The Silver Catalyst: An Exclusive Interview with Hugo Salinas Price

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This month I am pleased to provide readers with the transcript of my recent interview with Hugo Salinas-Price, focusing on his plan for re-introducing circulating silver coinage. For those not familiar with Mr. Salinas-Price, he has been a tireless and eloquent hard-money advocate for decades. However, rather than merely rant at the destabilizing effects of inflationary monetary policies, some years ago he formulated a detailed plan to not only help protect savers from the erosion of wealth through inflation but also to potentially catalyze a return to sound monetary policy in his native Mexico and elsewhere. While ambitious in its potential effects, his plan is nevertheless refreshingly simple and would be quick to implement, making it ideal for any country seeking a way to restore financial stability, protect savings, attract investment and create jobs.

Introducing Mr. Salinas-Price

Prior to his retirement some years ago, Hugo Salinas-Price was a highly successful businessman in Mexico. He took a tiny radio-manufacturing company and turned it into a completely integrated chain of retail stores selling a range of durable consumer goods. Interestingly, one of the ways in which he financed this dramatic expansion was by introducing vendor financing, something which had already become common in the US and a handful of other countries but was entirely new in Mexico. As such, he had much first-hand experience not only with inventory management but also with consumer credit and the associated financial risks.

As is well known, Mexico has suffered its share of credit and monetary crises through the years and Mr. Salinas-Price has had to deal with the associated challenges first-hand. He therefore has much relevant experience to share with those in the US or elsewhere in the developed world who are now facing credit and monetary crises of their own.

This he made clear, employing deeply humorous irony, at a London monetary conference back in early 2011, when he said in his opening remarks: “You know that things have got really bad when you invite a Mexican to lecture you on monetary policy!”

The Silver Catalyst

John Butler (JKB): Thanks, Hugo, for agreeing to this interview to discuss your ideas on silver monetization and sound money generally. To get us started, and before going into the details of your proposal, I think it would be helpful for our readers to have some background on how you arrived at your silver monetization proposal in the first place. Ever since the world moved away from metallic money, there has been an endless series of proposals for how to re-instate it. Was your proposal something that emerged after many years of considering how best to move back toward sound money? Or was it a specific response to a specific set of circumstances in Mexico, which has nevertheless stood the test of time and acquired a universality?

Hugo Salinas-Price (HSP): Since youth I have been keenly interested in economics and hard money. My first purchase of gold coins was when I was about 11 years old, 1943. My father gave me as a gift, a small reimbursement of money he had placed in the Mexican Lottery. He asked what I should like to do with the money, and I said, "I'd like to buy 10 two-peso gold coins". That gave a total of 15 grams. I still have those coins.

When we had one more financial collapse in the winter of 1994-95, I was retired and had time to figure out just what was wrong with Mexico, and I came down to the conclusion that paper money was inherently unstable as a foundation for an economy; this led me to reconsider silver, which for centuries was Mexico's currency. (When my father was born, in 1907, the Mexican peso had the same silver content that it had in 1535, when it was called a ‘Piece of Eight’ and used all around the world.)

Starting in 1995, I pondered the problem of how to reinstate use of silver, until in 2003, out of the blue, the idea of how this could be done came to me one evening: There had to be a gradual introduction of silver into circulation, in parallel with paper money, because it would not be possible to change our monetary system from paper to silver, overnight; and the insight on HOW this could be done, came to me, as I say, out of the blue: an official monetary quote of a silver ounce coin which has no engraved value; the quote to rise when silver rises, but to remain unchanged when the price of silver falls. For a full explanation, see www.plata.com.mx section in English. (Yes, it answers the question, "What happens when the price of silver falls?")

JKB: Most sound money advocates, while acknowledging silver's historical use as money, tend to focus on gold. Many believe that some form of gold standard should be re-instated. Several US presidential candidates have claimed that, if elected, they would study a potential return to a gold standard. This was done by Ronald Reagan following his election, for example. Why is your focus on silver specifically? What advantages does your silver plan provide which could not be replicated with a similar plan based on gold?

HSP: My focus is on silver, because silver was formerly always the money of the great majority of the population in every country of the world. It has been and can again be money for everyday use and which can be saved by almost everyone. Silver is the idea medium for ‘micro-savings’, for millions upon millions of savers who can put away small amounts, day by day, and build up a personal or family capital which can be passed on to the next generation.

We have a tragic impoverishment of enormous numbers of humanity whose attempt at savings is continually undermined by the devaluation of paper money - its loss of purchasing power. We have to put a stop to this, out of justice and - self-interest, too: the wider the breach between rich and poor, the more dangerous life becomes for all. (Ed. note: Eminent historians Will and Ariel Durant observed that nearly all revolutions have occurred alongside extreme disparities in wealth.)

With regard to GOLD: I think that the present despots who rule the world are the BANKERS, and if there is a monetary re-arrangement in the world, it will be they who will propose it and implement it; and they will make sure that humanity at large has no access to gold money. They will pretend that the new money they will give us, after the present set-up collapses, will be ‘gold-backed’, but they will never, ever give us gold coin to use and save: gold coin which can be an ALTERNATIVE to purchasing BONDS. (Ed. note: You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to observe that bankers currently wield an unusually large amount of political influence. Not only are they the biggest contributors to US federal election campaigns; they have recently been placed in charge of Greece and Italy without being popularly elected.)

At present, there is no alternative to the ‘Sovereign Debt Bond’; if people can purchase gold coins instead of being forced into bonds, this will force interest rates higher and also force governments issuing these bonds into fiscal balance. Only the purchaser of gold coins can force the state's hand and compel it to observe fiscal balance.

I certainly wish that the world's rulers would come to their senses and realize that paper money has had its day, and has failed, and that it is necessary to return to gold as money which individuals can use for larger transactions. The day of paper or fiat money is past; the future belongs to the precious metals, if it is going to be a civilized future.

By the way, I should like to mention that the gold coin cannot circulate in parallel with paper money, the way a silver coin can. Gold will only circulate as money when there is no other alternative available, because it is so highly esteemed all over the world. Payment in gold has always been a last resort; so if there is an alternative, people will hoard their gold and use the alternative as a means of payment. While we wait for our masters to realize all this about gold, we probably have a better chance with silver, which can come into use without casting out the existing fiat money.

Now, silver money can exist along with paper money, which gold cannot do. So we have to use silver money in such a way that when all paper crashes, people will have the alternative at hand. To do this, we have to give a monetary value (expressed in paper money) to the silver coin by means of an official quote - not an engraved value. As silver rises due to inflation, the value of the silver coin will rise accordingly.

People are buying silver ounces by the millions today, but - they cannot use these ounces as money, because there is no generally known monetary value attached to them. If we give the ounces a monetary value by means of a Treasury quote, silver coins will become 10 times more attractive.

JKB: The Mexican experience with silver is somewhat unusual. When the conquistadores arrived, silver was already in wide circulation in Europe and they wasted no time seeking out local silver deposits. Silver has thus been part of Mexico's history from the beginning and there are many active silver mines to this day. To what extent is your proposal applicable to other countries lacking the same historical experience and traditions, in particular, for a non-silver producing country? Would it still be seen as attractive?

HSP: The whole world used silver as money for centuries, not only Mexico. So silver money is certainly not a special tradition limited to Mexico. Silver money is of such great importance for the well-being of humans, that countries that do not produce silver will seek to acquire it by trading their exports for silver coin.

However, under the plan to reintroduce silver into circulation which I visualize, there will be an income for a state Treasury that wishes to monetize a local silver coin, because the monetization of a silver coin (to circulate in parallel with paper money) implies a seigniorage for the Treasury. That is to say, the Treasury will quote a monetary value for the coin, a monetary value which will be slightly superior to the bullion value of the silver it contains. The Treasury thus retains a profit on the silver coins placed in circulation.

So, a country which does not produce silver can purchase the silver, mint it into coins and place them in circulation at a profit for its Treasury. If the Treasury does not wish to do this, the silver coins monetized elsewhere will be imported and paid for with exports. Sound money is so hugely important for human life that any enlightened government will accept these imported coins as happily as it accepts the importation of dollars, today! All around the world, people have been accumulating dollars - paper money - in countries that have a competitive advantage in exports. The silver coin, once it becomes money, will be desired all over the world for its stability and enduring value, and reach everywhere just as the dollar has done in the post-war period.

(Ed. note: The dollar of today is not the dollar of yesterday. Back in the 1950s, the dollar was not only backed by gold; it was backed by a country with by far the largest economy in the world, running a trade surplus, with a young population, a minimal welfare state, and a sound financial system. There is just no way that today’s unbacked, fiat dollars, printed at will by a country with a declining share of the global economy, running chronic trade deficits, with an ageing population, a rapidly growing welfare state and associated debt, and a weak financial system, can possibly command the same degree of trust and confidence of global investors.)

JKB: While governments invariably struggle to finance themselves from time to time, in the world today we see an unusually large number of governments with huge, clearly unserviceable debt burdens. It is difficult to imagine any government forgoing the seignorage income associated with fiat currency, most improbably one desperate for revenue. How does your proposal get around this problem? Why might a government find it attractive?

HSP: Yes, indeed, creating money out of nothing, with the printing press, has been the norm for many years now. Clearly and with no qualification one can say that this has been the case since 1971. But this scheme is nearing collapse. We can perceive the tremors of change, where some countries are now reducing their dependence on the dollar and beginning to trade with each other, in their own currencies. But, this measure is simply a replacement of one fiat currency in favor of another, and will eventually also fail.

Before the inevitable collapse of all paper money takes place, we must convince some government - perhaps in a small, relatively independent nation - to prepare for the end of this transitory period where it was possible to satisfy the population with paper money and begin to provide the alternative, which will be silver money. We have to have an alternative in place for the collapse, which is inevitable, as paper money continues to lose purchasing power.

We must provide people with a vehicle for "micro-savings" so that individuals can prepare their own personal life-boats for the crisis. Popular demand for silver is breaking out spontaneously all over the world. If no government will listen, the result will be horrendous.

JKB: Let's imagine that a country were to implement your proposal and that it would be at least a local success, with widespread domestic acceptance. What would this imply for neighboring countries? How would they likely react? Would they welcome such a policy? Or see it as a threat perhaps?

HSP: Sound money has a political gravitational effect upon neighboring countries. One single government monetizing silver will be a "game-changer" as other countries will fall over themselves following suit, because the measure makes so much political sense.

Suppose Mexico were to monetize the one ounce "Libertad" coin: millions of Americans would wish to own these coins, because of their quality and because they are MONEY. So would all of Central and South America. The reason that Mexican paper pesos are not desired around the world is because of their lack of quality. The US dollar is thought to have quality, and thus it has dominated the world, but it is becoming evident that the dollar has no quality at all.

The monetized Mexican one ounce coin will be accepted as money all over the world at exchange houses. At some point, some central banks will be retaining these coins in reserves instead of dollars, because they will be acceptable all over the world. Mexico may or may not decide to monetize silver, because no doubt the imperialistic US would not exactly love to have Mexico do this. Our central bank has opposed monetization in spite of all the support expressed for the measure in our Congress, because it is afraid of the Fed.

However, some Islamic countries are thinking about gold and silver: President Mohammad Mahathir, years ago, attempted to introduce silver dirhams and gold dinars into the Malaysian economy, but he failed, because he did not apply the necessary technique to the silver dirham. Now, the Islamics are well aware of the method necessary to introduce silver dirhams into circulation along with paper money, and the use of silver and gold as money, one should note, is a religious obligation for Islam. And the Islamics certainly do not care what the US thinks of the measure, they have all been suffering enormously from US military intervention for many years. So, if Mexico fails to monetize the silver coin, someone else is going to do it. It is inevitable.

JKB: Now let's imagine then than a significant number of countries around the world were to implement your proposal. Is it conceivable that bilateral trade might be conducted in silver? And might silver, or silver-backed certificates or bonds of some kind, start to function as reserve assets in these countries?

HSP: I see no fundamental reason why silver cannot support international trade; it did at one time, and can do it again: it is a question of a natural rise in the price of silver to reflect the tremendous depreciation of paper currencies that has taken place through the years. But we must remember that international trade has to be self-liquidating: exports are collected in the form of imports, and imports are paid for with exports.

No amount of silver (or gold) would be sufficient to allow chronically UNBALANCED trade. So this brings with it, the revival of JOBS. Jobs growth has become so scarce in the West because all that the East exports can be paid with dollars or euros, whose supply is inexhaustible. Eastern exports have removed millions upon millions of Western jobs and hundreds of industries, because those incoming goods can be paid with unlimited amounts of fiat paper money. I cannot see how any Western industrial economy can survive in the long-term, under the paper money system. Europe is gravely affected by the loss of industries and jobs, and only a return to gold can bring them back.

Jobs will NOT return until TRADE IS BALANCED and trade will not be balanced until silver and/or gold is made the international means of payment - paper unacceptable.

Silver certificates are perfectly feasible - President Kennedy ordered the US Treasury to issue $4 billion dollars of silver certificates before he was assassinated. Of course, those certificates representing silver dollars would have been driven out of circulation a few years later, because the price of silver rose above the value of the silver in the silver dollar. The monetized silver coin, according to the method I propose, would RISE in value along with any rise in the value of silver. Thus it would remain in permanent circulation along with paper - a blessing to mankind! Silver certificates for 5 or more silver ounces could certainly be issued. (But NOT for one ounce! People must be able to use the coins themselves and not paper certificates!)

JKB: As the provider of the world's primary reserve currency, the United States continues to enjoy a degree of the 'exorbitant privilege' that it has always enjoyed ever since the Bretton Woods agreements were negotiated and signed in 1944. As such, one could argue that the United States would have the most to lose from an international power perspective were silver or derivatives thereof to take on a growing role as reserve assets. How do you think the US would respond to this? Would it see the growth of silver-based trade and reserve growth as a fait accompli and go along at some point? Or would it try to shut it down and maintain the dollar's current, dominant role instead?

HSP: A wounded beast is very dangerous, so is a cornered rat, for that matter. The rulers of the US are blindly trying to maintain the present state of affairs, but will fail in that attempt. Just because it is big and has nuclear weapons, does not mean the US can avoid financial cataclysm. It will, with no doubt whatsoever, go the way of Greece; and the dollar will go the way of the French assignat of 1790 and the way of the German reichsmark in 1923. That is written in stone. We still have to endure the period of persecution of owners of gold and silver, which is likely to take place. (Ed. note: Frenchmen refusing to part with their gold, silver or other nationalized property in return for fiat assignats were frequently sent to the guillotine.)

The dollar and the euro are doomed and we see evidence of that every day: Iran is thumbing its nose at its exclusion from the dollar area and using its oil and gold for trade. By excluding Iran from contact with the dollar world, I think the US is unwittingly doing Iran (and the world) a favour, because I think Iran will demonstrate that it is possible to conduct trade with other countries yet avoid the dollar entirely. This is a big thing. I am hoping that Iran will look at the silver monetization plan.

JKB: Would it be fair to say that your proposal is in some ways a sound money 'Trojan Horse', that is, rather than go right to the top of the money power pyramid and overthrow the current, global, fiat regime, quietly introduce a subtle, subversive force which, largely unseen and over time, eventually undermines the current order and catalyses a return to sound money policies in numerous countries?

HSP: Nature operates by small, subtle changes. Silver was not abandoned as money all at once. It gradually receded from use as money in itself, by weight. After that had taken place, silver was still used in the minting of coinage, but those silver coins were given a monetary value which exceeded the value of the silver they contained. It is important to note that falls in the value of silver bullion did not affect the acceptance of the silver coins used as money. People continued to use them as money, even though the ‘melt value’ of those coins had fallen. Finally, countries around the world ceased to mint silver coins because the price of silver began to trend higher, and silver coins were melted down for their ‘melt value’, which had risen above the monetary value stamped upon the coins. So, the disappearance of silver from the monetary scene was a gradual process.

The procedure to reintroduce silver into circulation as money should also follow the same gradual process, in reverse order. Paper money entered the monetary house as a servant maid, but finally expelled gold and silver and took over the monetary house. Now it is necessary to have silver money enter the monetary house as the humble servant maid by the back door, so to speak. Reversing the process which expelled silver, the silver coin has to be given a monetary value in excess of its ‘melt value’ - just as it had before. To compensate for the established rising trend for silver prices, the monetary value of the silver coin must not be stamped; it must be an officially quoted value which can rise when the price of silver makes it necessary to increase the monetary value of the coin; in this way, the silver coin will always be slightly overvalued with regard to its ‘melt value’ - just as it used to be. If the "melt value" goes down, the monetary value remains without change - just as it used to do.

Because of Gresham's Law, people will, beyond doubt, hoard these coins as a superior form of savings and use paper money for transactions, though of course the silver coins will be actual money which could be used, if desired, for all transactions in the same way as paper money and digital money.

In the course of an indefinite period of time - maybe decades, maybe a century or more - when people have become thoroughly fed up with paper money folly, and when the population has a sufficient stock of silver coins saved up, there will come a time when the price of silver finally stabilizes and only fluctuates minimally in value, with regard to gold. At a given moment, some people in some part of the world will then begin to think in terms of silver weight, as they used to do, and the value of silver will then be calculated in terms of weight of silver compared to some weight of gold.

It is impossible to know at this time any approximate future ratio of silver to gold. No artificial monetary value established by a monetary authority will be necessary, as banking as we know it will have been transformed and, with it, the perpetual inflation of money and prices. A new, sound banking system will come into use and the silver coins saved by the population will facilitate its establishment.

As things are now, it seems likely that this final stage will not arrive in a peaceful manner. But as long as humans are present on this planet, this will happen - perhaps far in the future. The question then is, can humanity begin the process of return to real money by a deliberate legislation to initiate the process, or will it require the demolition of our civilization in order to restore gold and silver as money, by weight?

As you can see, in the final analysis I am a great optimist, because human nature requires the use of real money and human nature is what it is and will never change.

JKB: What about the broader, societal implications of the re-introduction of silver or other precious metal coinage? For example, ever since the financial crisis hit back in 2008 hardly a week goes by without some sort of corrupt financial dealing or shady transactions of some kind being discovered. Bail outs are an extreme form of political favour, taking potentially huge amounts from taxpayers and legally transferring them to failed financial or other executives and investors. Would the re-introduction of silver help to end the bailout culture and restore some degree of financial transparency and honesty? Or at a minimum help savers to protect themselves from political or financial abuses?

HSP: It seems to me that present-day Banking has given Capitalism a very, very bad name. Capitalism is a system which can function optimally in favor of all people, but it requires certain things: one of them is sound money, physical money of silver or gold, or both. The world at present is suffering from a world banking system - certainly not worthy of being called ‘Capitalist’ - that impoverishes those outside it, and enriches those inside it, because the bankers, having first access to money WHICH THEY CREATE OUT OF NOTHING are able to acquire important productive assets, and thus progressively amass more and more wealth, whereas the public is impoverished because the paper money it receives is invested in government-regulated, retail vehicles that constantly lose purchasing power.

I think that the monetized silver ounce - or perhaps a smaller coin - would serve as an ideal vehicle for massive "micro-savings". The wealth of a nation is not just the wealth of its bankers, it must be the wealth of all, some rich, some poor. The accumulated wealth in savings translates into a better, more satisfying life for all, because it is just and because it eliminates so much anguish felt by people all over the world, who as they become poorer, begin to think they are really inept, incapable of success, or just plain lacking in intelligence.

I think the world has taken up drug use and other forms of artificial, escapist recreation so massively because of this anguish, whose fundamental cause is the uncertainty that comes from the use of paper money, and from the inevitable impoverishment of those who are in the lower strata of every economy. The same decadent features of society which we perceive today also made their presence felt in Revolutionary France in 1790, as a consequence of the assignat paper money which was introduced. Notably, fashionable women began to go around in see-through dresses. History rhymes in various ways, not to mention decadent Berlin in the Weimar era.

JKB: For Amphora Report readers who are advocates of a return to some form of sound money, or who might have specific interest in your proposal, what would you recommend? How can the average, informed individual hope to make a difference, to become part of the solution or at a minimum not part of the problem?

HSP: If any reader has time, I would ask him to look at my website, www.plata.com.mx and examine the section with my articles in English. Think about what I am proposing and talk about it with your friends. If you have influential friends, see if you can interest them. Send your observations on silver to your bankers and business associates. There are lots of fine men who are bankers - my son is a banker - and the problem is that they are trapped in a system they did not devise, and don't know of any alternative. SILVER IS THE ALTERNATIVE.

JKB: I understand that you are an avid reader of an eclectic range of books. When it comes to sound money, or economic and financial history generally, are there any books that you would like to recommend?

HSP: Offhand, I would mention one little book: Fiat Money Inflation in France by Andrew Dickson White. We are living EXACTLY the same problems - on a world scale - that France had in 1790-1797 when the best and brightest of the Frenchmen thought they had discovered the best thing since escargot - paper money! See what happened to France: It is what is happening to the world, today. You can download the book at my site, complete.

JKB: Any final thoughts or advice for our readers?

HSP: Buy physical gold and silver. Keep them as close to yourself as you can. Forget about putting funds into bonds or stocks. Live within your means. Shun debt. Cultivate your friendships, you will need them. Meditate and pray a lot.

JKB: Please let us know how interested readers could learn more about your ideas on silver monetization.

HSP: Please look at my website, www.plata.com.mx. In the English section I have posted many articles about the monetization of silver. The most recent one is, For Iran, silver money is much more important than its nuclear program. Another to be posted shortly will be, The Failure of Mechanistic Economics.

JKB: Thanks Hugo for your time and your thoughts.

HSP: My thanks to you, John, for so kindly offering me the pages of the Amphora Report for my comments!

Some Afterthoughts

Mr. Salinas-Price is no doubt highly passionate about his silver-centric, sound money plan. Once again I would draw attention to his personal experience of the Mexican money and credit crises through the years. He has seen the destructive effects of unsound money not only on the Mexican economy but on society generally. And as a student of history, naturally he hears in his personal experience the echoes and rhymes of the past.

Now, following the global financial crisis that began in 2008, he hears them in crescendo around the world. Policymakers are making the same mistakes they have made repeatedly in the past, albeit on a bigger, global scale, with tragic consequences for the future.

This is not to say that he lacks faith in humanity. Quite the opposite. He is highly confident that sound money will make a triumphant return. Unfortunately, there is a long, dark tunnel through which we must first pass.

Some might regard all of this as fate, that somehow we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. I, for one, disagree. Society is comprised of individuals. Individuals can choose to educate themselves, employ reason and act accordingly, or they can resign themselves to the unfortunate circumstances imposed on them by others. Ayn Rand termed such an abdication of responsibility the ‘Sanction of the Victim’. But to sanction anything is to make a conscious choice to allow it.

Society, as a collection of individuals, cannot make choices that the individuals themselves do not make. Individuals can choose, at any moment, to withdraw their consent to act in ways that go against their own reason and beliefs. Yes, there might be consequences for a weak minority that does so, but with each incremental, individual choice to withdraw consent, a tipping point comes nearer.

It is the nature of tipping points that they cannot be observed in advance, only in hindsight. As such, a willingness to endure the unpleasant if temporary consequences of withdrawing consent requires faith that the tipping point, at a minimum, exists.

Mr. Salinas-Price makes reference to a future “persecution of owners of gold and silver.” History does indeed suggest that, as unsound monetary policies near their inevitable, chaotic conclusions, something along these lines might be in store.

This is all the more reason to act now. The sooner we take action to undermine the unsound money which is the ultimate cause of economic and financial instability, growing wealth disparity and societal decay, the sooner we can set about rebuilding sound economic and societal foundations. As such, Mr. Salinas-Price’s proposal is worthy of consideration. It takes just one small country to take the lead. Other, larger countries may quickly fall in line.

I encourage supportive readers with connections in banking, government or other relevant circles to engage on this topic when possible. Who is to know which conversation, discussion or debate will be that which tips the balance in favour of sound money?

As a final word, I confess that I have always had a soft spot for Norse mythology. For the Norse, there was no ultimate redemption. Yes, fallen great warriors were invited to Valhalla for a time, but even that eventually came to an end. The mark of a great man was not that he went to Valhalla. It was that he DID THE RIGHT THING. It wasn’t whether he won or lost, it was that he FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT.

Right is right; wrong is wrong. Whether or not there is a Valhalla, Nirvana, Elysium, Heaven or Happy Hunting Grounds: For the Norse, it was ultimately beside the point. (One wonders if this singular focus on doing the right thing, for its own sake, damn the consequences, helps to explain why Iceland is the only country beset by the global financial crisis to have refused to bail out its banks or kowtow to the International Monetary Fund.)

I would like to thank Mr. Salinas-Price for his time, his thoughts and, most important, his unceasing efforts to do the right thing and fight the good fight.

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