Avarice and cluelessness

By Daniel Holz | March 27, 2009 5:11 pm

You may have noticed that there’s some economic turmoil at the moment. The US is officially in a recession. And the rest of the world seems intent on following suit.

At its heart, much of the problem appears to be related to the penchant of Americans for borrowing money so as to be able to buy things. In particular, getting mortgages to buy homes (the American dream). It became possible to get hundreds of thousands of dollars from a bank with no credit check, no proof of income or employment, and no money down. People ended up with mortgages they could barely afford, with the hope of refinancing or selling at a much higher price a few years down the road. The banks figured that in the worst case, they’d just repossess defaulted homes and sell them for more than the value of the mortgages. All this worked fine so long as property values continued to go up, and the banks continued to lend. But eventually it all had to come toppling down. And topple it did.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Irresponsible consumers borrowed way beyond their means, and ended up in houses (or owning cars and huge flat-screen TVs) they couldn’t afford. Wall street bull (Photoillustration by Ji Lee)And irresponsible brokers and banks pushed mortgage products they knew were high risk, just to pocket quick commissions, knowing they would be able to sell the lousy mortgage contracts to larger financial institutions. And irresponsible financial institutions bought up mortgages from banks, figuring they could repackage them and sell them to investors around the world for a quick buck. And irresponsible traders created complicated financial products based on these toxic mortgages, somehow claiming to erase the underlying risk. And irresponsible ratings agencies (Moody’s, Morningstar, S&P, Fitch) evaluated these complicated products, and officially declared them high-grade, when in fact they were essentially worthless. And an irresponsible government systematically deregulated and weakened oversight, allowing Wall Street to drive itself right off a cliff, taking Main Street with it.

A lot of people made a lot of money along the way. It’s hard to know if all of this happened because of rampant greed or astounding stupidity. Probably a healthy dose of both. Michael Lewis, of Liar’s Poker fame, has written a nice piece that sums up some of these recent financial events. I also highly recommend listening to an hour-long program from This American Life, in conjunction with the news bureau of NPR, exploring some of the underpinnings of the current crisis (produced last May). The program will “explain it all to you”; and exemplifies the best of public radio. If you are too impatient to listen for an hour, you can also skim the transcript. We learn how a bartender with no training becomes a successful mortgage broker overnight. It’s hard to know if this is tragedy or farce.

There’s a temptation within the ivory tower of academia to assume that this will have only a slight impact. After all, few of us are fortunate enough to have millions of dollars to lose in the market. And academics have a history of being quite conservative financially (with modest debt and modest spending habits), presumably forged in the poverty of graduate school. However, we all have retirement plans, and even though these are usually conservatively managed (e.g., TIAA-CREF funds, instead of invested in highly leveraged hedge funds), they have lost tremendous value over the past months (since there has been essentially no safe place to park one’s money). Academics are impacted in more direct ways as well. After years of often spectacular gains, the endowments of many major research universities have suffered tremendous losses (such as in the case of Harvard and Chicago). Since these endowments can be responsible for a fair fraction of the operating budgets, this means that many universities have suddenly lost income. They are often restricted from dipping into their principal, so their only recourse is to reduce spending. State universities are also in terrible shape, since many state budgets have collapsed, and major funding cuts are inevitable (such as in the case of the University of California and Arizona State). Thus Universities are cutting costs across the board, including freezes on hiring and infrastructure development. The US federal government is arguably in the worst shape of all. We are already running large deficits, and now Congress is busy bailing out the financial industry, including Citigroup (one of the world’s largest banks) and AIG (one of the world’s largest insurance firms), and General Motors (the world’s largest auto maker until last year, when it was passed by Toyota). Although the entire scientific enterprise in the US represents only a tiny fraction (~1%) of the current bailout, taxpayers (and their Congress) are probably not feeling particularly generous at the moment. This may have a severe long-term negative impact on the National Labs, as well as research funding across the board.

My guess is that the profound nature of the current economic crisis has yet to make itself known. After all, it took a few years for the great depression to really kick in. It is sobering to think that, decades from now, this age may not be remembered for the tremendous hope and inspiration accompanying the election of the first African-American president. Instead, the defining event of our time could well be economic malaise. And this is something everyone, from Wall Street tycoons to scientists to Joe the plumber to farmers in rural China, will suffer for.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Society
  • http://wintershaven.net Jacob Wintersmith

    “Although the entire scientific enterprise in the US represents only a tiny fraction (~1%) of the current bailout…”

    I would just like to point out the difference between the financial sector bailout and Obama’s stimulus. The former aims to prop up banks because the chaotic failure of large financial institutions often has disproportionate effects on the broader economy. The latter is intended, per Keynes, to compensate for depressed demand by increasing government spending (on infrastructure, science, etc.). Although the two are often confused, they are really quite different.

  • Jean-Paul Billon

    Unrestricted greed or stupidity is not enough to explain a structural crisis like the one we are facing. In fact, as a French logician, I’d say it is a typical American attitude to judge catastrophic events in terms of moral responsibility (or in this case rather irresponsibility).

    If we go a bit deeper in the analysis, the first fact, is that since 30 years, the redistribution of wealth has been in constant regression, which has resulted in a bigger and bigger gap between the have and have not. And this is not because people were greedy or stupid, but because an economic theory coming from the Chicago/Friedman’s school has become the current ideology, thanks to Reagan and Thatcher.

    But, the second fact, is that our society NEEDS some kind of redistribution of wealth to pursue its economic growth. In consequence, because middle class wealth was shrinking while upper rich class one was expanding, the redistribution of wealth could come only by having the riches lending money to the poor guys. And there is the evil perversion: as the poor guys went poorer and poorer because the economic theory was that we have to struggle inflation and be competitive in global economy by restricting the growth of salaries, the more they needed the rich ones to lend them money and the more the rich one needed to lend them their money in order to make it work. But also, and logically, the more the poor ones could not pay back their debts….

    What’s the conclusion? Well, some idiotic economic theory that had some successes in the US at the beginning of the Reagan era, was rewarded by a Nobel price, and has become the one and only one ideology of our world has put the whole world on the very wrong path of a vicious circle. To get out of this trap we need the rich ones to become less rich and the poor ones to become less poor, by a direct redistribution of wealth, and not artificially and temporarily by the rich ones lending to the poor who can’t pay their debts! Well, a kind of socialism has to come back, with a revenge!!

    EU states governments do not seem to understand this as deeply as needed. I hope Obama will and that he will convince them during the next G20 or we are doomed…

  • Kurt

    I am so sick of Obama and his administration saying that he “inherited” this economic crisis. It’s such a whiny tone for the one to take.

    Does that mean the next republican/democrat president can say that he/she is inherited trillions of dollars in more deficits from Obama. I hope they do.

    Not to mention that Obama and his campaign worked day and night, night and day to inherit this mess. They asked for it! They begged for it! They wanted to fix our problems! So stop saying that you inherited this mess.
    Not to mention he also inherited it from both republicans and democrats in congress.

  • Retired

    and so according to our French authority we must take money from productive citizens to give to the unproductive.

    this will encourage or discourage productivity? are we not dealing with humans here?

    why work if the groceries, homes, clothing are given?
    they don’t need to work. the workers will just share.
    never has worked anywhere and kept the production level growing.

  • brenatevi

    But on the other hand, one could argue that a good number of the rich didn’t do anything to truly deserve their wealth. They simply had the money to invest it, and conned others so that they can get even more wealthy.

    Economies are a balancing act, and if they tip too far in any direction, there is going to be a reaction to fix the balance.

  • John

    It finally occurred to me that at the root of all this mess is the collapse of the housing bubble. The reason this is the root os that so much of the top end investment banking relied on mortgage backed securities. Now, the question is this: how much are these securities worth? Well, that depends. It depends on unemployment. The more unemployment, the less those securities are worth, and the longer the credit freeze will last.

    A very great deal of the discourse on this whole subject ignores the circularity and interconnectedness of Main Street and Wall Street, and the connections with the rest of the world. It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around all this, but we had better get the message out tot he general public that they really do depend on Wall Street , and Wall Sreet depends on them.

  • jpd

    “and so according to our French authority we must take money from productive citizens to give to the unproductive.
    this will encourage or discourage productivity? are we not dealing with humans here?”

    how about punishing people who screwed up?

  • Gray Gaffer

    “and so according to our French authority we must take money from productive citizens to give to the unproductive” displays an amazing bigotry. The ones with the gigabucks of money are not the productive ones. They got their money by taking from the productive ones. Where else do you think it came from? All the people who do the actual work are now the poor. Or out of work because their employers can’t sell enough of their product. To the other poor.

    Perhaps the scariest part of this whole debacle, to me, is the real possibility that we we lose our incredible store of institutionalized knowledge as factories and hospitals and schools and research institutes shut down and the people who know how they really work are scattered to the winds. Bush gutted our bureaucratic institutions by sopecifically targeting the people who were qualified and replacing them with unqualified ignorant toadies, and the resultant bungling laid the groundwork for this mess. Which seems set on finishing the job. If it does, it will be many decades, generations even, climbing back out of it. We may even lose the Internet along the way, because the equipment ages and dies while the technology to build it rots because there is nobody left who knows how to build it. Then these conversations go quiet.

    And yes, Obama _did_ inherit this mess. And just as well, too. He was the only serious intellect in the running. And I think it clear that the old 2 party lines of Republican and Democrat is past its sell-by date. The reality of the past couple of decades has been those for We The People vs those out for themselves and their cronies. And now we really know where that leads.

    The collapse of the housing bubble is far from being the root of this mess. It is merely the first symptom of a systemic phase change, made visible as the bankrupt financial system that spawned it founders. Ungoverned, unsynchronised, unaware, and uneducated personal interests are the root cause. We used to have a system that paid attention to the details. That paid attention to having qualified people do the work. That paid attention to making sure people did in fact qualify. But lately our educational system has broken to the extent that it graduates students with A’s who did not attend any classes or do any homework, but threatened to sue for their A anyway. Students who are assumed to have such fragile egos that they cannot be told they need to work harder, or aim lower, or that some other student might be better than them.

    Yes. I’m bitter.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    The subprime mortgages just by themselves would have been no larger than the Savings & Loan crisis of the 1980s.

    The real problem is the casino that the financial institutions created. It was uncontrolled, even by themselves. Less than 400 people in the London offices of AIG could take down the 18th largest company in the world, with more than 100,000 employees, because of the bets they placed. In turn, their bets were “insurance” for stupid bets placed by other firms, like Goldman-Sachs, BofA, Citibank, etc., which enabled those firms to claim these were low risk bets because they were backed by the AAA rating of A.I.G. Thus those firms could package junk into highly rated securities.

    And then, in this game the financial companies played, you could do the equivalent of taking out fire insurance on your neighbor’s house, or life insurance on any random person on the street. Of course, what people bet on was other people’s risky bets, so there is a huge multiplication effect here.

  • drunk

    Yes it appears to be very complicated, but actually very simple. Because it’s the entire society. From the Fed chairman, to Bush The Idiot, to Joe ‘I donno what’s happening’ Who. Everybody ride on the wild-west gold-rush quick-buck no-rule fake-money easy-life society. All for themselves and screw the other guy. And as superpower, no need to worry about tomorrow. Milk the country the max. See – very simple – no fancy economic and investment terms.

    What’s happening now, and will continue to happen for at least a few more years, will also be simple. Yes, very very simple to understand, and to feel. Everybody becomes an expert in black hole – teach ’em physicists a few things.

  • G F Mueden

    The greedy went to finance because, as Willie Sutton said, “That’s where the money is”.

    So, put a lid on the money, make finance less attractive, and there will be plenty of nice guys left who are smart enough to be trustees. Thats what we need: trustees, no empire builders.
    Put a lid on earnings growth. Not easy to do, but we should work in that direction. There will always be a need for conservaive banks and there will always be a need for them as investments. ===gm===

  • Pieter Kok

    The knee-jek reaction of Retired indicates that Jean-Paul hit a nerve.

    “…this age may not be remembered for the tremendous hope and inspiration accompanying the election of the first African-American president. Instead, the defining event of our time could well be economic malaise.”

    Arguably FDR’s response to the depression in the 30s made him a great president, and Obama has the same opportunity now. In fact, it is doubly important that Obama makes the right choices and doesn’t screw up, otherwise the next time a black candidate runs for president, the bigots will say “we tried that, it didn’t work out”.

  • Not an American

    “this age may not be remembered for the tremendous hope and inspiration accompanying the election of the first African-American president. Instead, the defining event of our time could well be economic malaise”

    I just can’t believe how you Americans stick everywhere this election of yours of your first black president. You are a backwards, barbaric country, whose only advantage over everyone else during the last 60 years was sticking through WWII undamaged due to your geography, and getting rich in process. If I were you, I would be ashamed that something like the recent elections happened only now, and surely wouldn’t wish to be able to describe it as “the defining event of our time”. What will be the next defining event – something that happens on one of your silly TV programs, like American Idol perhaps?

  • http://physicsmuse.wordpress.com Sandy

    I agree that we may not see the outcome of this current economic crisis for a long time. My worst fear is that government is the new bubble. If it pops, if our government goes bankrupt (i.e. we take losses on all we have backed and/or the dollar is devalued) individuals will be on their own (without services). However, people are resourceful; if we have natural resources we can always create anew. But, what about those resources? For our own protection, we have to stop under-pricing (and subsidizing) water and land use (yes, even for green industries). That is the only way to get people and companies to stop wasting and to insure our resilience.

  • Mike

    Very nice post. I had read Michael Lewis’s piece before, and I liked it very much, so I’m happy it’s linked here.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Nice summary, and superbly written.

    We’re in no immediate financial danger, and should weather the current climate with relatively little hardship. But my house has lost %30 of its value, and my 401k bottomed out at a roughly %60 loss. I could have bought a second house today for cash with what has vanished from my future, before interest. As far as I can tell, I did nothing wrong. Our mortgage is only 17% of our gross annual income, and we put over 20% down. Our cars were paid for in cash, and we drove 10-year-old beaters so we would have no consumer debt when we purchased them. We have no balance on our credit cards. We consulted a financial planner, who factored in our age and our retirement goals, and helped us carefully distribute our 401k and 403b contributions to find the “right” balance of risk and earnings potential, and have carefully re-allocated each year as we got older, according to a well-crafted plan to move proportionally into securer investments as we age. We even contribute to a 529 plan (mutual fund, largely, of course) for a kid we don’t yet have.

    After things like Enron (shout out to fellow Janus fund suckers), a .com bubble, and now this, even with a corporate match, we’re literally worse off than if we’d spent it all on fancy cars and flat-screen TVs. Throw in a couple trips around the world, and maybe a time-share, perhaps, just to put the farce in perspective. We’d truly be better if we really had stuffed it all in a mattress. And we’ve got very smart, responsible friends who are in worse shape. None of us get pensions (what the hell are those?). Property and stocks were supposed to be the correct investment choices for people like us. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE told us we’d be crazy to not put as much as we could in these places. We worked hard, spent very responsibly, and took the expert advice we paid yet more money for. Not to be rich; we just wanted to retire comfortably before our 70s, put a kid through school, and have a little extra to travel maybe once or twice a year. Over a good 15 years of investing and saving, we’ve seen little if any gain, and by that I mean in raw numerical value of dollars in vs. dollars gained. Meanwhile everything else got a lot more expensive.

    All because of the decisions of a very few very rich people whose actions were completely beyond our control, and who ran what is essentially a legal Ponzi scheme on a global scale. What are we supposed to do now?

    You bet this time is going to be remembered for something other than “Hope”.

  • http://danielholz.com daniel

    David Kathman from Morningstar emailed to point out that I unfairly slandered Morningstar, as they rate mutual funds and stocks, not bonds and mortgage-related securities. I’ve corrected the post.

  • Fermi-Walker Public Transport

    Here is another article worth reading, “No Return to Normal” by the economist James K. Galbraith,


    I have read that moving towards a “green” economy can over the long term boost GDP by 5 to 10 percent. There have been interesting posts on the current economic mess at agonist.org and firedoglake.com

  • uncle sam

    Here’s an idea for raising employment, that I’ve peddled around for years: change corporate tax code so that the base cost of employment for deduction is multiplied by a factor,e.g. 1.2X. There would be adjustments: a limit per person, OT pay would not get the multiplier (to further encourage hiring more people instead), and the pay must go to US citizens to be exempted at all (or at least, to get the multiplier.) Then charge a “high” corp rate like 48%. With this or similar, it won’t pay well to lay off workers to get robots or go overseas.

    I haven’t heard others propose such things. Don’t we need more such OTB thinking?

  • uncle sam

    “Retired”, your complaint is a platitude that decieves (I believe it’s unintentional, however) because it evades the quantitative question. Do you really think that those being paid 100x the average are producing 100x worth of real wealth? Worse, many of them aren’t producing any net value at all. They just work to maximize how much their team gets compared to other players. It’s like the pay a card-counter would get at Vegas, while the ones being paid less and less (the ones you falsely call “unproductive”) are those who make actual things we use like computers, cars, telescopes, or genuinely useful services to society like education. I suppose you are a fan of Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, etc.?

  • http://evolutionarymiddleman.blogspot.com john evo

    Irresponsible consumers borrowed way beyond their means, and ended up in houses (or owning cars and huge flat-screen TVs)

    Usually, both and a whole lot more!

    If Roosevelt had been elected at the beginning of the Great Depression, rather than 4 years into it, he might have been voted out after his first term. This is a whole lot worse than 4 years can even start to fix.

  • NMR

    Irresponsible consumers borrowed way beyond their means, and ended up in houses (or owning cars and huge flat-screen TVs)

    The last is really a popular canard, while a novel technology the large LCD TVs aren’t really all that extravagant; clicking on a few links, most appear to be ~$600. People are a bit culture-lagged due to the sudden decline in the relative cost of something that until recently was quite expensive (cf the manufactured outrage over homeless people owning cellphones).

  • http://danielholz.com daniel

    NMR, a nice 60” flat screen will run you $7k. You could slum it and get yourself a 46” Sony Bravia HD flat screen for only $5k. (prices from Best Buy, as of today) That isn’t exactly chump change.

  • Brian


    “why work if the groceries, homes, clothing are given?”

    Unless I have misunderstood the thrust of this statement Retired seems to suggest that society needs to coerce its members through fear of deprivation. I do not share this view.

  • John R Ramsden

    It’s probably not what a lot of people want to hear, but although bankers and traders may have been a proximate cause of this slump, and although a downturn of sorts was bound to happen sooner or later, it was made far worse by Governments cajoling and bullying banks into approving sub-prime mortgages and removing or neglecting to apply any legislation that would prevent this.

    This is especially true in the US, where I believe some socialist harpy, whose name escapes me, went round hectoring and threatening reluctant banks, with the Government’s blessing and encouragement, to grant mortgages at the drop of a hat to the vast numbers of Mexican immigrants (several million over the last few years I gather) who now live in the South Western states.

    Of course those immigrants aren’t morally to blame. Anyone would do the same in their shoes, and good luck to them. But this crisis hasn’t been caused by a “failure of capitalism” as such, as some claim, but by stupid, doctrinaire, greedy, gerrymandering politicians trying to have their cake and eat it as usual by trying to combine capitalism with too much socialism!

    Also, I wonder if past depressions in the US were caused at least in large part, or made worse than they might have been, by immigrants arriving, or their aspirations increasing, faster than the economy could handle them.

    There’s plenty of material for future theses here, for any sociologist or economist brave enough to study it impartially and not sweep it under the carpet and blame only “greedy bankers” as most bien pensant “caring” lefties would doubtless prefer!

  • NewPostdoc

    As some writers have pointed out (I can’t seem to find a link to the article I’m thinking of right now), one can also think of the current crisis (at least some portions of it) as a monumental transfer of wealth from the old to the young. A drop in asset prices is a plague on owners but a boon for buyers. This is cold comfort for most people, since homeownership rates are high and many people have 401(k)’s, but it should give a glimmer of hope to young folks.

    The comments of “Low Math, Meekly Interacting” hit pretty close to home, because it seems like the main difference between us is a few years. My wife and I have are freshly-minted Ph.D.’s, and for years we’ve also saved and lived well within our means (yes, even during grad school!). We also feel we did things right and yet lost a good bit. Not only have our savings been hit, but my wife has been stuck unemployed since graduation despite her prestigious engineering degree. My hoped-for academic career may also be endangered by the long-term effects of this crisis.

    Nonetheless, I have a little hope. By the happenstance of age, we don’t yet own a house. The collapse of home prices means that our dreams of owning a home have become much more realistic. With stocks no longer so overpriced, we can hope that money we invest in a few years may generate decent returns over our lifetimes. We lost a great deal of our existing investments, but some of that was “fake” money from bubble-fueled rises in stock price; we also lost “real” money that we actually put into the account, but we have the time horizon to wait for that to return. My wife and I have good educations, and if we keep some occupational flexibility we’ll do well eventually. The collapse has thrown our plans into some disarray, but in the end I think we’ve gained a lot of future welfare from the drop in asset prices from their unreasonable levels.

    I don’t relate this to claim moral superiority in any way, or to say that I somehow made better decisions than another person. As I noted above, if I were a few years farther along in my career my perspective on these problems would be very different. Instead, I just want to give a little hope to those readers in grad school and just embarking on their careers. In grad school I was used to believing that the older generations had it easier: they got jobs when they were plentiful, bought houses when they were affordable, etc. This time, it’s possible that the younger folks may have a leg up.

  • Brian Mingus

    Can you please ask Discovery to put the author of the blog post near the title rather than at the end of the entry, so we don’t have to scroll down to figure out who we are reading? Would anyone else find that more convenient?

  • http://scfiwriter.blogspot.com Demodain

    I echo what Kurt says, and let us not forget that the financial markets were pushed into offering bad loans by policies left over from the clinton era, which mandated that everyone should be able to own a home. It is a great idea but not everyone can own a home, and now are economy is in the toilet because of it.

  • http://www.dorianallworthy.com daisyrose

    Why wont an economy of thrift work ? Well designed long lasting products that dont pollute the planet by genius tool and dye makers – Why is everything * good * for nature bad for the economy? Not everyone can or should need or expect to go to university, buy a house, 25 pairs of shoes, big screen tv, teas and coffee,to * yes * have an exquisite life . This sad clown culture of wasted resources and energy allows our most respected citizens to leave the water running without remorse and run on treadmills and lift dumb-bells for exercise.

  • Pingback: Financial “reporting” is entertainment | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine()

  • http://flickr.com/photos/shandrew/ Andrew S

    Avarice is a given. The problem is that our financial system failed to be regulated so avarice would lead to beneficial economic outcomes. The problem is one of the failure to balance regulation with the system of limited liability. Investors and investment bankers benefit greatly from profits, but their losses are limited.

    As an extreme example, one could construct a financial derivative where there is a 99% chance of earning 100%, and a 1% chance of earning -9900%. The expected outcome of such an investment is 0% for the investor. However, for the individual banker, the outcome is 99% chance of a huge bonus, 1% of no bonus (and probably losing their job). If an entire investment bank is engaging in this derivative, then the outcome is 99% chance of huge profits, 1% chance of bankruptcy. Sure there are limits on leverage, but the more complex the derivative, the more difficult the leverage is to estimate.

    There are a few ways to fix this distortion. The obvious is to repair regulation of insurers and banks; reduce the amount of leverage they can take and eliminate complex multi-level derivatives. A less obvious fix is to increase liability for bank owners, investors, and employees. The old Scottish banks were partnerships without limited liability, and when banks failed, the partners were fully liable for any debts remaining. In this sort of bank, the owners are by necessity more careful and watchful over risk.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    Someone (Richard David Precht?) wrote that many people spend a lot of their time
    buying things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like—with money that they
    don’t have.

    I was in Sweden last week, skiing in Sälen (and spent a day in Trysil in Norway). On the
    way back, while eating lunch I was reading an article in the newspaper, which pointed out
    that the gap between rich and poor is widening. Old news, of course, and there have been
    many such observations in Germany in the past 10 years. As examples, the article pointed
    out that a judge makes almost twice as much as a waiter. (In Sweden, of course. What
    would the ratio be in other countries?)

    Remember the Two Worst Things You Can Do: 1) Don’t complain because someone,
    somewhere, is worse off; 2) assume that your real problems are as bad as other people’s
    real problems. I don’t think the newspaper article was guilty of either of these, but
    rather is a good example of how travel can put things in perspective. (By the way,
    both the average income and the average tax burden in Sweden and Germany are
    comparable, but the distribution is much more peaked in Sweden. In turn, the one
    in Germany is much more peaked than that in the US (the latter also having a more
    appreciable skew).)


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