Friedrich List: Economist and Visionary 1789-1846


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Is there any change in the character of our trade which indicates a lower standard Edition: current; Page: [ xxvii ] of national life? Is there any danger from foreign monopolies? Will retaliation promote the industrial development of the nation? And, lastly, there is the practical question, how far a change in tariffs is likely to prevent or remedy any of the evils of the present system?

The work of List will give no cut-and-dried answers to these questions, but it will suggest fruitful lines of inquiry in the search for the answers. Finally, it may be said, just as Adam Smith admitted exceptions to free trade, so List admitted exceptions to protection. And in both authors the exceptions in theory are so important that the divergence on balance is not nearly so great as the reader might suppose.

List's work would have gained in power and in popularity if, instead of attacking Adam Smith for opinions which were only held by his extreme successors, he had emphasised his points of agreement with the original author. At a very early age Friedrich manifested a strong dislike for his father's business, and determined to strike out a career for himself.

Von Wangenheim, who was Minister at the time, seems to have recognised his talents from the first, and cordially to have welcomed the assistance of so able a coadjutor in promoting his own projects of reform. The pamphlet, in fact, was rather a manifesto than an essay, and may be regarded as List's first open declaration of that war against officialism and red tape in which the rest of his life was to be spent.

Von Wangenheim showed his appreciation of the work by appointing the author Professor of Practical Administration Staatspraxis in the University, and encouraged him Edition: current; Page: [ xxx ] to persevere in his advocacy of reform in the State administration, of local representative government, and of freedom of the press.

Unhappily, so far from being of any advantage to List, the Minister's approval of his efforts was fatal to himself. The time was unpropitious for broaching schemes of reform which the nobility and bureaucracy were incapable of distinguishing from revolution—the King himself was alarmed, and the Minister had to resign. This publication, however, was by no means List's only offence against the predominant official conservatism. At the close of the Napoleonic wars in , German diplomatists appear with one consent to have shut their eyes to the industrial interests of the people.

The Continental blockade as long as it lasted operated as a strongly protective system in favour of German home trade, particularly in the case of the minor States. But on the removal of the blockade, when the German ports were opened to foreign manufactures at low duties, the trade of the various German States with each other still remained restricted by a chain of internal custom-houses along every frontier. This state of things naturally excited just and general discontent, and an Association was formed for the abolition of these internal customs dues.

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Of this Association, List accepted the Presidency, a step which immediately brought down upon him the censure of the Government and deprivation of his office. Nothing daunted, however, List still devoted all his energies to agitating for the abolition of these internal tariffs and for the commercial union of all the German States, from which he foresaw that the political union of Germany must ultimately follow.

He not only advocated these objects in the press in the shape of letters, articles, and pamphlets, but travelled, at a time when travelling was both difficult and expensive, to Berlin, Munich, Vienna, and other German capitals, in order to make his views known to all the principal statesmen and leaders of commerce. His pilgrimage, however, produced but little practical result at the time; he Edition: current; Page: [ xxxi ] found that the heads of the commercial houses, as usual, were timid, while Ministers, as usual, were jealous of any 'unauthorised' agitation for political objects.

But a powerful petition, which he was chiefly instrumental in preparing, in favour of Commercial Union, and of other needful reforms, was resented so strongly by the King and his Ministers, that List was not only expelled from the Assembly, but condemned to ten months' imprisonment in a fortress, with hard labour, and to pay the costs of the proceedings against him.

From Strasburg he went to Baden, but only again to suffer the same indignity. From Baden he proceeded to Paris, where he was kindly welcomed by General Lafayette, who invited him to visit the United States.


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His appeal was made to deaf ears. He now determined to leave Europe altogether for a time, and took refuge in the United States, where he was again warmly welcomed by General Lafayette, whose introductions secured him the friendship of President Jackson, Henry Clay, James Madison, Edward Livingstone, and other influential American statesmen. After an unsuccessful attempt to maintain himself by purchasing and cultivating a small piece of land, he started an American newspaper in the German language—the 'Adler.

He accordingly published twelve letters addressed to J. The Association, which subsequently republished the letters under the title of 'Outlines of a New System of Political Economy' Philadelphia, , passed a series of resolutions affirming that List, by his arguments, had laid the foundation of a new and sound system of political economy, thereby rendering a signal service to the United States, and requesting him to undertake two literary works, one a scientific exposition of his theory, and the other a more popular treatise for use in the public schools, the Association binding itself to subscribe for fifty copies of each, and to recommend the Legislatures of all the other States to do the same.

The success of the 'Adler,' coupled with the fortunate discovery by himself of a new and important coalfield in Pennsylvania, had now placed List in a position of comparative pecuniary ease; but in spite of the ingratitude he had experienced at home from the King and the governing classes, his thoughts still turned to his native land. During and he warmly advocated, in a number of essays and articles, the formation of a national system of railways throughout Germany, and his desire to revisit Europe was heightened by his anxiety to promote his new scheme.

President Jackson accordingly, to whom List's views were familiar, sent him on a mission to Paris with a view to facilitating increased commercial intercourse between France and the United States, and subsequently in appointed him Consul for the United States at Hamburg. But the old spirit, which six years before had met his proposals of political reform with imprisonment and exile, was not yet dead.

In the eyes of the servile official German press, List was still the 'hero of revolution,' and the American Minister, Van Buren, had to inform him with deep regret that the Senate of Hamburg refused to ratify his appointment. At this time Belgium had just gained her independence, and a more favourable prospect seemed opened for realising his plans both for a German national system of railways, and for increasing, through Belgium, the commercial intercourse between Germany and the United States.

After a brief visit to America, he returned to Europe as United States' Consul at Leipsic, in which capacity he was able to urge his railway schemes on the Government and people of Saxony, with such success that before long he had the satisfaction of witnessing the formation of powerful companies for the formation of several German lines. Whilst at Leipsic he also projected, and in great part wrote, two works which exercised considerable influence on public opinion in Germany—the 'Staats-Lexicon,' published in , and the 'Railway Journal,' which appeared in In the original survey of the railway from Halle to Cassel, the line had been projected so as to avoid the towns of Naumburg, Weimar, Gotha, Erfurt, and Eisenach.

List exposed the impolicy of this arrangement both on strategical and commercial grounds, and by articles in the press and personal remonstrances at some of the smaller German courts succeeded in securing for these towns the benefit of railway communication. For his exertions on this occasion he received the personal thanks of the Duke of Gotha, an honorary doctor's degree from the University of Jena, and highly gratifying assurances on all hands that he had 'saved' the three Duchies of Weimar, Gotha, and Meiningen from a 'fatal danger.

In , on his way to Paris, he visited Belgium, where he was received with distinction, and renewed his acquaintance with Dr. Kolb, who had shared his imprisonment in the Asberg. Through Kolb's influence, List was persuaded to accept a permanent literary engagement in connection with the well-known 'Allgemeine Zeitung,' which at once began to devote greater space to questions affecting the material interests of Germany, especially in relation to tariffs and commercial law, and the commercial relations of Germany with Austria. List made ample use of this excellent opportunity Edition: current; Page: [ xxxiv ] of promulgating his opinions by a series of articles, some of which dealt more particularly with the commercial relations of Germany and Belgium with the United States.

He also published his views in the columns of the Paris 'Constitutionnel' in The agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws in England, which aroused considerable interest throughout Europe, also gave him an opportunity for expounding his views in favour of a national protective policy and recommending its adoption by Germany. In pointing out the prejudicial influence which he believed that restrictions on the importation of corn must necessarily exercise on the fully established manufacturing power of England, List argued that a national manufacturing power can only be successfully established and maintained by a free importation of raw materials combined with just protection to native industry against the importation of foreign manufactures.

Among many other results expected from the repeal of the English Corn Laws, it was anticipated that that measure would lead to the abolition of the protective duties imposed by Germany on foreign manufactures. But, according to List, it is only when a nation has reached such a stage of development that she can bear the strain of competition with foreign manufactures without injury in any respect, that she can safely dispense with protection to her own manufactures, and enter on a policy of general free trade.

This, in fact, is the central idea of List's theory, which in its economical aspect he opposed to the cosmopolitical theory of Adam Smith and J. Say, and in its political and national aspect to their theory of universal freedom of trade. After leaving Leipsic, Augsburg became the permanent residence of List and his family. Here it was that he completed the first part of his 'National System of Political Economy,' published in To this treaty List was bitterly opposed, and his denunciation of it not only aroused the wrath of the official newspapers, which reviled him as the 'German O'Connell,' but brought him again into collision with 'the authorities.

Bowring to agitate in Germany, France, and Switzerland, in favour of English commercial interests, Lord Westmoreland's assumption that List was also a paid agent was not unnatural, but it was wholly without foundation. Whatever may have been the value of List's services on this occasion, they were at least gratuitous. As might have been expected, the 'National System' was vigorously attacked immediately on its publication; but such was the demand for it that three editions were called for within the space of a few months, and translations of it were published in French, Hungarian, and some other foreign languages.

The principal objection raised against it was that the system it propounded was not one for the benefit of the whole world, but simply for the benefit of Germany. This List never sought to conceal. His avowed object was to free Germany from the overwhelming manufacturing supremacy of England, and on this subject some of his ablest opponents admitted that his was the best practical essay. But List never advocated a policy of prohibition. In he published the fourth part of his principal work, 'The Politics' of national economy.

In this, after a graphic sketch of the negotiations and economical measures promoted by Canning, Huskisson, Labouchere, and Poulett Thompson, and censuring what he terms the 'crafty and spiteful commercial policy of England,' he advocates the establishment in Germany of thoroughly efficient transport facilities by river, canal, and railway, under united management—the creation of a German fleet and the adoption of a universal German flag—the founding of German colonies abroad—national supervision of emigration—the establishment of efficient German foreign consulates—of regular lines of German steamships—and the negotiation of favourable commercial treaties with the United States, Holland, and other countries.

The contemptuous bitterness with which this work was criticised by the English press, led many of List's countrymen to conclude that he had 'hit the right nail on the head,' and thus increased the influence of his writings. In he had added to his other numerous literary labours the editorship of the 'Zollvereinsblatt,' and continued to write in the 'Allgemeine Zeitung' and other news-papers, on economical and commercial questions, particularly on the development of the railway system in Germany.

He visited Hungary, where he was honourably welcomed, Kossuth alluding to him in public as 'the man who had best instructed the nations as to their true national economical interests. He enjoyed the further satisfaction, amidst the bitter opposition which he had to encounter, of witnessing the conclusion of the treaty between the Zollverein and Belgium on September 1, , for which he had worked long and earnestly, both in the press and by personal visits to Brussels, and by which, as he observed, 'the Zollverein was enabled to carry on its foreign trade with as much facility as if the ports of Holland and North Germany were included in it.

What a pity it is that twenty-four years ago we had not learnt to know each other as well as we do now! By this time his almost ceaseless labours had seriously undermined his health. He suffered from severe and frequent headache, and his bodily weakness increased, but he still continued his work.

The repeal of the Corn Laws in England was imminent, and List dreaded lest the measure should enable England still further to encroach on German manufacturing industry. In spite of his failing health, he hastened to London in order that he might form a clear idea on the spot of the state of public opinion, and the probable effect of the impending change on the industrial interests of Germany. He was received with courtesy by many who had strongly opposed his policy, among others by Richard Cobden, who jokingly asked him, 'Have you actually come over here in order to get yourself converted?

On his return from England his unfavourable symptoms both mental and bodily became more alarming, in spite of the affectionate care of his wife and family, to whom he was tenderly attached. A journey to the Tyrol was undertaken in the hope of restoring his shattered health, but it was already too late.

After a few days' confinement to bed at Kufstein, on November 30, , he left his lodging alone. He did not return. A desponding letter addressed to his friend Dr. Kolb was found in his room; search was made, and his remains were found under some newly fallen snow under circumstances which left no doubt that in a moment of mental aberration he had died by his own hand.

A monument in the cemetery at Kufstein marks his last resting-place. The news of his death was received with sincere and general regret throughout Germany and wherever he was known abroad. A subscription was set on foot to present to his bereaved family a substantial testimonial in recognition of his unselfish and devoted efforts to promote the unity, the power, and the welfare of Germany.

Many of his most earnest political opponents joined in this endeavour to do honour to his memory, and even urged that 'it was the bounden duty of the German people to erect a statue to the noble patriot,' an appeal which has since been responded to by the erection of such a statue in his native town of Reutlingen. The commercial policy suggested by List has been in great measure adopted by his native land. The internal tariffs have long since disappeared; under the Zollverein German manufactures and commerce have enormously increased; vigorous steps are being taken to found German colonies; an Imperial German flag floats over German shipping; a German empire has united the German people.

And though to give effect to these great objects required the efforts of later and mightier men, a measure of the credit of them is surely due to the man who was long first and foremost in their advocacy, to which he sacrificed health, wealth, and ultimately his life. List's talents were those of an original thinker, an able and laborious writer, and an earnest and untiring political agitator. For the latter career undoubtedly he was far more fitted by nature than for the service of the State.

His was the thankless task of the political pioneer—the prophet who is not permitted to witness the full realisation of his own predictions, and whose message of a brighter future for his country is disbelieved and resented by those who should have been foremost to help him to hasten its advent. MORE than thirty-three years have elapsed since I first entertained doubts as to the truth of the prevailing theory of political economy, and endeavoured to investigate what appeared to me its errors and their fundamental causes.

My avocation as Professor gave me the motive to undertake that task—the opposition which it was my fate to meet with forcibly impelled me to pursue it further. My German contemporaries will remember to what a low ebb the well-being of Germany had sunk in I prepared myself by studying works on political economy. I made myself as fully acquainted as others with what had been thought and written on that subject.

But I was not satisfied with teaching young men that science in its present form; I desired also to teach them by what economical policy the welfare, the culture, and the power of Germany might be promoted. The popular theory inculcated the principle of freedom of trade. That principle appeared to me to be accordant with common sense, and also to be proved by experience, when I considered the results of the abolition of the internal provincial tariffs in France, and of the union of the three kingdoms under one Government in Great Britain.

But the wonderfully favourable effects of Napoleon's Continental system, and the destructive results of its abolition, were events too recent for me to overlook; they seemed to me to be directly contradictory of what I previously observed. And in endeavouring to ascertain on what that contradiction was founded, the idea struck me that the theory was quite true, but only so in case all nations would reciprocally follow the principles Edition: current; Page: [ xl ] of free trade, just as those provinces had done.

This led me to consider the nature of nationality. I perceived that the popular theory took no account of nations, but simply of the entire human race on the one hand, or of single individuals on the other. I saw clearly that free competition between two nations which are highly civilised can only be mutually beneficial in case both of them are in a nearly equal position of industrial development, and that any nation which owing to misfortunes is behind others in industry, commerce, and navigation, while she nevertheless possesses the mental and material means for developing those acquisitions, must first of all strengthen her own individual powers, in order to fit herself to enter into free competition with more advanced nations.

In a word, I perceived the distinction between cosmopolitical and political economy. I felt that Germany must abolish her internal tariffs, and by the adoption of a common uniform commercial policy towards foreigners, strive to attain to the same degree of commercial and industrial development to which other nations have attained by means of their commercial policy. In all Germany teemed with schemes and projects for new political institutions. Rulers and subjects, nobles and plebeians, officers of State and men of learning, were all occupied with them. Germany was like an estate which had been ravaged by war, whose former owners on resuming possession of it are about to arrange it afresh.

List, Friedrich [WorldCat Identities]

Some wanted to restore everything exactly as it had been, down to every petty detail; others to have everything on a new plan and with entirely modern implements; while some, who paid regard both to common sense and to experience, desired to follow a middle course, which might accommodate the claims of the past with the necessities of the present. Everywhere were contradiction and conflict of opinion, everywhere leagues and associations for the promotion of patriotic objects.

The constitution of the Diet itself was new, framed in a hurry, and regarded by the most enlightened and thoughtful diplomatists as merely an embryo from which a more perfect state of things might be hoped for in the future. One of its articles the 19th expressly left thedoor open for the establishment of a national commercial system.


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  • This article appeared to me to provide a basis on which the future industrial and commercial prosperity of the German Fatherland Edition: current; Page: [ xli ] might rest, and hence the idea arose of establishing a league of German merchants and manufacturers for the abolition of our internal tariffs and the adoption of a common commercial policy for the whole of Germany.

    As adviser of this German commercial league, I had a difficult position. They were aided by the interests of England, and by those of the dealers in English goods in the ports and commercial cities of Germany. It is notorious what a powerful means of controlling public opinion abroad is possessed by the English Ministry in their 'secret service money'; and they are not accustomed to be niggardly where it can be useful to their commercial interests.

    An innumerable army of correspondents and leader-writers, from Hamburg and Bremen, from Leipzig and Frankfort, appeared in the field to condemn the unreasonable desires of the German manufacturers for a uniform protective duty, and to abuse their adviser in harsh and scornful terms; such as, that he was ignorant of the first principles of political economy as held by the most scientific authorities, or else had not brains enough to comprehend them. The work of these advocates of the interests of England was rendered all the easier by the fact that the popular theory and the opinions of German learned men were on their side.

    The contest was clearly being fought with unequal weapons. On one side a theory thoroughly elaborated and uncontradicted, a compact school, a powerful party which had advocates in every legislature and learned society, but above all the great motive power—money. On the other side poverty and want, internal divisions, differences of opinion, and absolute lack of a theoretical basis. In the course of the daily controversy which I had to conduct, I was led to perceive the distinction between the theory of values and the theory of the powers of production, and beneath the false line of argument which the popular school Edition: current; Page: [ xlii ] has raised out of the term capital.

    I learned to know the difference between manufacturing power and agricultural power. I hence discovered the basis of the fallacy of the arguments of the school, that it urges reasons which are only justly applicable to free trade in agricultural products, as grounds on which to justify free trade in manufactured goods.

    I began to learn to appreciate more thoroughly the principle of the division of labour, and to perceive how far it is applicable to the circumstances of entire nations.

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    At a later period I travelled through Austria, North Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, France, and England, everywhere seeking instruction from observation of the actual condition of those countries as well as from written works. When afterwards I visited the United States, I cast all books aside—they would only have tended to mislead me. The best work on political economy which one can read in that modern land is actual life. There one may see wildernesses grow into rich and mighty States; and progress which requires centuries in Europe, goes on there before one's eyes, viz.

    There one may see how rents increase by degrees from nothing to important revenues.

    There the simple peasant knows practically far better than the most acute savants of the old world how agriculture and rents can be improved; he endeavours to attract manufacturers and artificers to his vicinity. Nowhere so well as there can one learn the importance of means of transport, and their effect on the mental and material life of the people. That book of actual life, I have earnestly and diligently studied, and compared with the results of my previous studies, experience, and reflections. And the result has been as I hope the propounding of a system which, however defective it may as yet appear, is not founded on bottomless cosmopolitanism, but on the nature of things, on the lessons of history, and on the requirements of the nations.

    It offers the means of placing theory in accord with practice, and makes political economy comprehensible by every educated mind, by which previously, owing to its scholastic bombast, its contradictions, and its utterly false terminology, the sound sense of mankind had been bewildered. On the nature of nationality, as the intermediate interest between those of individualism and of entire humanity, my whole structure is based. I hesitated for some time whether I should not term mine the natural system of political economy, but was dissuaded from so doing by the remark of a friend, that under that title superficial readers might suppose my book to be a mere revival of the physiocratic system.

    I have been accused by the popular school, of merely seeking to revive the so-called 'mercantile' system.


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    • But those who read my book will see that I have adopted in my theory merely the valuable parts of that much-decried system, whilst I have rejected what is false in it; that I have advocated those valuable parts on totally different grounds from those urged by the so-called mercantile school, namely, on the grounds of history and of nature; also that I have refuted for the first time from those sources the arguments urged a thousand times by the cosmopolitical school, and have exposed for the first time the false train of reasoning which it bases on a bottomless cosmopolitanism, on the use of terms of double meaning, and on illogical arguments.

      If I appear to condemn in too strong language the opinions and the works of individual authors or of entire schools, I have not done so from any personal arrogance. But as I hold that the views which I have controverted are injurious to the public welfare, it is necessary to contradict them energetically. And authors of celebrity do more harm by their errors than those of less repute, therefore they must be refuted in more energetic terms. To candid and thoughtful critics I would remark as respects tautology and recapitulation , that everyone who has studied political economy knows how in that science all individual items are interwoven in manifold ways, and that it is far better to repeat the same thing ten times over, than to leave one single point in obscurity.

      I have not followed the prevailing fashion of citing a multitude of quotations. But I may say that I have read a hundred-fold more writings than those from which I have quoted. In writing this preface I am humbly conscious that much Edition: current; Page: [ xliv ] fault may be found with my work; nay, that I myself might even now do much of it better. But my sole encouragement lies in the thought, that nevertheless much will be found in my book that is new and true, and also somewhat that may serve especially to benefit my German Fatherland.

      AT the revival of civilisation in Europe, no country was in so favourable a position as Italy in respect to commerce and industry. Barbarism had not been able entirely to eradicate the culture and civilisation of ancient Rome. A genial climate and a fertile soil, notwithstanding an unskilful system of cultivation, yielded abundant nourishment for a numerous population. The most necessary arts and industries remained as little destroyed as the municipal institutions of ancient Rome.

      Comments (3)

      Prosperous coast fisheries served everywhere as nurseries for seamen, and navigation along Italy's extensive sea-coasts abundantly compensated her lack of internal means of transport. Her proximity to Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt, and her maritime intercourse with them, secured for Italy special advantages in the trade with the East which had previously, though not extensively, been carried on through Russia with the countries of the North.

      By means of this commercial intercourse Italy necessarily acquired those branches of knowledge and those arts and manufactures which Greece had preserved from the civilisation of ancient times. From the period of the emancipation of the Italian cities by Otho the Great, they gave evidence of what history has testified alike in earlier and later times, namely, that freedom and industry are inseparable companions, even although not unfrequently the one has come into existence before the other.

      If commerce and industry are flourishing anywhere, one may be certain that there freedom is nigh at hand: if anywhere Freedom has unfolded her banner, it is as certain that sooner or later Industry will there establish herself; for nothing is more natural than that when man has acquired material or mental wealth he should strive to obtain guarantees for the transmission of his acquisitions to his successors, or that when he has acquired freedom, he should devote all his energies to improve his physical and intellectual condition.

      For the first time since the downfall of the free states of antiquity was the spectacle again presented to the world by the cities Edition: current; Page: [ 4 ] of Italy of free and rich communities. Cities and territories reciprocally rose to a state of prosperity and received a powerful impulse in that direction from the Crusades. The transport of the Crusaders and their baggage and material of war not only benefited Italy's navigation, it afforded also inducements and opportunities for the conclusion of advantageous commercial relations with the East for the introduction of new industries, inventions, and plants, and for acquaintance with new enjoyments.

      On the other hand, the oppressions of feudal lordship were weakened and diminished in manifold ways, owing to the same cause, tending to the greater freedom of the cities and of the cultivation of the soil. Next after Venice and Genoa, Florence became especially conspicuous for her manufactures and her monetary exchange business. Already, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, her silk and woollen manufactures were very flourishing; the guilds of those trades took part in the government, and under their influence the Republic was constituted.

      The woollen manufacture alone employed manufactories, which produced annually 80, pieces of cloth, the raw material for which was imported from Spain. In addition to these, raw cloth to the amount of , gold gulden was imported annually from Spain, France, Belgium, and Germany, which, after being finished at Florence, was exported to the Levant.

      Florence conducted the banking business of the whole of Italy, and contained eighty banking establishments. Sign In. Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Friedrich List: Economist and Visionary London: Cass, The Natural System of Political Economy. Trans, and ed. Keith Tribe. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar.

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      Friedrich List: Economist and Visionary 1789-1846
      Friedrich List: Economist and Visionary 1789-1846
      Friedrich List: Economist and Visionary 1789-1846
      Friedrich List: Economist and Visionary 1789-1846
      Friedrich List: Economist and Visionary 1789-1846
      Friedrich List: Economist and Visionary 1789-1846

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