The Financial Capital – State Nexus

The interconnection or linking of government and financial capital is written now in academic literature today as the operational-organisational state-financial nexus. (Cf. Malik 2014) This state-financial nexus (the state’s management of the economy by ministries of finance, central banks, informal organisations, etc. with the simultaneous existence of deterritorialising flows of money capital, i.e. internationally operating financial groups, banks and shadow banks) is characterised as an important node in the nervous system of national total capital and globalised capital.
Today the rapidly growing influence of financial capital – its strategies and institutions, its market mechanisms and power technologies – on state sovereignty and its various forms of government can hardly be overlooked. Particularly during and after the financial crisis of 2008f., Milton Friedman’s advice was all too readily followed by the economic and political elites of the capitalist core countries to understand and use the crisis as an opportunity to realise the politically uncomfortable and to take a further push towards the economisation of social areas and state policies (think of the privatisation of public tasks, the multiplication of public-private enterprises and the privatisation of public infrastructures). If Joseph Vogl describes the suspension of national laws during the period of state rescue measures, the reduction of national budgetary rights, as in the case of Greece, and the establishment of informal executive bodies such as the EU Commission as characteristics of a continuous coup, then he is right in that he does not regard the coup as a voluntary coup, but rather as an act of coup, as in the case of EU policies, is understood as the implementation of a new transnational governmentality to regulate exceptional situations that have been set up on a permanent basis, in which legal rules that may still be valid at the national level are transformed or even suspended on a permanent basis at the international level if the safeguarding of existing capital interests in situations of crisis or emergency requires this. (Vogl 2015: 18f.) But also at the national level, the state no longer necessarily acts and intervenes on the basis of laws and/or general, formal and fixed norms, but, to use Foucault’s words, on the basis of flexible diagrammatic normalisations that include special projects and regulations, gaps in the laws and constant changes in the law, which in turn are adapted to current economic cycles, situations and economic constellations.1 (Cf. Foucault 2004b / Poulantzas 1978: 200) The regulations of economic policy are being institutionalised in institutions (ECB) independent of democratic parliamentary control, over which a new technocracy and its executive bodies have the power of definition. This is accompanied by the strengthening of executive state organs and the corresponding marginalisation of legislative-parliamentary structures. Moreover, the safeguarding of the national and international financial system today requires extensive arrangements, structures and operations of a rather informal consortium of governmental and sub-governmental institutions, ad hoc bodies, corporations, banks, central banks, hedge funds and international organisations. Since the crisis of 2008 onwards, the state has taken a series of measures – seen as inherent in the system – to support and stabilise the financial system, and in the process the intensity of interdependence between the state, sub-state and financial agencies has increased incessantly – agencies that operate in part informally, i.e. in specially adaptable political spaces and along the abstract lines of financial capital. Thus, the financial markets are by no means to be understood as deliberalised but as specifically regulated markets, whereby it is precisely their own differential processuality that constantly increases the need for regulation – and these tasks fall not only to state institutions but also to the most diverse semi-governmental and private organisations, agreements and bodies. Paradoxically, it was precisely the liberal argument against “big government” which, from the 1980s onwards, had to be used often enough to justify the increasing creation of administrative structures which are much more extensive today than they were in the days of organised, ordoliberally inspired capitalism in the 1960s. To name but one example: At the turn of the millennium, the US government cut some 50,000 public service jobs. At the same time, however, the number of jobs at contracting and leasing partners and outsourced companies acting on behalf of the government increased by about one million during the same period. (Vogl 2015: 211-212) The state-capital nexus described above is traversed along various lines by fluid, diagrammatic power formations which, while still being maintained in part by the established configurations and apparatuses of the modern state, at the same time relativise the state’s previous power-political strength, primarily through several interrelated transformations of the primary structures of capital itself and its internal “logic”, and less because of the size of current financial capital, its firepower or potentiality and its unique connectivity (and speed). However, we are far from being dealing with a minimal state, because the specific neoliberal moment of financial capital consists precisely in developing strategies, programmes and procedures that transform a solidly functioning state in such a way that it rigorously enforces the neoliberal ideal of an economy committed to the freedom of the market and the economization of hitherto non-economic areas, institutions and practices. (Mirowski 2015: Section 2. Kindle-Edition)
Already in the course of the 16th century, exceptional political situations in Europe, which were mainly due to the high demand for money of the absolutist state in war situations, were made permanent with the help of the gradual establishment of the tax state and legal guarantees for the creditors of public debt (the interplay of tax collection and public credit). In his book Sovereignty Effects, Vogl lists some of the essential features that characterised the fiscal complex as an important part of the early capitalist state: Tax revenue, public debt, coinage, fiscal integration and public credit. (Vogl 2015: 76) Marx already mentioned (in addition to the triad of landlords, tenants and workers determining the process of original accumulation, which led to “free” labour and capital flows) the colonial regime, protectionism, trade wars and, of course, the modern tax system as well as the public debt system as constitutive elements for the so-called original accumulation of capital. The decisive factor for Marx remains an economy characterised by market imperatives, as was the case in the 16th century with the transformation of property relations that occurred exclusively in England. (Meiksins Wood 2015: 172) The financing needs of the early bourgeois or absolutist state (France), which arose largely as a result of warfare, inevitably required the state to borrow from private lenders, which the state could only afford if it was able to establish continuous tax collection, especially vis-à-vis the lower classes, in a permanently violent manner. The English banking system, in turn, was characterised in the 17th century by the peculiarity of not having to rely on trade arbitrage between separate markets, but of being able to rely on a national market with London as its centre, and this as a result of a proto-capitalist agriculture geared to improving productivity, which was able to supply a growing proportion of a non-agricultural population with food. (Ibid.: 155) This allowed England to dominate in a completely redesigned international trade. The fiscal apparatus took up an eccentric position vis-à-vis the state from the outset and, as a quasi-autonomous legal entity, remained to a certain extent beyond direct state control. At the same time, early modern capital was established, which used public debt as a source of private wealth creation.
Vogl writes that in the history of capital, with the intertwining of taxes, public credit and public debt, a new diagrammatic, strategic, political-economic field was established early on, which could be described as a “zone of indifference” (in contrast to the relative autonomy of the state vis-à-vis capital). According to Vogl, a “seigniorial power” (Vogl 2015: 69f.) developed in this field, with which capital was able to integrate itself into a new politico-economic field with a certain independence from juridical sovereignty, parliaments, the executive and the technologies of the administrative state apparatuses. With regard to this politico-economically situated entanglement of state and capital, Vogl speaks on the one hand of mergers and condensations, and on the other of diagrammatic arrangements in which heterogeneous units, informal power relations and strategic policies predominate among the participants. For this type of seigniorial power, Vogl enumerates the following genealogical characteristics: 1) The conversion of state power into private capital power was characterised by the establishment of heterogeneous assemblages (Bank of England), in which legal rules, political intervention, economic infrastructures and various capital strategies were integrated. 2) With the issuance of government bonds, the state subjected itself increasingly to the power of private creditors, which at the same time led to increased triggering of credit cyclicalities that soon became inseparable from the capitalisation of fictitious capital.2 3) The informal connection between state structures and private financialisation was gradually consolidated, strengthening the credit system and creating stable infrastructures for the movement of money and capital, which made it possible to trade fictitious capital on a broad basis. (Ibid.:103ff.)
The original accumulation of capital was thus characterised not only by the merging of flows of doubly free labour and quantitative monetary capital but also by the gradual formation of a diagrammatically functioning state-capital nexus. Through the establishment of national debt, taxation and the first government banks, a quasi-sovereign power was created, which was later realised institutionally in the central banks and was able to evade state intervention time and again. (Ibid.: 105) And this was already evident with the founding of the Bank of England in 1694, which was considerably stabilised, in particular by private creditors who had formed a consortium and received fixed interest income (assignment of tax monopolies) for their loans. While at the same time private investors were involved in the exercise of government policy, the private financial system was further consolidated by the State guaranteeing their ownership rights and thus the corresponding protection of capital assets.
Finally, with the central bank, a quasi-autonomous institution within the state developed, which to this day also repeatedly eludes the direct access of the executive and legislative branches. Central banks function as hinges between the state apparatus and financial capital by attempting to structurally stabilise the power of both. Thus, in a certain sense, central banks can be seen as economic pulling forces and at the same time as political-economic steering instruments. This is related to fluctuating politico-economic processes in which even wars are still calculated as financial risks and which are therefore linked to economic processes such as interest rate and price movements in the financial markets. (Ibid.: 141) In this context, the central bank remained a privately managed government bank for a long time, to which politico-economic competencies such as issuing notes and creating public money, securing the country’s currency, protecting national commercial banks, regulating the money supply in circulation (M1-M3) and ensuring price stability, as well as measures for adjusting inflation and interest rate policy, were gradually transferred. 3 (Ibid.: 144)
At this point, it is not a question of confirming the thesis of the intensive intertwining of the state and monopoly corporations – as the theory of “state monopoly capitalism” and Lenin’s theory of merialism, for example, assumes – nor of speaking of a direct enforcement of capital interests in the state, but rather of analysing the consolidation of the institution of the central bank, which itself represents a specific form of political-economic governance. In terms of influence on the state, this is usually shown by the fact that, on the one hand, governments are not allowed to regulate the money supply, but that, on the other hand, central banks can exert strategic influence on the order of the state budget and state lending. Today, central banks perform tasks such as minimum reserve policy vis-à-vis commercial banks, fixing interest and discount rates, open market operations, controlling and regulating the money and credit system and directly and indirectly regulating public finance. (ibid.) In the course of taking over monetarist positions, the central banks’ policies today focus in particular on maintaining price stability and combating inflation.
As we have already explained in Capitalisation Vol. 2, in the hierarchy of the institutionalised national monetary system the central bank takes the leading position, whereby it issues cash or book money as the first means of payment in the context of its own balance sheets by exchanging it (it is written as a liability in its balance sheets) for securities of private capital (commercial banks), which is now in possession of central bank money as a result. (Cf. Szepanski 2014: 77ff.) Central bank money is to be understood purely formally as a liability of the central bank, which is realised in exchange files with private commercial banks. In a financial system without gold backing, the central bank no longer promises in any way that the national currency can be exchanged for gold at a certain rate. Today, in the national currency area, central bank money has long since replaced gold, i.e. it functions self-referentially, insofar as the claim to money is a claim on the central bank – on the central bank’s money. (Weber 2015: 220) This does not mean, however, that the central bank functions as a “lender of last resort”, as is often assumed, because it remains fully integrated into private money capital movements and differential capital accumulation. In this respect, it is worth mentioning first of all the creation of credit money by the private banks themselves, which takes place when the banks grant credit to their customers. Here, credit balances constitute claims to central bank money insofar as they can be realised as cash. If the bank grants a loan to a customer, it credits the amount to his current account in his capacity as debtor, which at the same time creates book money or bank deposits, so that the bank has a credit claim on the asset side of its balance sheet against the customer, which is matched on the liability side by the customer’s deposit as a liability. Although the customer now has the credited amount at his free disposal, there is also a corresponding debt to the bank. When the customer pays bills from his current account, the corresponding amount of money is transferred to accounts held by other persons or companies that hold their accounts with other banks. Thus, in any money creation loan, the issuing bank acts as both creditor and debtor, while, conversely, customers also have a claim and a debt. The economist Otto Veit can easily write about this: “The money-creating bank grants credit to a customer; at the same time, the money-creating bank is given credit by anyone who accepts the bank money as a full payment. (Quoted after Schmitt 1978: 3)
If the lending bank has sufficient funds on a given payment date, it will pay out the amounts drawn down from its balance; if the balance is negative, it will usually ask for the money on the interbank market. The balances between commercial banks arising from these account movements are settled in central bank money. Although it is still possible to speak of the qualitative dominance of central bank money, the money created by the commercial banks is now far more important in quantitative terms than central bank money, so that here too we must slowly start to reflect on the importance of the transition from quantity to quality. In the second half of the 20th century, therefore, an essential area of competence of central banks, which consisted in quasi-autonomous monetary policy, was increasingly transferred to financial capital itself. Girl money has long since ceased to be just what the central bank spends as its money, but has also become what private commercial banks create as credit money. As a result, central banks are no longer exactly informed about what amounts of money are currently in circulation – and how many risks are thus circulating on the financial markets.
Consequently, the central banks no longer exercise the undisputed function of “lender of last resort”, because a high proportion of national and transnational operations of financial capital (commercial, investment and shadow banks) are executed independently of the central bank, while, on the other hand, the governmental intervention power of the central banks always remains dependent on the price movements of derivative monetary capital. Especially in times of economic crisis, however, the use of the “central bank” as a security device is then demanded again by endangered financial capital components themselves. The central banks constantly link their operations such as minimum reserve formation, liquidity protection and interest rate policy with the strategies of private financial capital. It is precisely the establishment of central banks as the “fourth power in the state”, the legal separation from the executive and legislative branches and the transformation of the central bank into a quasi-autonomous government practice that confirms the central banks’ orientation towards the dynamics and necessities of financial capital accumulation. (Vogl 2015: 192ff.) Without mentioning the massive influence of financial capital on the governmental actions of the state and the central bank – Vogl always speaks of the “financial markets “4 without defining their function for capital more precisely – he points out several times that precisely through the hinge of the central bank the economic factor “cyclical accumulation of monetary capital” has become an integral part of political and governmental governmental practice. (Ibid.: 162) The central banks thus remain more closely tied to the cyclicality of capital accumulation than ever before, which is also reflected in the fact that central bank interest rates have followed the market-dominated rise in money market rates in almost all economic cycles in the Federal Republic of Germany. However, in the course of the policy of “quantitative easing” (QE), the withdrawal of central bank interest rates has strongly promoted and accelerated the expansive developments on the money markets in particular, without a striking improvement in the investment dynamics of industrial capital being reported to date (cf. the relevant statistics; Krüger 2015: 459). At present, short-term interest rate changes no longer have a cyclical influence due to the policy of QE, because companies tend to reduce debt rather than take out loans during a recession, which means that the key interest rate also loses its control and allocation function for (industrial) capital accumulation, at least gradually.
An important new feature of the regulatory framework within the financial sphere itself is definitely the rapid development of the extra-bank system. These companies finance their activities mostly through non-traditional sources of credit. The financing models found today in the internationalised markets have as their precondition the global “securitisation” of debt and the international mobility of real financial capital, i.e. a global space for multiple investments, which, among other things, translates certain modes of operation and requirements of modern finance into extended consequences of the markets. In the process, the global financial markets have differentiated themselves into complex, multidimensional systems which not only include the money, investment, stock or foreign exchange markets, but also include the derivatives markets and markets for all types of security. (Cf. Sotiropoulos//Milios/Lapatsioras 2013a: 118ff.) In this context, derivatives themselves are to be understood as capital forms of financial innovation if they achieve the following at the international level: 1) Overcoming frictions caused by national borders. 2) The opening of national economies to foreign competition. 3) Overcoming the cumbersome nature of traditional production. 4) To improve the role of modern finance in promoting competition.
Today, a globally circulating capital has emerged, which is permanently in search of halfway secure profits. “Secure profits” means that risk management (the likelihood of realising an expected profit) is becoming more fundamental in the financial markets. The functioning of the financial system includes not only the capitalisation of speculative investments, but also the components of a control mechanism that “regulates” and, if possible, promotes the mobility of individual capitals by constantly creating new conditions for competition. By exposing individual capitals to national and international competition and by financing their activities, methods are created to reward profitable capital and to punish unprofitable capital.
It is in this context that the transformation of the activities of traditional commercial banks is taking place, due to the change in the correlation between commercial banks and the money and capital markets. The team of authors Sotiropoulos/Milios/Lapatsioras has summarised this in the following points (ibid.):
1) Assets and shares are both considered “securities”. However, in order to promote comprehensive financing, new forms of “securitization” of debt have definitely had to be developed in recent decades. Debt securitisation has become an important process that has a massive impact on the traditional credit system and its crises.
2) The various non-bank systems operating on the international money and capital markets are largely unaffected by the regulatory restrictions to which traditional commercial banks are subject, and they are thus permanently able to lend money at extremely low interest rates. This in turn has consequences for the structure and functioning of the entire banking system. The new arrangements and strategies of the shadow banks have reduced the profits of the classical commercial banks and thus changed their internal compositions of accounting. As a result, the commercial banks must now also concentrate much more on the processes of securitisation. When a bank takes out a loan, it is forced to insure a certain amount of the money it has borrowed in order to meet its obligations that still exist in case of a failed securitisation. However, this reduces its prospects of borrowing further capital, as it is also forced to hold a certain amount of equity. However, if the bank resells the loan, no insurance is required at this point and the bank is therefore in a position to retain part of its cash flows to provide new collateral while tapping new sources of profit, which in turn depend on the expansion of the loan. Nevertheless, these processes also involve a number of restrictions. There is also a new combination of innovations that take place in the “real sector” and ultimately in the whole social field, and those in the financial capital sector, involving derivatives and financial services. This gives rise to new market and adjustment imperatives for companies, which are linked to the destruction of traditional technological and economic structures. For example, the processes of securisation, the securitisation of loans tradable on markets (cf. Hartmann 2015: 72f.), have contributed to the destruction of old banking structures by creating enormous liquidity potential and reorganising and unleashing risks with the help of virtual machines. Securisation is to be understood as a technology that is used in particular by shadow or investment banks to overtake the traditional big banks in competition. It involves bundling standardised loans and securities, packing them into a pool (and then tranching them again) and selling them on special markets to serve as collateral for further borrowing and sales (the sales are often linked to repurchase commitments). Derivatives bundled into specific entities are divided into classes of securities with different risks and origins, and other securities (securities) from newly created institutions (SPVs) are sold in response. (See Szepanski 2014b: 194f.) In contrast to the old banking system, deposit and lending are now decoupled, in that investment banks no longer collect savings in order to grant them as loans, but finance loans directly by selling securities. The most institutional buyers now bear the associated risk, but at the same time gain new positions of power over the banks through the mechanisms of the financial markets. Financial capital differentiates itself through the functioning of financial markets in terms of sectors, areas of power, instruments and technologies.
3) The liberalisation of the financial markets has led to an excessive expansion of very specific large banks which are overly involved in international transaction chains, making them systemically relevant not only in terms of the scale of their transactions but also in terms of the links and nodes they form and create within the networks of the international financial system.
4) The development of over-the-counter (OTC) markets, the various offshore centres, special purpose vehicles (SPVs), the various money and capital markets with their instruments (bonds, securities, swaps, etc.) or, in other words, the general development of the financial regime as a network of transactions and flows of money capital, including the activities by which certain organisations are able to circumvent supervisory authorities and supervision, make the global financial system as a whole much more complex and complicated. The development of new forms of finance (derivatives) has produced complex models of pricing and risk assessment that depend on structures and parameters for which reliable data are not yet available.

In Europe in particular, a kind of ad hoc reserve structure has been created in recent years, which is constantly circumventing European law in order to intervene directly in the budgetary policy of sovereign states – such as Greece – and to put together various rescue packages, the forms in which these rescue packages take are still today tied to the requirements of financial capital and its derivative instruments. (Varoufakis 2012: 239ff.) Vogl speaks here of a new intensity of interdependence and density of organisation between financial, state and transstate structures and institutions, at the systemic level (coordination of state government practices and the economy), at the technical level (alignment of fiscal policy with capital) and at the personnel level. He writes about the co-evolution between state structures and private power mechanisms/economic dynamics, about the co-evolution between states and financial markets, in which interdependencies are constantly increasing and a new specific type of power is emerging. Although Vogl also goes on to emphasise the current dominance of the financial regime over the states, he relates this mainly to the problem of neoliberal government rationality and the economisation of governance, which manifests itself in the coupling between state institutions and financial capital, “in the efficient linking of market and power”. Vogl writes: “Sovereign is he who is able to turn his own risks into dangers for others and places himself as a creditor of last resort. (Ibid.: 251) This, however, does not fully reflect the current unilateral dominance of financial capital, since this kind of dominance is not only characterised by neo-liberal governmentality, but by the immanent determinism of capital itself, not only vis-à-vis the state, but as the superimposition of the money capital flows of the different fractions of capital under the dominance of financial capital. This does not mean, however, that we have to speak of an independence or decoupling of financial capital from “real capital”, but, on the contrary, of an ever stronger interlocking and integration of the various forms and fractions of capital and of the state under the dominance of financial capital. In his book Sovereignty Effects, on the other hand, Vogl repeatedly emphasises that he is not primarily concerned with the economy, but mainly with the question of what an efficient and capital-conforming neoliberal government policy can mean today. Here Vogl explicitly refers to Foucault and his question of how to govern the population, which is produced by various biopolitics, the way it wants to be governed. Vogl is thus concerned with the governmental or governance dimension of finance.
If financial capital, with its conditions of exploitation compared to the rates and ratios of industrial profits, sets the conditions for the economic growth of national economies more than ever before, then it also has a decisive influence on the level of national GDP. GDP as the total value of all goods and services in a year is measured in monetary terms (the total economic output value at constant prices) and divided into the components gross and net value added, national income, corporate income and property income. (Cf. Krüger 2015: 14) The various transnational and state economic policies, the policy of QE in the USA and Great Britain and more recently also by the ECB, the bank bailouts and illiquid companies by states, the setting up of the ESM bailout scheme in the European Union in combination with the SMP programme – all this shows, simply by its magnitude, that financial capital has significantly gained influence and power over states and all other capital fractions on a global scale. In this context, it is also possible to mention the new functions of governmental policies, which can be characterised as “insurance cover” for private capital. The QE policy is that central banks – above all the FED – expand the money supply enormously by, among other things, buying securities such as government bonds on the secondary markets in the order of hundreds of billions, although it is now by no means certain that commercial banks will be able to pass on this kind of swapping at all, because during a recession neither companies nor private households want to borrow money, but rather primarily try to reduce their own debts. The main question here is whether we are dealing with a structural weakness in investment or an over-accumulation of capital, especially in the case of industrially oriented companies, while it is clear that private households are quite obviously unable to take out new loans due to stagnating or in some cases falling real wages. QE policy does not automatically lead to higher economic growth, but rather functions effectively as a monetary incentive system for private speculative capital to engage in risky transactions and to counteract the tendency to minimise profit rates by increasing speculative risk taking.5 It should also be noted that the phased sharp increase in liquidity on the financial markets (including the constant possibility of liquidity problems arising in the short term), the multiplication of derivative instruments, the extended risk management and the money creation by commercial banks tend to render any monetary control (M1 to M3) by the central banks obsolete.
This means that the ECB must inevitably be guided by the price movements of financial capital, which itself is now increasingly influencing monetary and fiscal policy, or, to put it another way: if European central banks can only buy government securities issued in Europe on the secondary markets, the EU Member States and their fiscal policy remain more closely linked than ever to price movements on the financial markets, and this in turn increases debt competition between EU countries. (Varoufakis 2012: 207f.) One can trace here a flow of money that flows from national budgets via commercial banks and private speculators back to the central banks, so that the quasi-autonomous central banks have to share in the dependence of national budgets on the financial markets. The coupling of national debt and financial capital, for which the central banks served as the decisive hinge until the end of the 20th century, today allows a further drift towards financial capital in power-economic terms. With this gain in power, the regulatory role of the central banks is becoming more fragile in any case. Vogl speaks of the central banks as security deposits for commercial banks, financial markets and currency systems. (Vogl 2015: 196) This not only indicates the central banks’ stabilising function for money capital movements, but also demonstrates their integration into these movements and thus their dependence on the monetary circulation of money capital and the closely related development of profit rates and investment rates of private companies.
Vogl writes of central banks as “efficient converters of government power, transforming their independence from governments into an increasing dependence of governments on financial markets. (Ibid.: 198) It is precisely the central banks’ explicit orientation towards money and price stability6 that binds them permanently to the accumulation mechanisms of financial capital and structurally promotes its speculative profit production (inflationary processes lead to the weakening of creditors, to the redistribution of creditors to debtors, if interest rates are not adjusted). Until the mid-1970s, the liquidity management and credit policy of commercial banks and the management of monetary capital flows were effectively escorted by the central banks through their money supply policy. The introduction of new forms of speculative money capital, the expansion of financial markets and the shadow banking system have loosened the central banks’ link with the credit systems and, more generally, with global derivative price movements. The creation of credit money by commercial banks while their lending volumes declined, the increased provision of liquidity by the shadow bank system and the growing lending by non-bank institutions have increased the effectiveness and mobility of financial capital and at the same time weakened the impact of central bank instruments such as key interest rate policy. The financial regime now “regulates” global lending, interest rate levels, price movements and foreign exchange itself to a greater extent with the help of the large volumes of transactions and its high degree of interconnectedness. For example, the value of currencies is now determined by interest rates, which are largely regulated by the financial markets themselves. The price movements of derivatives, interest rates and credit volumes on the global financial markets are thus partly removed from the grasp of central banks, which, conversely, must increasingly focus on their open market policies and money market operations.

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