude to government as a cure to those.

    Economics enables fairness, but it does not require it. Nor does it care. The laws of economics are established by how people, as a whole, respond to the incentives placed before them. Politics is about what people SAY they want, economics is about what people actually DO.

    As such, the laws of economics are like the laws of physics, immutable and uncaring. They are not subject to the laws of legislatures. You can pass laws against gravity, but you will still not be able to fly. Likewise, you cannot change the relative values the marketplace assigns to labor by passing “living wage” laws and the like. When you try, those laws of economics will reassert themselves as unintended consequences.

    The real reason we no longer have child labor in this country is not because we made it illegal, but because our economy became sufficiently efficient that it was possible for families to get by without it. If banning child labor resulted in those children going hungry, how long would those laws have remained in place? In all cases, it does not matter how good your intentions are, your economics have to work or you cannot accomplish your goals.

    If you have not read Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose or Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, I strongly recommend them. Either will make the world a much more understandable place.

  9. Len Rothman says:

    I don’t think I even used the word “fairness” in my comment. I did say “disparity” when referencing the working conditions at the turn of the century.

    And you are exactly right that economics does not care, but that is nothing new. It is merely a science (a dismal science, some say) using numbers to describe trade. However, we have laws for social mores in place fur such things as murder, slavery, thievery, etc. despite the fact that there are probably some economic efficiencies to be had by murdering your older employees, not paying the rests and stealing raw materials from unsophisticated third world countries. After all, the cheaper the labor and raw materials, the greater the profit. Child labor was outlawed despite the fact that, for menial, repetitive and dangerous work, it was cheap. We buy textile goods from third world countries because they work for pennies a day. Some folks say that they are so happy to have work that they can be locked inside firetraps, beaten and cheated of wages. It is a question of morality.
    You can pass laws that affect economics, by the way. If you say it is wrong to not pay for labor, then you raise the cost of doing business and pay the labor. If the law affects everyone in the marketplace, then you now have competition on a more level playing field, based on quality of product, price, delivery, service, etc., but not based on on just slave labor.
    Not everyone will get rich, but that is not the point. At least the labor will have a chance to save, learn and move up to better positions, and I don’t mean graduating to the manor house from the field.
    No you can’t pass laws against gravity, but you can provide a safe bridge that will take you across the chasm. Similarly, economic laws (which are not as immutable as you would believe) may determine success in the marketplace, but they have to do that within the confines of certain social mores, otherwise you have nothing more than economic dictatorship, which will be run by a small clique of oligarchs. Those folks will set the laws to benefit solely them.

  10. Len Rothman says:

    Since you recommended Thomas Sowell’s book on Basic Economics, I think a little chat about his credentials is appropriate.
    I read the Sowell column this morning; the one that starts with a Russian folk tale of envy. It is a rehash of another he wrote about a year or two ago regarding CEO pay. It is also just another attempt to yell “class warfare” whenever the subject of excessive executive pay comes up. If he really believes what he wrote, then his credibility is in serious doubt.

    First, sports and entertainment stars are not hired administrators. They are free lancers who are selling tickets (or TV time, or products) based strictly on their performance. The team players are purchased by wealthy owners and have the same relevance as a private jet: a toy and a perk of financial well being. CEO’s are employees of the shareholders whose pay has been determined not by market forces, but by friendships on the board of directors. The make a lot of money whether or not they succeed or run the company into the ground. Those golden parachutes are not even close to being in the shareholders’ interest.

    Second, he compares this concern with CEO pay to the French Revolution. In a sense, he is more right than wrong in that both the French aristocracy and the modern CEO have a sense of entitlement that is not based on performance. Of course that was not his point. But the bloodbath that ensued both in France and later in Russia was the overreaction by the proletariat. And in both cases the people were literally starving to death. A far cry from today’s situation. However, it is a lesson in reality for those who don’t value the importance of a strong and large middle class.

    Finally, he places all the blame for the global economic meltdown with the CRA.
    That totally overlooks the investment banks’ unregulated and irresponsible marketing of instruments that they knew were worthless, particularly when they went well beyond the idea of a subprime into the ridiculous (pun intended). We are now learning that groups of very smart, but totally unethical executives at the top levels of the brokerage houses and investment banks worked hard to sell garbage to the unsuspecting investors world wide. (Synthetic CDO’s anyone?) If the original loans were still based on realistic, albeit somewhat riskier, mortgages, this debacle would never have occurred. Similarly, if the majority of the loans were not offered by non-regulated entities like Countrywide, a tighter rein could have been held over the mortgage industry.

    I have read most of Sowell’s columns over the years, and I think his title of senior fellow at the Hoover Institution is like a doctorate from a diploma mill. He was hired to provide conservative spin and that is about all he does.

  11. Don Tabor says:

    Sowell graduated magna cum laude with a BA in economics from Harvard, then got his MA in economics from Cornell, before going on to his PhD in economics from the University of Chicago.

    Do you regard those as diploma mills too?

    He has taught Economics at Howard University, Cornell University, Brandeis University, and UCLA.

    But the reason I recommended his book was not just because of his qualifications as a scholar in economics but because he is able to write about it in an entertaining manner,

    Certainly, his examples are not perfect, but unless you are blinded by class envy, they are relevant. Sure, there are differences between CEO’s and entertainers, but to damn the former and give a pass to the latter is to miss the point, that being that the top tier in business is compensated based on the scarcity of that ability just as is the top tier in sports and entertainment. As to whether we are affected, I paid $9.75 apiece for movie tickets last week. Greedy CEO’s did not cost me that high a percentage in the prices I pay for other commodities and services.

    And the point of comparing the current public sentiment to the French Revolution is to illustrate that class envy makes manipulation of the public easy. The French brutally replaced their aristocracy with a regime far worse because they were so blinded by envy. We got Washington because we wanted freedom and they got Robespierre because they were obsessed with equality.

    Finally, though the machinations that have led to the collapse of the finance sector do involve both private and public agencies, the funding the CRA loans was the reason that the incentives to create subprime (and worse) securities existed. Fannie and Freddie made them possible. Whatever wrong was done later, the seed of the mess was the CRA and the GSE.s Fannie and Freddie made all else possible.

    You are a big fan of Keynesian economics, but for generations to come, the subprime mess will be the example given economics students of the folly of government intervention in the marketplace. (To be fair, Keynes probably would not have approved.)

    If you really don’t like Sowell, then read Friedman, but really, a little understanding of Austrian economics would go a long way in making the world more understandable.

    Remember, economics is not about money, its about people.

  12. Len Rothman says:

    I didn’t say he got his diplomas from a diploma mill, but rather that the “senior fellow” at Hoover is a rather fancy name for a conservative think tank which was one of many that were created to lend credibility to right wing ideology. To be fair, there are some liberal think tanks, but not nearly as many or as pervasive. Certainly his credentials are pretty solid.

    I think that we are talking past each other. You keep referring to class envy. The point about the CEO’s is not how much they make, it is how they arrive at those figures. If you use market price to hire a machinist, why does that same company arrive at compensation packages by committee, and have it done so secretly or complicated that the average investor has no idea what is going on until it is contractual. At least the entertainers are paid based on actual performance. No sales, no money. The point is if you are going to emphasize the importance of free market forces to determine value of products, services and labor, then do it across the spectrum. The publicly traded companies want my investment, but do not want me to know that the pay at the top is based on cronyism rather than market pricing.

    The French revolution example is scary because it sets up the idea that if we question such things as financial chicanery at the top, then bloodshed is the next obvious step. Far from it. That revolution was like most in the world, and just replaced one brutal dictatorship with another.
    But Sowell wants to make those who do question power and wealth seem to be on the verge of irrational hatred and revenge. Sort of like questioning the patriotism of those who questioned the need to into Iraq.

    If you have a football game, and the referee makes a questionable call early in the game, that does not give a carte blanche to the players to break the rules flagrantly throughout the rest of the contest. Then listen to the excuse that the ref screwed up so he is no good. We are now learning a lot more about what went on at the top of Citigroup, Merrill-Lynch and the rest of the financial sector. And it has little to do with CRA and all to do with an unregulated free for all. Perhaps the CRA seed was or was not a good idea, but the incredible amount of leveraging (which was allowed by new regulations from the SEC about 2003 or 4), the totally unregulated derivative instruments, hedge funds, credit default swaps, etc. were all brainchilds of overactive MBA geniuses to sell “air”. And that “air” was created by going beyond even reasonable risk taking of subprimes and lending money to people with absolutely no prayer of making even the first payment. Nobody said that kind of loan is what should be given. Nobody. But they made those loans because they thought, rightly so, that there was no adult supervision.

    And that is what makes me very concerned. Not that people make a lot of money, but that they did so touting “free market values” when it was nothing more than fraud and misrepresentation on a grand scale: both in CEO pay and the financial collapse. Even in the most Libertarian society, government is supposed to protect against “force or fraud”, and if those loans and the subsequent financial instruments created were not fraud, then I am not sure we know what that is.

  13. Len Rothman says:

    I don’t agree with most of your theories, but you know that already. It occurred to me that when you compared gravity to economics, you, and I in response, didn’t take into consideration that there is one theory of gravity, but dozens, if not more, theories of economics, particularly macroeconomics.
    The ones you like, Austrian, Friedman, Chicago, etc. are all based on laissez faire principles. But they have never been proven, just postulated as being better than anything else. The last truly laissez faire economy was around the end of the 19th century and, for most people, it was a disaster. I think the present meltdown has as much to do with the stagnation of wages for the middle class since 1980 as it does with any softening of the mortgage market. After all, it created the credit overload by the majority of the citizens because of the inability to make a better income and join the heavily promoted and advertised lifestyle of the truly well off. It is not about economics, it is about people.

  14. Don Tabor says:

    Len, If there were 100 theories of gravity, would any of them permit you to fly?

    Gravity is what it is, and theories that contradict reality don’t change anything. The same applies to economics. Theories that are not in line with history don’t really mean anything.

    The laissez faire economy of the post Civil War 19th century created the prosperity that made such social gains as the end of child labor and piece work possible. Prior to that period of industrial growth, people were too beaten down to demand anything beyond their next meal. You are talking about the period during which the us became an industrial power rather than just a source of raw materials for British industry.

    If you take a serious look at people’s standard of living over time, you will see that it advances with greater freedom and declines as government gains power. It is something of a cycle in that prosperity brings with it raised expectations which sadly fosters the envy that leads to loss of economic freedom, and in time, loss of prosperity.

    Take a look at European socialism, and the drop in productivity that has resulted. You may see Europe as some kind of model for us to follow, but then imagine where they would be if they had had to bear the burden of their own defense these last 50 years instead of being kept safe by the US policeman on the block.

    The US may be coming to a point where we pull up the drawbridge and let the rest of the world pay its own way, as we can’t afford to be their protector any longer. Then you will see what happens to socialist economies when faced with external threats, like militant Islam.

  15. Len Rothman says:

    The social gains you talk about was really the rise of labor unions after the Civil War. And that was only done through the blood of workers who were essentially murdered by police, federal troops and private security guards before many of the nasty strikes were finally settled. So yes, freedom was achieved, but at a cost beyond economics.

    So which economic theories are not in line with history? Most of the ones that you tout were created after the depression, and none have been applied as far as I can tell. Sure, not all of the efforts of FDR were winners, but it was a pretty new phenomenon and the previous administration flopped. But he did increase the money supply and he did reduce unemployment somewhat. Then Europe started buying war materiel and the rest is history. Economic theory did not do much except sit on the sidelines and either criticize or praise.

    As far as Europe prospering on our military dime, I am not sure that is a valid argument. The cold war was essentially between the US and the Soviet Union, and most of the battles were in third world countries that were devastated in order to provide allegiance to either us or the USSR. Neither country cared who ran the place, so long as one of us could call it a friend. The Soviet empire was collapsing under its own weight when Reagan came in, and he spent us into massive debt to satisfy the military-industrial complex and claim victory.

    We can no longer pull up the drawbridge. We don’t even own the drawbridge, we have to ask the Chinese for permission first. Isolationism is a pretty awful fallback. However, that is not to say that a level economic playing field cannot be achieved with countries paying a few dollars a day for labor or services that we need to pay more for at home in order to avoid living in mud huts. And as a powerful (for now, anyway) consumer economy, we can, and should, demand better working and living conditions for those who labor to provide us with goods in other countries. After all, we are the clients. That is using pure economic pressure for a social benefit.

    Again, I am not a socialist nor am I envious of honest wealth. So kindly put that to rest. Thank you.

  16. Len Rothman says:

    For those who might be interested, here is a link for an opinion by Gergory Mankiw, a professor of economics at Harvard who was and adviser to both Bush and Romney.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/business/economy/30view.html?_r=1&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink
    I know it was in the NY Times, but it is worth a read for what it says and what it doesn’t say about what can be done to temper the recession. At first glance he seems to play down Keynesian solutions, but in the end, he seems to offer not much else, particularly if monetary policies by the Fed do not work as hoped.

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