Soaking the Rich Would Not Solve the Long-Term Deficit Crisis

November 18, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 
style=”float: right; margin-bottom: 1px; margin-left: 1px;”> href=”http://www.heritage.org/budgetchartbook/federal-budget-deficits”> class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-46862″ title=”federal-budget-deficits-600″ src=”http://blog.heritage.org/wp-content/uploads/federal-budget-deficits-6001.jpg” alt=”” width=”410″ height=”350″ />

Earlier this week, we reported on The New York Times’s “ href=”http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/13/weekinreview/deficits-graphic.html”>deficit puzzle,” which allows you to close both the short-term and long-term budget gaps for the years 2015 and 2030 using cuts to domestic and defense spending, Medicare and Social Security reform, or tax increases.

href=”http://blog.heritage.org/2010/11/16/how-would-you-reduce-the-deficit”>We used the puzzle to close the long-term budget gap completely while also extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts—using only the available spending cuts. Though deficit reduction must occur immediately, long-term deficits are the real crux of the matter. In 2030, the federal deficit will be more than 10 percent of gross domestic product and will continue to climb to unprecedented levels. If tax hikes alone were used to pay for spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, in 2050, href=”http://www.heritage.org/budgetchartbook/entitlements-double-tax-rates”>the lowest income tax rates would rise from 10 percent to 19 percent. The middle income bracket would see a hike from 25 to 47 percent, and the highest income rates would go from 35 to 66 percent. And rates would continue to climb to meet increasing levels of spending. This level of taxation is unsustainable, which is why spending reduction is the only plausible solution. id=”more-46854″>

Some, however, would prefer to maintain spending on bloated federal programs and instead close the budget gap by raising taxes and “soaking the rich.” href=”http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/15/soaking-the-rich-cutting-the-deficit/?partner=rss&emc=rss”>In a recent New York Times article, David Leonhardt describes several ways to achieve this using the puzzle. He suggests allowing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire for incomes above $ 250,000, enacting a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires’ income, and restoring the estate tax, capital gains, and dividends to Clinton-era levels. In addition, he lifts the cap on the Social Security portion of the payroll tax, reduces the Social Security benefits for high-earners, reduces the number of tax deductions for high-income households, and enacts a bank tax.

What would be the result? According to Leonhardt, “you’d get about $ 570 billion of the $ 1.3 trillion in needed deficit savings for 2030—or 43 percent.”

In fact, selecting all of the options to increase taxes—including the crippling carbon and national sales taxes, which would hit all Americans—would still leave a deficit in 2030.

Furthermore, these projections do not account for the effect of growing levels of taxation on the economy. href=”http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2010/11/Obamas-Tax-Hikes-on-High-Income-Earners-Will-Hurt-the-Poor-and-Everyone-Else”>As Guinevere Nell and Karen Campbell, Ph.D., economists in Heritage’s Center for Data Analysis, write, “When tax increases reduce economic growth or create incentives for taxpayers to evade taxes, they bring in less revenue than a static (purely accounting) projection would predict.” So increasing taxes to close the budget gap would be even less effective than the deficit puzzle shows.

Not to mention, as Nell and Campbell show, higher taxes on the rich would slow the economy. A slower growing economy would reduce the number of jobs available and the wages of those employed. This would hurt Americans at all income levels.

To reduce the deficit, Congress needs to address the root of the problem, not the symptoms. The only way to restore permanent solvency to entitlement programs and reduce deficit spending on other federal programs is to reduce spending.

The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.

Soaking the Rich Would Not Solve the Long-Term Deficit Crisis

November 18, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 
style=”float: right; margin-bottom: 1px; margin-left: 1px;”> href=”http://www.heritage.org/budgetchartbook/federal-budget-deficits”> class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-46862″ title=”federal-budget-deficits-600″ src=”http://blog.heritage.org/wp-content/uploads/federal-budget-deficits-6001.jpg” alt=”” width=”410″ height=”350″ />

Earlier this week, we reported on The New York Times’s “ href=”http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/13/weekinreview/deficits-graphic.html”>deficit puzzle,” which allows you to close both the short-term and long-term budget gaps for the years 2015 and 2030 using cuts to domestic and defense spending, Medicare and Social Security reform, or tax increases.

href=”http://blog.heritage.org/2010/11/16/how-would-you-reduce-the-deficit”>We used the puzzle to close the long-term budget gap completely while also extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts—using only the available spending cuts. Though deficit reduction must occur immediately, long-term deficits are the real crux of the matter. In 2030, the federal deficit will be more than 10 percent of gross domestic product and will continue to climb to unprecedented levels. If tax hikes alone were used to pay for spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, in 2050, href=”http://www.heritage.org/budgetchartbook/entitlements-double-tax-rates”>the lowest income tax rates would rise from 10 percent to 19 percent. The middle income bracket would see a hike from 25 to 47 percent, and the highest income rates would go from 35 to 66 percent. And rates would continue to climb to meet increasing levels of spending. This level of taxation is unsustainable, which is why spending reduction is the only plausible solution. id=”more-46854″>

Some, however, would prefer to maintain spending on bloated federal programs and instead close the budget gap by raising taxes and “soaking the rich.” href=”http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/15/soaking-the-rich-cutting-the-deficit/?partner=rss&emc=rss”>In a recent New York Times article, David Leonhardt describes several ways to achieve this using the puzzle. He suggests allowing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire for incomes above $ 250,000, enacting a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires’ income, and restoring the estate tax, capital gains, and dividends to Clinton-era levels. In addition, he lifts the cap on the Social Security portion of the payroll tax, reduces the Social Security benefits for high-earners, reduces the number of tax deductions for high-income households, and enacts a bank tax.

What would be the result? According to Leonhardt, “you’d get about $ 570 billion of the $ 1.3 trillion in needed deficit savings for 2030—or 43 percent.”

In fact, selecting all of the options to increase taxes—including the crippling carbon and national sales taxes, which would hit all Americans—would still leave a deficit in 2030.

Furthermore, these projections do not account for the effect of growing levels of taxation on the economy. href=”http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2010/11/Obamas-Tax-Hikes-on-High-Income-Earners-Will-Hurt-the-Poor-and-Everyone-Else”>As Guinevere Nell and Karen Campbell, Ph.D., economists in Heritage’s Center for Data Analysis, write, “When tax increases reduce economic growth or create incentives for taxpayers to evade taxes, they bring in less revenue than a static (purely accounting) projection would predict.” So increasing taxes to close the budget gap would be even less effective than the deficit puzzle shows.

Not to mention, as Nell and Campbell show, higher taxes on the rich would slow the economy. A slower growing economy would reduce the number of jobs available and the wages of those employed. This would hurt Americans at all income levels.

To reduce the deficit, Congress needs to address the root of the problem, not the symptoms. The only way to restore permanent solvency to entitlement programs and reduce deficit spending on other federal programs is to reduce spending.

The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.

NYT’s Calmes Complains GOP Didn’t ‘Accommodate’ Obama by Passing Liberal Laws During ‘National Crisis’

November 18, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes appeared on a panel discussion on “The Role of Minority Party in Congress” held at the Wilson International Center for Scholars on Monday, and outlined four liberal complaints against Republicans for not sufficiently accommodating Barack Obama early in his presidency (when they were distinctly the minority party and rather powerless) on his allegedly moderate measures like health reform and financial regulation.

Blaming Republicans for Obama’s woes ignores the fact that the Democrats had just won huge filibuster-proof majorities in 2008. The party controlled the Senate by a 60-40 margin and the House of Representatives by a health 257-178. And conservatives would argue that Obama’s claims of bipartisanship were severely overstated and amounted to trying to pick off individual Republicans to get on board with his sweeping liberal agenda on stimulus and health care “reform,” instead of reaching out to the Republican caucus as a whole with more moderate and modest proposals.

Talking on the panel Monday, aired by C-SPAN, about the need for political accommodation in Congress, Calmes took “the risk of sounding like I’m expressing an opinion" in her closing remarks, about an hour and ten minutes into the discussion:

read more

NewsBusters.org – Exposing Liberal Media Bias

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Under Attack

November 17, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Matt Lewis proposes a modest compromise…


On Tuesday, the New York City Counsel held a hearing on whether or not to require crisis pregnancy centers to post signs at their entrance saying they do not offer abortions or give out contraception.  (They would also be required to include such a disclaimer on advertising). Similar ordinances have been recently proposed in Austin, […]

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Hot Air » Top Picks

Crisis averted: CBC says new House Dem leadership position OK for Clyburn

November 17, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

“This is not a black position.”


So much for the Congressional Black Caucus’ mini-rebellion over the make-work position created for James Clyburn as a sop to get him out of a losing challenge for the whip position in the next session of Congress.  On Monday, they huffed about the lack of authority for Clyburn in taking a renovated second-tier position in […]

Read this post »

Hot Air » Top Picks

Crisis averted: CBC says new House Dem leadership position OK for Clyburn

November 17, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

“This is not a black position.”


So much for the Congressional Black Caucus’ mini-rebellion over the make-work position created for James Clyburn as a sop to get him out of a losing challenge for the whip position in the next session of Congress.  On Monday, they huffed about the lack of authority for Clyburn in taking a renovated second-tier position in […]

Read this post »

Hot Air » Top Picks

The American Government ‘Extends’ and ‘Pretends’ its Way into a Crisis

November 16, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

That’s the new phrase commonly heard (with a nod and a wink) in banking circles when real estate loans are due but everyone knows they will be rolled over for renewal. It simply means the loan will be extended while the lender “pretends” the underlying current value of the property is sufficient to collateralize the loan. Everyone is happy.  The borrower doesn’t want his loan renewal rejected, the lender doesn’t want his balance sheet to take the hit that marking down assets to market value would require and everyone gets to pretend that everything is hunky-dory.

Extend and Pretend, sadly, is not a philosophy that is confined to real-estate financing transactions. Our government has been making a veritable art form out of extend and pretend for a long time.

What better example could there possibly be of the government’s extend and pretend mentality than the housing bubble that came so close to sinking the American economy.   Notwithstanding President Obama’s delight in blaming George Bush and the Republicans for “driving the economy into a ditch” the truth is that Bush 43 (as well as Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton) merely continued a policy hatched by President Jimmy Carter to increase home ownership in the United States at any cost.  So far “any cost” (to the taxpayers who are stuck with the bailouts) is calculated to be in the many trillions of dollars and counting.  How could the aggressive extending of credit to borrowers who were clearly not creditworthy, by any measure, have become the policy of successive administrations, particularly the Clinton Administration where, by executive order, credit history was not to be a critical factor for banks to use in the mortgage approval process? Simple, extend credit and pretend there is no problem.

As Barney Frank, Chairman of the House Financial Services Oversight Committee, stated with a perfectly straight face when pressed regarding the lack of oversight over those Government-Sponsored behemoths, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgages in their portfolios were “good as gold.” We’re learning the hard way that the government can’t will a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

In the private sector, otherwise known as the real world, most companies can only assume debt under rather stringent circumstances. Loans are made either with solid personal guarantees backing them or the loans are subject to very strict loan covenants by the lenders which, when violated, can produce an immediate call for more collateral or the calling of the loan itself.

Government debt is not similarly constrained.  When the United States government borrows money it provides the full faith and credit of the nation as collateral.  That used to count for something and, of course, it still does, but only as long as people in America and abroad have confidence in the fiscal integrity of the nation.  Should that confidence dissipate, the interest our creditors will demand will move up sharply.  It was the implied (implicit not explicit) full faith and credit of The United States that enabled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to extend and pretend and, in the process, enable Wall Street to sell packages or bundles of AAA-rated securities, the true value of which was sometimes the credit-worthiness of so-called ninja borrowers (no income, no job, no assets).

Private citizens use debt to fund all manner of wants and needs from life style pleasures to very basic necessities.  And while some borrowers are wise and some may be foolish, they all generally understand that when the bills come due it is they who have to pay.  That imposes personal responsibility on the borrower and, often, considerable stress as well.

The sense of responsibility, and the stress that can accompany borrowing is, ultimately, a restraining factor, and, sometimes, a needed reality check intervenes, such as when a collection agency calls.  Those restraining factors and the accompanying stress of borrowing are absent when our government makes decisions to run up trillions of dollars in deficits, which result in soaring public debt. They don’t experience that stress, because they pass it on to us. They extend by pretending that the problem will be resolved through ever increasing economic growth (from which they can extract ever increasing tax revenue) or through ever increasing demand for American debt, which would always keep future borrowing costs cheap (hence the bubble).

We run up huge deficits (and debt) by throwing caution to the wind and counting on a strong economy and low inflation, beginning next year and continuing, uninterrupted, year after year long into the indefinite future.  We’re spending our way into hock (mostly to foreign governments and investors) and rationalizing our way out by extending and pretending.  We pretend, based on past experience, that American debt will always be the world’s safest investment harbor.  But as Nassim Nicholas Taleb so eloquently illustrates in his recent blockbuster best seller, “The Black Swan,” counting on the past to predict the future isn’t always so wise and, sometimes, produces disastrous results.  We are, in essence, betting the proverbial farm, that the Chinese and the Arabs, and heaven only knows who else, will be there to bankroll us…to provide the wind beneath our wings.  We believe sound fiscal policy would be a far better bet.

We make health care for all (including those who are, by any reasonable insurance standard, uninsurable) seem affordable by requiring all adults to pay for health care service years before that service will be provided to them.  We pass a nearly 3,000-page healthcare bill that no lawmaker makes even a pretense of having read and which now has resulted in the first several thousand pages of what will be ten’s of thousands of pages of new regulations with which the American people will soon be saddled.  Thousands of new government employees immediately were hired to implement the new law…not doctors, not scientists, not hospital administrators, but new IRS agents.  And literally, quite literally, the Administration and the Democratic Congress having extended this monstrous entitlement on to the people, asks us all to pretend that it will save money and reduce the deficit.  Blessedly, according to virtually every poll, the public is digging in its collective heels and giving our new ruling class more “push back” than we’ve seen in recent memory.

Finally, let us touch upon the most sacred of all cows and discuss the dangerous game we are playing with our currency, the very life-blood of our dynamic economy and the hard-earned means every American individual and family counts on to procure everything from their most basic needs to their most discretionary indulgences.  Let us state, unequivocally, that our currency is worthless but for the confidence we and millions of people around the world have in its integrity.  For most of history something of intrinsic value such as precious metals or even precious stones were used to buy whatever those who possessed such commodities wished to purchase.  Until the Civil War, gold and silver were the primary coins of the realm.  Paper currencies, or greenbacks, have been a relatively recent entry as a means of exchange.

Twentieth and twenty-first century history is replete with examples of national economies getting clobbered as people lost confidence in their paper currency.  Think Weimar Germany, post-Peronist Argentina, Japan, Hungary, Greece and Poland (the latter three kept afloat by European central banks to avoid a collapse of the Euro).  It does not take an economist (least of all, an economist) to tell us that when a currency pays little or no interest, and its government is wildly printing money or borrowing nearly 50 cents of every dollar it spends that the value of that country’s currency will diminish. Money that pays no interest and is increasing in supply is not a prized investment.  We currently rely on a currency that is backed by nothing but the confidence others and we have in it.  We are currently attempting to devalue our way back to prosperity.  We question whether it can work.  We doubt that it ever has in the absence of sound fiscal policy.

Given that our public debt (exclusive of unfunded liabilities) is about the size of our entire economy, we might ask exactly what constitutes sound fiscal policy.  We know what doesn’t constitute sound fiscal policy. Look only as far as Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy, France, Great Britain, Iceland, etc.  Congress periodically imposes debt limits on our government, which is good…except Congress periodically raises those debt limits with complete abandon, which is bad, very bad.  That’s playing extend and pretend with our children’s future and our grandchildren’s future and our great- grandchildren’s future. Let’s take a closer look. We set a debt limit of a whopping $ 9 trillion just five years ago in 2006. The following year Congress raised the debt limit again, to $ 9.8 trillion, and then to $ 10.6 trillion in 2008, and again to $ 11.3 trillion a couple of months later and again to $ 12.1 trillion in February of 2009 and again to $ 12.3 trillion in December of 2009 and finally earlier this year to $ 14.3 trillion.  You get the picture.  We have a meaningless debt limit, because our Congress raises it at will.

We are flailing. Reduced spending and freezing taxes on all taxpayers, individual and corporate, in order to stimulate investment, and, hence, economic growth and job creation in the private sector would be sound fiscal policy, but such a course is anathema to those in government who are mysteriously and stubbornly enamored with the failed, redistributive policies of statist Europe.  They extend and pretend…. and we, all of us, will pay the price.

By Hal Gershowitz and Stephen Porter


Big Government

One Thing We Know for Certain About the Economic Crisis

November 15, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Kevin Drum debunks one of the sillier memes the right has been pushing to explain why the economic crisis shows so few signs of improvement:

Why does the economy continue to suck? The LA Times is hosting a symposium on the topic today, and USC business professor Ayse Imrohoroglu says the answer is uncertainty:

Businesses don’t know what will happen to interest rates. They have trouble calculating what new workers will cost in light of potential new healthcare mandates and costs. They don’t know what will happen to tax rates, which could rise dramatically. They are uncertain about increasing financial regulation and the possibility of a carbon tax. And as if that isn’t enough, the soaring deficits and national debt raise very real questions about the federal government’s long-term ability to meet its debt obligations.

[…]

The uncertainty meme is just mind boggling. Businesses always have a certain amount of financial and regulatory uncertainty to deal with, and there’s simply no evidence that this uncertainty is any greater now than it usually is. (It is, of course, entirely believable that business owners who spend too much time watching Fox or reading the Wall Street Journaleditorial page might believe otherwise, but that’s a whole different problem — and one that Imrohoroglu should spend his time debunking, not promoting.) The only significant realuncertainty that American businesses face right now is uncertainty about whether there’s enough customer demand to justify hiring more workers and buying more equipment. PPACA and carbon taxes rank very far down the list.

Uncertainty is a part of life, and as Matthew Yglesias points out, it’s certainly a part of the business cycle (emphasis is mine):

… Keynes himself put uncertainty front and center in his diagnosis of the business cycle and more modern “Keynesian” accounts tend to leave it out because it’s (a) hard to model and (b) not clear what difference it makes (see Brian Weatherson, “Keynes, Uncertainty, and Interest Rates” [PDF]).

Policymakers can’t make it cease to be the case that the future is uncertain. Policymakers can observe, however, that if economic actors’ level of uncertainty about the future increases that would manifest itself as an increased demand for money. Increased demand for money is a funny beast. Normally if demand for one kind of good or service falls, demand for other goods or services has to rise. But if what people demand is money itselfthen we find ourselves mired in a general glut, a shortfall of aggregate demand. Which is to say you’d be in just the normal Keynesian situation and you’d want to get out of it in just the normal Keynesian way—looser monetary and fiscal policy to bolster aggregate demand, soak up the excess capacity, and return us to a low-idleness equilibrium.

So if for whatever reason businessmen or politicians or media figures or anyone else feels more comfortable expressing the situation as one caused by “uncertainty” that’s fine. But the name of the game is still fiscal and monetary expansion. But instead the proposed cure typically seems to be “shift public policy in a more rightwing direction.” That wouldn’t do anything about uncertainty or a shortfall in aggregate demand. It’s just a faux-sophisticated way of saying “I’m a rich businessman who wants politicians to cater to my interests more.”

Direct hit. The idea that businesses still aren’t hiring because they need “certainty” about the inherent uncertainties of governance, legislation, and public policy, is bogus on its face. It’s past time to stop taking it seriously.


The Moderate Voice

Origins of the Crisis

November 14, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(John)

Reporters Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera have written a book about the recent financial crisis called All the Devils Are Here. A very knowledgeable reader writes:

Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera usually don’t have ideological axes to grind and, though journalists, usually have a solid if not expert grasp on the finance world when they cover it….they are just more or less balanced purveyors of the conventional wisdom with more facts and conceptual understanding than the typical political journalist.

In the world of journalism, that counts as high praise. Our reader also says, however, that Eric Falkenstein’s critique at Falkenblog is correct:

The bottom line: this train wreck was inevitable. … An interesting note is that some players did notice things were amiss in real time. In 2005, Greg Lipmann noted vastly higher default rates when home prices [rose] ‘only slightly’ as opposed to in ‘double digits’, highlighting that unsustainable price appreciations were necessary to prevent a collapse in these mortgages. Andy Redlief noted that in one presentation 85% of the mortgages were to take money out of a house (‘cash-outs’), as opposed to buying a house. When he asked the company executive if these had different loss rates, the exec said he did not know, but presumed they were the same. This presumption, Redlief knew, was not innocuous, and supposing it so implied a massive amount of wishful thinking.

These are the kind of signals that are interesting, because they highlight how one could have seen this all coming in real-time. Redlief notes that it was not a handful of people who saw this coming-the theme of Michael Lewis, a great writer who is more often than not completely wrong on his main them-rather, there were about 50 hedge funds he knew of trying to short this stuff in 2006. Now, I was not close to these asset classes, so when things fell apart in 2007, I had no idea that teaser-rate ARMs had grown from 31% to 70% over the prior 8 years, or that no-documentation loans were up from nothing to 30% by 2006. Those kind of statistics were not highlighted in real time.

Worse, loan originators appear to have been on a mission that could have only ended with massive failure. For example, one firm had to come up with a policy when silly loan applicants supplied information that was unnecessary under their ‘no doc’ lending program. The extra information actually made it harder to qualify, so they found a sneaky way to erase such information (eg, documentation of insufficient income). By 2006, loan standards were basically nonexistent and such a scenario was not going to end well. …

So the real question is why everyone thought the market would always go up under this madness. …

Borrowers are treated as victims, gouged by lenders, who then get expropriated somehow, as if the homes bought with fraudulent statements, teaser interest rates, and no money down, was something they truly owned. The authors note ‘these mortgages weren’t bought, they were sold’. No, they were bought too. This only worked because borrowers were getting cheap if not free options on home prices, and these options paid off handsomely in the decade prior to 2008. They enjoyed cashing money out of homes throughout the housing bubble, and those stories facilitated more willing victims who were just as greedy and short-sighted as investors. The under capitalized home owner lost less capital than anyone in this fiasco, so I don’t see them as the ‘losers’ in this game.

In the end, all the top-level concern to increase home ownership failed. The ephemeral increase in homeownership was to people who never had the wherewithal or commitment to own homes, rather, the boom merely gave all sorts of people money they basically wasted. This highlights the folly of trying to fine-tune aggregate economic statistics, as homeownership is something you can have ‘too much’ of, as inconceivable as that might sound to some back in 2005. [Today we can’t have enough education.]

During the Bush administration, I received regular emails highlighting good economic news for which the administration, reasonably enough, wanted to take credit. I noticed that while other statistics bounced up and down amid the generally positive trends of the 2000s, one staple of these emails was the steadily increasing rate of home ownership, which seemed to reach a new high every month. It didn’t occur to the administration officials who compiled the emails that this rise in home ownership could be anything but a positive development. It didn’t occur to me, either. It turns out that we were not alone in our myopia.




Power Line

Previewing the GOP Hostage Crisis

November 9, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

TPMDC has a forward look on “America Held Hostage: The Debt Ceiling,” a series we’ll begin here at TRR upon the swearing in of the 112th Congress in January, or even before, if Republicans follow through on their threats to kill all of the Bush tax cuts unless the rich get an extra bit. At […]
The Reid Report

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