Sunday , March 7 2021
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Articles by Yves Smith

Links 3/6/2021

21 hours ago

Yves here. One of our aides’ 29 year old daughter in on a respirator for Covid. No pre-existing conditions. She’s a police officer, so she has health insurance and was getting regular medical exams. So don’t perpetuate the myth that only old people are at risk. This aide and her significant other have already had 3 people in their families under 40 die of Covid.
The man who saves forgotten cats in Fukushima’s nuclear zone Reuters
Tearing Apart the Universe American Scientist (UserFriendly)
Sand shortage: The world is running out of a crucial commodity CNBC (resilc)
The Dark Side of Bill Gates’s Climate Techno-Optimism New Republic (resilc). Of course he has to be an optimist. Computers eat a lot of power.
Scientific communication in a post-truth society PNAS (Dr. Kevin)
Why is Electroshock

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Pointless Pain Is What We’re Enduring. And All for the Sake of Accepting That Money is Not a Constraint on Our Potential, and Never Will Be

23 hours ago

Yves here. While Richard Murphy’s examples are from the UK, the general point he makes still applies: that “money” constraints on sovereign currency issuer are illusory; what makes it necessary and desirable to cut spending or raise taxes is inflation.
Now readers might ask who the “we” is in the headline. Investors like tight money. The plebes are the losers.
By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

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The Jobs Recovery, Compared to the “Good Times” Trend

24 hours ago

Yves here. The cheerleading about the recovery is turned up loud, when unemployment is still high and we’re soon going to see an eviction wave begin (moving costs money even when you are broke). And remember that even in the old normal, there was lots of involuntary part time employment and the jobs created were mainly McJobs.
By Wolf Richter, editor of Wolf Street. Originally published at Wolf Street
In February, “households” reported that 150.2 million people were working – including gig workers – bringing the number of working people back to a level first seen in December 2015  (red line in the chart below), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ jobs report this morning. This was up by 208,000 from January. Over the four months since October, households reported an increase of

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Economists’ Rx: “Sick? Stay Home!”

2 days ago

Yves here. It’s a sad testament to the state of our society that economists have to study the question of whether sick leaves work. It ought to be obvious that having sick people come to work is unlikely to be a plus for the enterprise. The not-well person won’t be fully productive and has good odds of passing his ailment on to others. And it’s a loss society-wide, since the sick worker who is nevertheless required to turn up at his place of employment won’t just expose co-workers, but also people on his commute, and at places he visits, like a coffee shop.
So why do employers insist sick workers turn up? The obvious reasons reflect badly on the bosses (quelle surprise!):
They’d actually have to manage if an employee or two didn’t turn up due to illness, like figure out what tasks might be

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Covid Deranges the Immune System in Complex and Deadly Ways

2 days ago

Yves here. I hope the doctors and scientists in the house will pipe up. This story starts off at perhaps too non-technical a level but it quickly gets more detailed It discusses how Covid often triggers the production of autoantibodies. It’s not clear if that is an effect or a cause of more serious cases (as in how serious a culprit this is in cytokine storms). But it does appear to lead to a large range of nasty knock-on effects.
By Liz Szabo, a senior correspondent and enterprise reporter at Kaiser Health News who previously covered medicine for USA TODAY for nearly 13 years. Originally published at Kaiser Health News
There’s a reason soldiers go through basic training before heading into combat: Without careful instruction, green recruits armed with powerful weapons could be as

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Covid Baby Bust Has Governments Rattled

2 days ago

Not surprisingly, many young people have put off having children as a result of the Covid pandemic, and some even say they’ve decided not to have kids or to have fewer. Fear of going to see the doctor (you can’t do all that OB/GYN stuff during pregnancy via Zoom) and worries about finances will do that.
As some will no doubt point out, governments could have done a lot more to support incomes, so the child drought didn’t have to be as bad as it’s shaping up to be. And the drop in births isn’t limited to countries that are having trouble getting the disease tamed. China, which after its initial catastrophic outbreak has done an exemplary job of containing Covid, is also suffering a baby bust.
Of course, there’s a case to be made that fewer people in advanced economies is a good thing. But

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The U.S. Grid Isn’t Ready For A Major Shift To Renewables

2 days ago

Yves here. The fallout from the Texas grid collapse during its deep freeze continues. The Texas independent energy market monitor Carrie Bevins has written the Public Utility Commission of Texas to recommend that $16 billion of charges by the grid manager Ercot be unwound because Ercot kept the $9,000 per megawatt hour price in place (versus a typical price of $25 a megawatt hour) for a full 33 hours after the power emergency was over. From the Financial Times:
Retroactively revising prices “is not ideal”, she [Bevins] said, but “allowing them to remain will result in substantial and unjustified economic harm”.
Such a move would require Ercot, which acts as a payment clearing house for the market, to claw back money already paid through its invoice settlement system, a process never

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GOP Voting Rights Act Position Falls Apart in SCOTUS Arguments

3 days ago

Yves here. Normally the big action in litigation is when cases are first filed and courts issue rulings. But sometimes the byplay can be entertaining and revealing. Even though the mavens seem to think the Arizona case before the Supreme Court on its restrictions on voting rights is bound to yield some concessions to the right wing, it appears the conservative forces scored an own goal yesterday. It’s not clear if this fumble will ultimately matter much. Nevertheless, it appears even the GOP realizes there are some practices that it can’t justify, which then raises the uncomfortable question of how to defend drawing other lines.
By run75441. Originally published at Angry Bear
Tuesday brief update on Arizona and GOP oral arguments in SCOTUS.
“Hardcore GOP Position For Defanging VRA Falls

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Bad Stimulus: Government Payments to Individuals Are a Terrible Way to Solve America’s Structural Economic Problems

3 days ago

Yves here. Most commentary on the Biden stimulus plan has focused on some of the programs or the overall level of spending, and not the structure and philosophy. This article describes why continuing a classic neoliberal approach is at best a band-aid.
By Albena Azmanova, an associate professor of politics at the University of Kent’s Brussels School of International Studies and author of Capitalism on Edge: How Fighting Precarity Can Achieve Radical Change Without Crisis or Utopia(2020), and Marshall Auerback, a researcher at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, a fellow of Economists for Peace and Security, and a regular contributor to Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute
The new

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Facebook and Google vs the Free Press

3 days ago

Yves here. Australia and Maryland have both sought to tax Google’s and Facebook’s online advertising putting their broader role the spotlight. Both platforms make considerable use of traditional media content while pulling digital ad revenues away from them. Old school publishers had already suffered due to loss of classified ad income to Craigslist and in parallel, the dwindling of print subscriptions. One reason for getting a hard copy paper had been to get stock prices; when they became available on line, initially with a 20 minute delay, many readers deemed a hard copy paper to be frivolous. I confess to being a bit of fogey; I always buy a paper in the airports and find I scan a much broader range of stories, more efficiently, than I do online. Nevertheless, I spend so much time on

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RIP Gold. Killed by Bitcoin

3 days ago

Yves here. I am loath to give either Bitcoin or the current widespread investor belief that big time inflation is upon us any attention. However, the things I really want to talk about take a bit of work, and I’m buried by administrativa that is getting in the way of girding my loins to do some serious writing. So this piece verges on fluff, save for the absence of animal pictures.
However, one good reason is the specter of Peter Schiff getting a comeuppance. I had the misfortune to meet him in person when I was doing an SBS Australia show via remote camera in NYC. Schiff was also on and we were next to each other, staring into the camera. Not only was Schiff astonishingly rude to me (as in even before the show got underway, this wasn’t the result of on-air sparring), he was appalling in

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How the NATO Alliance Is Fighting Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine With Subsidies From State Budgets and the Gates Foundation, Hidden by bhe Financial Times

4 days ago

Yves here. Jomo Kwame Sundaram has been writing regularly on how wealthy countries are costing lives in poor nations via vaccine hoarding and refusing to give breaks on licensing. Nicholas Corbishey gave a long-form treatment yesterday on how that is playing out in Latin America, giving Russia and China the chance to play vaccine diplomacy.
John Helmer had to rouse himself to debunk the notion that it’s Russia that’s engaging in price gouging to other countries. Instead, the UK, the Gates Foundation, the US and others are trying to square the circle by letting Western Big Pharma preserve its egregious prices but subsidizing third world buys. Even so, the  amounts don’t appear to be enough to meet, let alone beat, the Russian price across Africa.
By John Helmer, the longest continuously

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Links 3/3/2021

4 days ago

Glow-in-the-dark sharks found off New Zealand coast BBC (dk)
Rare ‘locked’ letter sealed 300 years ago is finally opened virtually LiveScience (Kevin W)
Mount Sinabung eruption: Indonesian volcano sends a cloud of ash and dust into the sky CNN
How Green Are Electric Vehicles? New York Times (David L)
On Mars, and in Texas, Engineering is Peer-Reviewed by Reality Issues (fk)
Our grasslands have been poisoned by intensive farming Aeon. Anthony L pages Amfortas.
First-of-its-kind trial finds psychedelic microdosing is equal to placebo New Atlas (David L)
HIV findings in DR Congo ‘give hope for cure’ BBC. Resilc: “Between this and the possible malaria vax, a big week in health issues missed by USA USA press.”
#COVID-19
Science/Medicine
New evidence shows coronavirus can infect and kill heart

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The Bullshit Economy: Homebuying “Help”

4 days ago

Yves here. Please welcome Jared Holst, who is graciously allowing us to syndicate some of the articles on his site. He’s started a new series on what he calls “The Bullshit Economy”: products and services that ought not exist because they are exploitative and in the end typically leave buyers worse off. His description is a tad more charitable than mine:
The series is an ongoing look at companies whose existence is predicated on poor policy and bad economics and not on solving a market need. Think payday loans, but newer.
We trust you’ll enjoy this and his future finds…well, the information and assessment, the actual products, not so much.
IBy Jared Holst,  the author at Brands Mean a Lot, a weekly commentary on the ways branding impacts our lives. Each week, he explores contradictions

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Links 2/27/2021

8 days ago

Texas sea turtles released back into sea after cold front eases BBC
Did teenage ‘tyrants’ outcompete other dinosaurs? ScienceDaily (Kevin W)
Atlantic Ocean circulation at weakest in a millennium, say scientists Guardian
Tom Stevenson · Where are the space arks? Space Forces London Review of Books (Anthony L)
Mr Potato Head and the cult of gender neutrality The Spectator (furzy)
AI Teaches Itself Diplomacy IEEE (David L)
Falling sperm counts ‘threaten human survival’, expert warns Guardian (resilc)
#COVID-19
Pfizer Bullying Governments Gravitas (furzy). Today’s must watch
Brazil’s capital goes into lockdown to quell COVID-19 surge Reuters
Science/Medicine
The Coronavirus Is Plotting a Comeback. Here’s Our Chance to Stop It for Good. New York Times

Almost 2/3 of Covid hospitalizations in

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The Oil Industry Is Ready To Fight President Biden In Court

8 days ago

Yves here. It appears that the Biden Administration, even in taking what would seem to be a modest step, curtailing new energy leases on Federal lands, is trying to do some things via executive authority that actually require legislation.
By Julianne Geiger, a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com. Originally published at OilPrice
Reeling from the effects of the pandemic, the oil industry is in no mood to fool around. When newly inaugurated President Joe Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline project, refiners on the Gulf Coast shuddered. How would they get the Canadian oil they needed? But when President Biden paused all oil and gas permitting on federal lands and waters and canceled lease sales, struggling oil and gas companies took the gloves off and prepared for a

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A Less Trumpy Version of Trumpism Might Be the Future of the Republican Party

8 days ago

Yves here. Democratic-party adjacent media keep declaring the Republican Party dead. Wishing does not make it so.
By Morgan Marietta, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Lowell and David C. Barker, Professor of Government and Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University School of Public Affairs. Originally published at The Conversation
Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, but his populist ideas may continue to animate the Republican Party.
As scholars of American beliefs and elections, we can envision a less Trumpy version of Trumpism holding sway over the party in coming years. We call it “polished populism.”
Populism is folk-politics based on the premise that ordinary citizens are wiser and more virtuous than

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“I’m Sorry,” Says Ro Khanna, “An Unelected Parliamentarian Does Not Get to Deprive 32 Million Americans the Wage Raise They Deserve.”

9 days ago

Yves here. The Biden Administration is showing its true colors. Not only does it bomb Syria, but it is not hiding that it is pleased that the proposed minimum wage increase to $15 is hitting obstacles, this one in the form of a bizarre ruling by the Senate’s parliamentarian. As many have pointed out, Kamala Harris could ignore this advice, but not surprisingly, she is pretending to be missing in action. It appears the only time she uses her power is to throw people in jail.
Now there are grounds for quibbling about the structure of the increase. $15 an hour is skimpy in pricey cities like New York, yet would represent a hefty increase in places like Alabama. Perhaps the phase-in could be more attenuated in states with low costs of living. But there is no denying that a minimum wage

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Eviction Moratorium Deemed Unconstitutional by Federal Judge in Texas

9 days ago

Judge J. Campbell Barker of the Eastern District of Texas, sided with plaintiffs who challenged the CDC’s eviction moratorium on Constitutional grounds. We’ve embedded the opinion for Terkel v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the end of this post. Even though some will be inclined to dismiss the ruling as politically-motivated (Barker was a Trump nominee), recall that it was the Trump Administration that first launched the eviction freeze. It initially ran through December 31, and covered tenants who gave their landlord a declaration attesting that the made less than $100,000 a year, had suffered a large hit to their income, were seeking assistance and would pay as much rent as they could. The Biden Administration planned to extend the moratorium to the end of March.
Bear in

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America Needs New Infrastructure to Survive, But Will Biden Deliver?

9 days ago

Yves here. It looks as if Tim Conway was hung a bit out to dry by the Biden Administration. This post launched yesterday, which was supposed to be the day when Biden filled in the details of his Build Back Better. Biden had promises lots of infrastructure goodies, with emphasis on green projects.
But the Administration has dithered a month with its $1.9 trillion stimulus package in trying to make it a bi-partisan project, and has since given up and is now pursuing it as a Democratic party deal. That means with all the sausage-making process, it will be nip and tuck as to whether the bill is put to bed by mid-March, when additional Federal unemployment support expires.
That means that even filling in the blanks in the Biden infrastructure plan has been pushed back by at least a month. And

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The Climate Crisis, Rationing and Conscription

9 days ago

Yves here. It’s telling that none of the key climate change interest groups have recommended rationing as an answer. It would quickly focus minds on how much energy was being spent and on what.
By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at DownWithTryanny!
Let’s take a trip to fantasyland, to a world in which the U.S. addresses climate change in a meaningful way.
What does a meaningful response to climate change entail? Among other things, it means enacting the following two policies — energy rationing and conscription — and starting to enact them now. (Both are inevitable, of course, but probably not until after it matters, and not in an orderly way.)
Energy Rationing
Let’s look at rationing first, then turn to conscription. To paraphrase something I wrote in 2019 (“The Elephant In the

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Why Black and Hispanic Small-Business Owners Have Been So Badly Hit in the Pandemic Recession

10 days ago

Yves here. The financial crisis wiped out a tremendous amount of black wealth. Now we have the pandemic hitting the entrepreneurial members of minority communities disproportionately hard. One of the first restaurants to close here was one I very much liked….and ironically I took out dinner the last night it was open for sit-down service, the very day Birmingham announced that non-essential businesses would close (with very little warning; the policy was presented in the late afternoon and was effective the next day). The manager was shell-shocked.
They had a short go at trying to make carry out work and shuttered. The owner was black and I wondered if the reason for his fast action was the expectation, whether true or not, that his landlord, franchisor, and/or bank wouldn’t cut him as

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Links 2/25/2021

10 days ago

Dear patient readers,
Apologies for what may come off as whinging. I am tired and even more out of sorts than usual (and you know by now that a sunny disposition is not my trademark). So you are again getting short rations on original posts.
I’ve had a low-grade bug for 2+ weeks, definitely not Covid but enough to make me even more fatigued than normal, plus frustration about my worsening orthopedic issues (and now some pain, and yours truly has exceedingly high pain tolerance, so this isn’t something I’m used to) and a lack of any good treatment options, plus more hassles with my mother (the latest being one of our four aides has recently started having trouble transferring my mother in and out of her wheelchair; I don’t like the idea of bringing in a new aide, and I have very limited

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Why It’s Good for San Francisco that Rents Dropped 29% to Multiyear Low. But They Haven’t Dropped Nearly Enough Yet

10 days ago

Yves here. Wolf Richter meets Michael Hudson in decrying how high rents are a big drain on the economy, more broadly defined than landlords.
But I’d like to know if the traffic has gotten any better. The last time I was there, pre-Covid, it was close to impossible to get around the city during the business day (unlike NYC which was not terrible for cars and also has the usually-faster-for-north-south-trips option of the subway). Honestly, unless you could walk to work or were near BART stops, I wasn’t sure how the locals functioned.
By Wolf Richter, editor at Wolf Street. Originally published at Wolf Street
San Francisco has long lamented its “Housing Crisis,” a phenomenon where housing – whether rented or owned – is so ludicrously expensive that middle-class workers, even if there are two

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Is the Post-COVID Boom Going to Bust?

10 days ago

Yves here. As long-standing readers know, we’ve never exhibited much interest in economic forecasts since even macroeconomists admit they are horrifically unreliable once you get beyond 6 months. Forecasts seemed particularly uninteresting in the post crisis era when a lot of people were trying to paint happy faces on what was eventually declared to be secular stagnation. The much more interesting stories were things like how if evah would the Fed back out of ZIRP, the continuing rise of inequality and how US health care costs were eating the economy. But now we have had many interventions related to Covid, as well as a lot of dropped balls. And we’re going to see in due course how this plays out when we get to a recovery.
This article is admittedly one forecast of how 2021 might play out.

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This Obscure Energy Treaty Is the Greatest Threat to the Planet You’ve Never Heard Of

10 days ago

Yves here. An ugly trade treaty that included corporate-profit guaranteeing “investor-state dispute settlement” mechanisms is again getting the bad press it deserves. We mentioned the 1994 Energy Charter Treaty in our 2013-2015 opposition to the TransPacific Partnership and its Atlantic sister, the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership because it had become notorious in Europe for undermining clean energy initiatives. From a November 2013 post, quoting Public Citizen:
Vattenfal, a Swedish company, is a serial trade pact litigant against Germany. In 2011, Der Spiegel reported on how it was suing for expected €1 billion plus losses due to Germany’s program to phase out nuclear power:
According to Handelsblatt, Vattenfall has an advantage in seeking compensation because the company

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Ilargi: But….Then There’s the [Lithium] Math

11 days ago

Yves here. Now that Trump era cray cray is receding a bit, we’re now able to spend time on secondary topics like the future of the planet. One topic that is weirdly mentioned more than occasionally yet then treated as if it simply doesn’t exist is the high environmental cost of supposedly green clean technologies. This post highlights a specific issue: there simply isn’t enough lithium to supply Tesla’s planned electric vehicles, let alone those of other car makers.
EV defenders will argue other battery technologies are just around the corner, like sodium ion, which promises to be more efficient as well as environmentally less taxing. See here for a recap of the status and advantages of other battery technologies under development.
The wee problem is that the time it takes to perfect and

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Michael Hudson Discusses the Economic Winds of [Non] Change Under Biden on Radical Imagination

11 days ago

Yves here. Michael Hudson describes the fealty of Biden and the Democratic party to neoliberal policies and how, as Biden himself said, nothing fundamental will change. Hudson agrees nothing much will improve for ordinary citizens as long as the current Democratic party is calling the shots. He lays out a way to tackle rentierism by promoting building of moderate-priced homes and setting strict terms for FHA mortgages.

Jim Vrettos:   We’re waiting to see how the rhetoric of the new Biden administration will play out in actual policies.
Hudson: Biden’s long political career has been right-wing. He’s the senator from Delaware, the country’s most pro-corporate state – which is why most U.S. corporations are incorporated there. As such, he represents the banking and credit-card industry. He

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Housing and the American Dream: Is A House Still a Home?

11 days ago

Yves here. This post takes a contrarian view of the preoccupation with home ownership and argues that single family homes increase inequality and the rate of climate change. Its authors contend that the idea that home ownership reduces inequality is largely a conservative myth.
I strongly encourage you to read it in full, with an eye to the notion that knee-jerk reactions against some of its arguments are likely to reflect a personal attachment to the notion of homeownership….which as this piece stresses, is a fairly recent cultural inculcation.
No less than the Economist magazine recently deemed the push for widespread homeownership as a massive policy failure, and also described how that demand for home-ownership was stoked by messaging and policies, such as tax breaks for developers and

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More Evidence That Private Equity Kills: Estimated >20,000 Increase in Nursing Home Deaths, 160,000 Life Years Lost Due to Cuts in Care

11 days ago

Private equity has succeeded in exploiting economic choke points in much narrower sectors of the economy than experts in monopolies typically study. Health care is an idea area in which to exploit the leverage of providers compared to patients. You can’t haggle over which ambulance comes to fetch you. Similarly, most who get an operation or need ongoing treatments, like dialysis or chemotherapy, will use a facility nearby, which means private equity can create local oligopolies. Not only do private equity owners jack up prices (see Eileen Appelbaum on how private equity negotiates higher fees for outsourced physician practices) but they also lower service levels, as an important new study confirms.
An important study by Atul Gupta, Sabrina T. Howell, Constantine Yannelis, and Abhinav

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