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A minimum wage is the lowest hourly, daily or monthly remuneration that employers may legally pay to workers. Equivalently, it is the lowest wage at which workers may sell their labor. Although minimum wage laws are in effect in many jurisdictions, differences of opinion exist about the benefits and drawbacks of a minimum wage.
Supporters of the minimum wage claim it increases the standard of living of workers, reduces poverty, reduces inequality, boosts morale and forces businesses to be more efficient. Critics of the minimum wage claim it actually increases poverty, increases unemployment (particularly among low productivity workers), and is damaging to businesses.
Statutory minimum wage regulation was first introduced in New Zealand in 1894 and the Australian colony (soon to be a state) of Victoria in 1896. Some attempt to control wages had been present since trade unions were progressively decriminalised during the 19th century, through collective agreement. However, this meant that a uniform minimum was not possible. In Principles of Political Economy in 1848, John Stuart Mill argued that because of the collective action problems that workers faced in organisation, it was a justified departure from laissez faire policies (or "freedom of contract") to regulate people's wages and hours by law. However, it was not until the turn of the twentieth century that the first attempts to do this were seen.
The movement for a minimum wage was initially targeted at stopping sweatshop labour.
First enacted in New Zealand in 1894, there is now legislation or binding collective bargaining regarding minimum wage in more than 90% of all countries. Minimum wage rates vary greatly across many different jurisdictions, not only in setting a particular amount of money (e.g. US$9.25 per hour under certain states' law (or 2.13 for employees who receive tips, known as the tipped minimum wage), $9.04 in the U.S. state of Washington, and £6.31 (for those aged 21+) in the United Kingdom), but also in terms of which pay period (e.g. Russia and China set monthly minimums) or the scope of coverage. Some jurisdictions allow employers to count tips given to their workers as credit towards the minimum wage level. India is one of the first developing countries to introduce minimum wage policy. It is also one of the most complicated systems with more than 1200 minimum wage rates.
Sometimes a minimum wage exists without a law. Custom and extra-legal pressures from governments or labor unions can produce a de facto minimum wage. So can international public opinion, by pressuring multinational companies to pay Third World workers wages usually found in more industrialized countries. The latter situation in Southeast Asia and Latin America was publicized in the 2000s, but it existed with companies in West Africa in the middle of the 20th century. Blanket minimum wage levels for all industries could also be set as a fixed percentage of the GDP per capita or the income tax threshold of the nation.
Among the indicators that might be used to establish an initial minimum wage rate are ones that minimize the loss of jobs while preserving international competitiveness. Among these are general economic conditions as measured by real and nominal gross domestic product; inflation; labor supply and demand; wage levels, distribution and differentials; employment terms; productivity growth; labor costs; business operating costs; the number and trend of bankruptcies; economic freedom rankings; standards of living and the prevailing average wage rate.
In the business sector, concerns include the expected increased cost of doing business, threats to profitability, rising levels of unemployment (and subsequent higher government expenditure on welfare benefits raising tax rates), and the possible knock-on effects to the wages of more experienced workers who might already be earning the new statutory minimum wage, or slightly more.
Among workers and their representatives, political consideration weigh in as labor leaders seek to win support by demanding the highest possible rate.  Other concerns include purchasing power, inflation indexing and standardized working hours.
In the United States, the minimum wage promulgated by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was intentionally set at a high, national level to render low-technology, low-wage factories in the South obsolete.
An analysis of supply and demand of the type shown in introductory mainstream economics textbooks implies that by mandating a price floor above the equilibrium wage, minimum wage laws should cause unemployment. This is because a greater number of people are willing to work at the higher wage while a smaller numbers of jobs will be available at the higher wage. Companies can be more selective in those whom they employ thus the least skilled and least experienced will typically be excluded. An imposition or increase of a minimum wage will generally only affect employment in the low-skill labor market, as the equilibrium wage is already at or below the minimum wage, whereas in higher skill labor markets the equilibrium wage is too high for a change in minimum wage to affect employment.
According to the model shown in nearly all introductory textbooks on economics, increasing the minimum wage decreases the employment of minimum-wage workers. One such textbook says:
If a higher minimum wage increases the wage rates of unskilled workers above the level that would be established by market forces, the quantity of unskilled workers employed will fall. The minimum wage will price the services of the least productive (and therefore lowest-wage) workers out of the market. ... The direct results of minimum wage legislation are clearly mixed. Some workers, most likely those whose previous wages were closest to the minimum, will enjoy higher wages. This is known as the "ripple effect". The ripple effect shows that when you increase the minimum wage the wages of all others will consequently increase due the need for relativity. (Formby, J., Bishop, J., & Kim, H.. (2010). The Redistributive Effects and Cost-Effectiveness of Increasing the Federal Minimum Wage. Public Finance Review, 38(5), 585. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 2140268271).) Others, particularly those with the lowest prelegislation wage rates, will be unable to find work. They will be pushed into the ranks of the unemployed or out of the labor force. Some argue that by increasing the federal minimum wage, however, the economy will be adversely affected due to small businesses not being able to keep up with the need to subsequently increase all workers wages. (Belman, D., & Wolfson, P.. (2010). The Effect of Legislated Minimum Wage Increases on Employment and Hours: A Dynamic Analysis. Labour, 24(1), 1–25. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1960232931).) 
It illustrates the point with a supply and demand diagram similar to the one below.
It is assumed that workers are willing to labor for more hours if paid a higher wage. Economists graph this relationship with the wage on the vertical axis and the quantity (hours) of labor supplied on the horizontal axis. Since higher wages increase the quantity supplied, the supply of labor curve is upward sloping, and is shown as a line moving up and to the right.
A firm's cost is a function of the wage rate. It is assumed that the higher the wage, the fewer hours an employer will demand of an employee. This is because, as the wage rate rises, it becomes more expensive for firms to hire workers and so firms hire fewer workers (or hire them for fewer hours). The demand of labor curve is therefore shown as a line moving down and to the right.
Combining the demand and supply curves for labor allows us to examine the effect of the minimum wage. We will start by assuming that the supply and demand curves for labor will not change as a result of raising the minimum wage. This assumption has been questioned. If no minimum wage is in place, workers and employers will continue to adjust the quantity of labor supplied according to price until the quantity of labor demanded is equal to the quantity of labor supplied, reaching equilibrium price, where the supply and demand curves intersect. Minimum wage behaves as a classical price floor on labor. Standard theory says that, if set above the equilibrium price, more labor will be willing to be provided by workers than will be demanded by employers, creating a surplus of labor, i.e., unemployment.
In other words, the simplest and most basic economics says this about commodities like labor (and wheat, for example): Artificially raising the price of the commodity tends to cause the supply of it to increase and the demand for it to lessen. The result is a surplus of the commodity. When there is a wheat surplus, the government buys it. Since the government doesn't hire surplus labor, the labor surplus takes the form of unemployment, which tends to be higher with minimum wage laws than without them.
So the basic theory says that raising the minimum wage helps workers whose wages are raised, and hurts people who are not hired (or lose their jobs) because companies cut back on employment. But proponents of the minimum wage hold that the situation is much more complicated than the basic theory can account for.
One complicating factor is possible monopsony in the labor market, whereby the individual employer has some market power in determining wages paid. Thus it is at least theoretically possible that the minimum wage may boost employment. Though single employer market power is unlikely to exist in most labor markets in the sense of the traditional 'company town,' asymmetric information, imperfect mobility, and the 'personal' element of the labor transaction give some degree of wage-setting power to most firms.
The argument that minimum wages decrease employment is based on a simple supply and demand model of the labor market. A number of economists (for example Pierangelo Garegnani, Robert L. Vienneau, and Arrigo Opocher & Ian Steedman), building on the work of Piero Sraffa, argue that that model, even given all its assumptions, is logically incoherent. Michael Anyadike-Danes and Wyne Godley  argue, based on simulation results, that little of the empirical work done with the textbook model constitutes a potentially falsifying test, and, consequently, empirical evidence hardly exists for that model. Graham White  argues, partially on the basis of Sraffianism, that the policy of increased labor market flexibility, including the reduction of minimum wages, does not have an "intellectually coherent" argument in economic theory.
Gary Fields, Professor of Labor Economics and Economics at Cornell University, argues that the standard "textbook model" for the minimum wage is "ambiguous", and that the standard theoretical arguments incorrectly measure only a one-sector market. Fields says a two-sector market, where "the self-employed, service workers, and farm workers are typically excluded from minimum-wage coverage... [and with] one sector with minimum-wage coverage and the other without it [and possible mobility between the two]," is the basis for better analysis. Through this model, Fields shows the typical theoretical argument to be ambiguous and says "the predictions derived from the textbook model definitely do not carry over to the two-sector case. Therefore, since a non-covered sector exists nearly everywhere, the predictions of the textbook model simply cannot be relied on."
An alternate view of the labor market has low-wage labor markets characterized as monopsonistic competition wherein buyers (employers) have significantly more market power than do sellers (workers). This monopsony could be a result of intentional collusion between employers, or naturalistic factors such as segmented markets, search costs, information costs, imperfect mobility and the 'personal' element of labor markets. In such a case the diagram above would not yield the quantity of labor clearing and the wage rate. This is because while the upward sloping aggregate labor supply would remain unchanged, instead of using the downward labor demand curve shown in the diagram above, monopsonistic employers would use a steeper downward sloping curve corresponding to marginal expenditures to yield the intersection with the supply curve resulting in a wage rate lower than would be the case under competition. Also, the amount of labor sold would also be lower than the competitive optimal allocation.
Such a case is a type of market failure and results in workers being paid less than their marginal value. Under the monopsonistic assumption, an appropriately set minimum wage could increase both wages and employment, with the optimal level being equal to the marginal product of labour. This view emphasizes the role of minimum wages as a market regulation policy akin to antitrust policies, as opposed to an illusory "free lunch" for low-wage workers.
Another reason minimum wage may not affect employment in certain industries is that the demand for the product the employees produce is highly inelastic. For example, if management is forced to increase wages, management can pass on the increase in wage to consumers in the form of higher prices. Since demand for the product is highly inelastic, consumers continue to buy the product at the higher price and so the manager is not forced to lay off workers. Economist Paul Krugman argues this explanation neglects to explain why the firm was not charging this higher price absent the minimum wage.
Three other possible reasons minimum wages do not affect employment were suggested by Alan Blinder: higher wages may reduce turnover, and hence training costs; raising the minimum wage may "render moot" the potential problem of recruiting workers at a higher wage than current workers; and minimum wage workers might represent such a small proportion of a business's cost that the increase is too small to matter. He admits that he does not know if these are correct, but argues that "the list demonstrates that one can accept the new empirical findings and still be a card-carrying economist."
Economists disagree as to the measurable impact of minimum wages in the 'real world'. This disagreement usually takes the form of competing empirical tests of the elasticities of demand and supply in labor markets and the degree to which markets differ from the efficiency that models of perfect competition predict.
Economists have done empirical studies on numerous aspects of the minimum wage, prominently including:
Until the mid-1990s, a strong consensus existed among economists, both conservative and liberal, that the minimum wage reduced employment, especially among younger and low-skill workers. In addition to the basic supply-demand intuition, there were a number of empirical studies that supported this view. For example, Gramlich (1976) found that many of the benefits went to higher income families, and in particular that teenagers were made worse off by the unemployment associated with the minimum wage.
Brown et al. (1983) note that time series studies to that point had found that for a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage, there was a decrease in teenage employment of 1–3 percent. However, for the effect on the teenage unemployment rate, the studies exhibited wider variation in their estimates, from zero to over 3 percent. In contrast to the simple supply/demand figure above, it was commonly found that teenagers withdrew from the labor force in response to the minimum wage, which produced the possibility of equal reductions in the supply as well as the demand for labor at a higher minimum wage and hence no impact on the unemployment rate. Using a variety of specifications of the employment and unemployment equations (using ordinary least squares vs. generalized least squares regression procedures, and linear vs. logarithmic specifications), they found that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage caused a 1 percent decrease in teenage employment, and no change in the teenage unemployment rate. The study also found a small, but statistically significant, increase in unemployment for adults aged 20–24.
Wellington (1991) updated Brown et al.'s research with data through 1986 to provide new estimates encompassing a period when the real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) value of the minimum wage was declining, because it had not increased since 1981. She found that a 10% increase in the minimum wage decreased the absolute teenage employment by 0.6%, with no effect on the teen or young adult unemployment rates.
Some research suggests that the unemployment effects of small minimum wage increases are dominated by other factors. In Florida, where voters approved an increase in 2004, a follow-up comprehensive study confirms a strong economy with increased employment above previous years in Florida and better than in the U.S. as a whole.
When it comes to on-the-job training, some believe the increase in wages is taken out of training expenses. A 2001 empirical study found that there is "no evidence that minimum wages reduce training, and little evidence that they tend to increase training."
Some empirical studies have tried to ascertain the benefits of a minimum wage beyond employment effects. In an analysis of Census data, Dr. Joseph J. Sabia and Dr. Robert P. Nielson found no statistically significant evidence that minimum wage increases helped reduce financial, housing, health, or food insecurity. This study was undertaken by the Employment Policy Institute, a think tank funded by the food, beverage and hospitality industries. In 2012, Michael Reich published an economic analysis that suggested that a proposed minimum wage hike in San Diego might stimulate the city's economy by about $190 million.
In 1992, the minimum wage in New Jersey increased from $4.25 to $5.05 per hour (an 18.8% increase) while the adjacent state of Pennsylvania remained at $4.25. David Card and Alan Krueger gathered information on fast food restaurants in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania in an attempt to see what effect this increase had on employment within New Jersey. Basic economic theory would have implied that relative employment should have decreased in New Jersey. Card and Krueger surveyed employers before the April 1992 New Jersey increase, and again in November–December 1992, asking managers for data on the full-time equivalent staff level of their restaurants both times. Based on data from the employers' responses, the authors concluded that the increase in the minimum wage increased employment in the New Jersey restaurants.
One possible explanation for why the current minimum wage laws may not affect unemployment in the United States is that the minimum wage is set close to the equilibrium point for low and unskilled workers. Thus, according to this explanation, in the absence of the minimum wage law unskilled workers would be paid approximately the same amount and an increase above this equilibrium point could likely bring about increased unemployment for the low and unskilled workers.
Card and Krueger expanded on this initial article in their 1995 book Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage. They argued that the negative employment effects of minimum wage laws are minimal if not non-existent. For example, they look at the 1992 increase in New Jersey's minimum wage, the 1988 rise in California's minimum wage, and the 1990–91 increases in the federal minimum wage. In addition to their own findings, they reanalyzed earlier studies with updated data, generally finding that the older results of a negative employment effect did not hold up in the larger datasets.
In subsequent research, David Neumark and William Wascher attempted to verify Card and Krueger's results by using administrative payroll records from a sample of large fast food restaurant chains in order to verify employment. They found that the minimum wage increases were followed by decreases in employment. On the other hand, an assessment of data collected and analyzed by Neumark and Wascher did not initially contradict the Card/Krueger results, but in a later edited version they found a four percent decrease in employment, and reported that "the estimated disemployment effects in the payroll data are often statistically significant at the 5- or 10- percent level although there are some estimators and subsamples that yield insignificant—although almost always negative" employment effects.
In 1996 and 1997, the federal minimum wage was increased from $4.25 to $5.15, thereby increasing the minimum wage by $0.90 in PA but by just $0.10 in NJ; this allowed for an examination of the effects of minimum wage increases in the same area, subsequent to the 1992 change studied by Card and Krueger. A study by Hoffman and Trace  found the result anticipated by traditional theory: a detrimental effect on employment.
A 2000 paper has reconciled the difference between Card and Krueger's survey data and Neumark and Wascher's payroll-based data. The paper shows that both datasets evidence conditional employment effects that are positive for small restaurants, but are negative for large fast-food restaurants.
Further application of the methodology used by Card and Krueger by other researchers yielded results similar to their original findings, across additional data sets.
Several researchers have conducted statistical meta-analyses of the employment effects of the minimum wage. In 1995, Card and Krueger analyzed 14 earlier time-series studies on minimum wages and concluded that there was clear evidence of publication bias (in favor of studies that found a statistically significant negative employment effect). They point out that later studies, which had more data and lower standard errors, did not show the expected increase in t-statistic (almost all the studies had a t-statistic of about two, just above the level of statistical significance at the .05 level). Though a serious methodological indictment, opponents of the minimum wage largely ignored this issue; as Thomas C. Leonard noted, "The silence is fairly deafening."
In 2005, T.D. Stanley showed that Card and Krueger's results could signify either publication bias or the absence of a minimum wage effect. However, using a different methodology, Stanley concludes that there is evidence of publication bias, and that correction of this bias shows no relationship between the minimum wage and unemployment. In 2008, Hristos Doucouliagos and T.D. Stanley conducted a similar meta-analysis of 64 U.S. studies on dis-employment effects and concluded that Card and Krueger's initial claim of publication bias is still correct. Moreover, they concluded, "Once this publication selection is corrected, little or no evidence of a negative association between minimum wages and employment remains."
Minimum wage laws have usually been judged against the criterion of reducing poverty.
Minimum wage laws affect workers in most low-paid fields of employment.
Minimum wages receive less support from economists than from the general public. Despite decades of experience and economic research, debates about the costs and benefits of minimum wages continue today. A widely circulated argument that the minimum wage was ineffective at reducing poverty was provided by George Stigler in 1949:
Various groups have great ideological, political, financial, and emotional investments in issues surrounding minimum wage laws. For example, agencies that administer the laws have a vested interest in showing that "their" laws do not create unemployment, as do labour unions, whose members' jobs are protected by minimum wage laws. On the other side of the issue, low-wage employers such as restaurants finance the Employment Policies Institute, which has released numerous studies opposing the minimum wage. The presence of these powerful groups and factors means that the debate on the issue is not always based on dispassionate analysis. Additionally, it is extraordinarily difficult to separate the effects of minimum wage from all the other variables that affect employment.
The following table summarizes the arguments made by those for and against minimum wage laws:
Supporters of the minimum wage claim it has these effects:
Opponents of the minimum wage claim it has these effects:
In 2006, the International Labour Organization (ILO) argued that the minimum wage could not be directly linked to unemployment in countries that have suffered job losses. In April 2010, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a report arguing that countries could alleviate teen unemployment by "lowering the cost of employing low-skilled youth" through a sub-minimum training wage. A study of U.S. states showed that businesses' annual and average payrolls grow faster and employment grew at a faster rate in states with a minimum wage. The study showed a correlation, but did not claim to prove causation.
Although strongly opposed by both the business community and the Conservative Party when introduced in 1999, the minimum wage introduced in the UK is no longer controversial and the Conservatives reversed their opposition in 2000. A review of its effects found no discernible impact on employment levels. However, prices in the minimum wage sector were found to have risen significantly faster than prices in non-minimum wage sectors, most notably in the four years following the implementation of the minimum wage.
Since the introduction of a national minimum wage in the UK in 1999, its effects on employment were subject to extensive research and observation by the Low Pay Commission. The Low Pay Commission found that, rather than make employees redundant, employers have reduced their rate of hiring, reduced staff hours, increased prices, and have found ways to cause current workers to be more productive (especially service companies). Neither trade unions nor employer organizations contest the minimum wage, although the latter had especially done so heavily until 1999.
A 1992 survey by published in the same journal revealed 79% of economists in agreement that a minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers.
A 2000 survey by Dan Fuller and Doris Geide-Stevenson reports that of a sample of 308 economists surveyed by the American Economic Association, 45.6% fully agreed with the statement, "a minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers", 27.9% agreed with provisos, and 26.5% disagreed. The authors of this study also reweighted data from a 1990 sample to show that at that time 62.4% of academic economists agreed with the statement above, while 19.5% agreed with provisos and 17.5% disagreed. They state that the reduction on consensus on this question is "likely" due to the Card and Krueger research and subsequent debate.
A similar survey in 2006 by Robert Whaples polled PhD members of the American Economic Association. Whaples found that 37.7% of respondents supported an increase in the minimum wage, 14.3% wanted it kept at the current level, 1.3% wanted it decreased, and 46.8% wanted it completely eliminated.
Another survey in 2007 conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 73% of labor economists surveyed in the United States believed 150% of the then-current minimum wage would result in employment losses and 68% believed a mandated minimum wage would cause an increase in hiring of workers with greater skills. 31% felt that no hiring changes would result.
Surveys of labor economists have found a sharp split on the minimum wage. Fuchs et al. (1998) polled labor economists at the top 40 research universities in the United States on a variety of questions in the summer of 1996. Their 65 respondents were nearly evenly divided when asked if the minimum wage should be increased. They argued that the different policy views were not related to views on whether raising the minimum wage would reduce teen employment (the median economist said there would be a reduction of 1%), but on value differences such as income redistribution. Daniel B. Klein and Stewart Dompe conclude, on the basis of previous surveys, "the average level of support for the minimum wage is somewhat higher among labor economists than among AEA members."
In 2007, Klein and Dompe conducted a non-anonymous survey of supporters of the minimum wage who had signed the "Raise the Minimum Wage" statement published by the Economic Policy Institute. They found that a majority signed on the grounds that it transferred income from employers to workers, or equalized bargaining power between them in the labor market. In addition, a majority considered disemployment to be a moderate potential drawback to the increase they supported.
In 2013, a diverse group of economics experts was surveyed on their view of the minimum wage's impact on employment. 34% of respondents agreed with the statement, "Raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour would make it noticeably harder for low-skilled workers to find employment." 32% disagreed and the remaining voters were uncertain or had no opinion on the question. 
Economists and other political commentators have proposed alternatives to the minimum wage. They argue that these alternatives may address the issue of poverty better than a minimum wage, as it would benefit a broader population of low wage earners, not cause any unemployment, and distribute the costs widely rather than concentrating it on employers of low wage workers.
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A basic income (or negative income tax) is a system of social security, that periodically provides each citizen with a sum of money that is sufficient to live on. Except for citizenship, a basic income is entirely unconditional. There is no means test, and the richest as well as the poorest citizens would receive it. A basic income is often proposed in the form of a citizen's dividend (a transfer payment from the government). Proponents argue that a basic income that is based on a broad tax base, would be more economically efficient, as the minimum wage effectively imposes a high marginal tax on employers, causing losses in efficiency.
In 1968 James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith and another 1,200 economists signed a document calling for the US Congress to introduce in that year a system of income guarantees and supplements. Both Tobin and Samuelson have also come out against the minimum wage. In the 1972 presidential campaign, Senator George McGovern called for a 'demogrant' that was very similar to a basic income.
Winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics that fully support a basic income include Herbert A. Simon, Friedrich Hayek, Robert Solow, Milton Friedman, Jan Tinbergen, James Tobin and James Meade.
A guaranteed minimum income is another proposed system of social welfare provision. It is similar to a basic income or negative income tax system, except that it is normally conditional and subject to a means test. Some proposals also stipulate a willingness to participate in the labor market, or a willingness to perform community services.
A refundable tax credit is a mechanism whereby the tax system can reduce the tax owed by a household to below zero, and result in a net payment to the taxpayer beyond their own payments into the tax system. Examples of refundable tax credits include the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit in the U.S., and working tax credits and child tax credits in the UK. Such a system is slightly different from a negative income tax, in that the refundable tax credit is usually only paid to households that have earned at least some income.
In the United States, earned income tax credit rates, also known as EITC or EIC, vary by state—some are refundable while other states do not allow a refundable tax credit. The federal EITC program has been expanded by a number of presidents including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. In 1986, President Reagan described the EITC as "the best anti poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress."  The ability of the earned income tax credit to deliver larger monetary benefits to poor workers than an increase in the minimum wage and at a lower cost to society was documented in a 2007 report by the Congressional Budget Office.
Germany, Italy, Sweden and Denmark are examples of developed nations where there is no minimum wage that is required by legislation. Instead, minimum wage standards in different sectors are set by collective bargaining.
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