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May 19, 2008


Barry Dauphin

Maybe Krugman would be happy if we were stacked up like Tokyo. Also low birth rate. Or maybe Krugman would be happy if the entire country moved to the Northeast and left the rest of the country to op-ed columnists.

Danube of Thought

An interesting demographic oddment. Just a day or so ago I saw some polling--I think it was Rasmussen--that showed a truly remarkable divide, as between Obama and McCain, according to whether the respondents were married with children, or were single. Much larger than I would have expected.


Please. Considering that trains started in the 1830s, certainly 70 years before automobiles started up so very slowly, European communities developed around public transport. The concentrated population was already set by then. My goodness, the entire country of the Netherlands will fit inside New York State. European urban wasn't planned, it happened around the horsecart and then the train.

Let Krugmann rant. He has no sense of time and place.




"The concentrated population was already set by then."

Yes. An important point, often missed. In the developing world, transportation problems are increasingly addressed in ways that don't impair personal freedom and hence economic opportunity in the way that older fixed rail systems do - in other words, you build roads for increasing numbers of private cars and encourage buses, often privatized buses. Cheaper, too. Seemingly at the root of Krugman's thinking is that Americans in suburbs are just aesthetically repellent - and they can't be controlled.


Skookumchuk, right on.


"Krugman's invocation of racism to explain a preference for the 'burbs."

Who but a racist would want affordable housing, maybe be situated so that the kids can walk to school, a spot out back to grow some vegetables, and room for a dog?


I don't understand--Europeans have always faced expensive oil, due to extremely high government gas taxes--so how is it that now, or soon, Americans will have an incentive to live like Europeans?

The US will still retain a relative price advantage, due to high European gas taxes, and yet their policy choice to subject their economies to high prices hasn't resulted in any breakthrough alternative energy or technology that have resulted in a lessening in dependence on imported oil.

Europeans live the way they do, due to the combination of a much higher government tax burden and much lower per capita incomes, when compared to the US. The evidence is quite robust, and doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.

Perhaps if Krugman actually examined the evidence he might understand the factors underlying actual differences in outcomes among differing populations. But that would require actual work, rather than pontificating.


The US had a rubber tire thing, Netherlands didn't and they are just putting in rail. The rise of the auto there wasn't retarded by rail or non rubber tired transports.

Urban planning is all spy shit and transport issues won't change that.

The small number of births are indicative of a society which has matured and realizes having children is a sin. The world is insane. The births are generally replaced with immigration and then they mature sinning and continue to; the public transport is usually adult, but an American who thinks 5.00 gas is a bit high could buy the air car and it should handle all those sins and sinners okay.

Danube of Thought

Glad I've lived when I did. I wish the grandkids good luck.

If I have the power to rain down lightning bolts to help them stave of the madmen--and I anticipate that I will--I'll happily do so. But if the NFL telecasts and the Martinis are too good up there, I'll probably just kick back and hope they can figure out for themselves what to do.


Krugman and BHO are peddling the same BS that Carter and his minions were peddling during the bad old days of the late '70s.

Not much came of the European lifestyle then, did it?

Steve Skubinna

I believe that what gets lefties so wistful about urban planning is the "planning" part. All those lives to manage, to organize, to pigeonhole... it's a statist's wet dream. People in suburbs or rural areas are too unruly and keep on doing whatever it is they want to do, whenever and wherever they want to do it.

And most of them don't even care of the rest of the world says "okay" or not.

Oh, the Obamessiah has his work cut out for him, he does.

Perfect Sense

Still, if we’re heading for a prolonged era of scarce, expensive oil, Americans will face increasingly strong incentives to start living like Europeans — maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of our lives.

Does Krugman mean that the USA is going to legalize prostitution and weed?


For years I heard versions of Krugman's argument from Canadians and Englishmen at school or work. I never failed to point out that while they said things were better there, we were having the argument here.

Europe was the place the various branches of my family left because they wanted to come here. Not one ancestor ever moved back, and I don't intend to break our streak.

maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of our lives.
A good line, stolen from a great movie, made largely by people who had left Europe to come here.

Ralph L

If I have the power to rain down lightning bolts
We have the technology
All we need is some targets.

Charlie (Colorado)

Oh, bullshit. Paul, baby, I've lived in Europe. I love living in Europe. But people in Europe want to have big houses and big cars too --- they're just taxed so it's hard to do. People used to fight to get posted to Baden --- where I lived --- and away from München and Berlin and Köln because they could get open space and and better houses. And why? Because it was a better place to raise kids.

Ralph L

My s-i-l's brother & wife moved from Darien, CT, to Manhattan, then Brooklyn Heights, when their daughter got to high school. Even odder, she went to the University of Texas and now wants to be a reporter for a Southern newspaper (her father had been #3 at Fortune magazine when they lived in CT).

Michael Jentsch

Funny that Krugman uses Berlin as an example. It is a bit different from other German cities. Just a hint, until 1989 we couldn't really move to the suburbs because there was something in the way.

Jim Rockford

People move to urban centers to make money doing various legal/professional work. But also to meet members of the opposite sex. When they marry and think of kids, they move out to the suburbs.

It's not solely or even dominated by space. But by crime.

The urban centers, and particularly mass transit, are dominated by crime. Most of the criminals are minorities, and make life living hell for people who depend on mass transit, such as subways and buses. Who are mostly other minorities. That cell phone video of the young black woman threatening the elderly lady on Atlanta's rail transit system is Exhibit A why people with families avoid urban areas.

Heck people who age out of "tolerance for crime" vs. opportunity to pick up the opposite sex, avoid urban centers. At the inflection point of the mid-late thirties, people just won't put up with that stuff any more, and don't have the physical presence to fight back or flee.

Racial tolerance such as it is, in America, is built on white professionals fleeing the city by their mid-thirties. If Krugman had his way, the consequences would be pretty much zero tolerance for minority crime (Black, Hispanic) and most young men from those groups in jail for long stretches, a number of young women too. White collar professionals won't tolerate constant crime fears.

Nor will they tolerate schools filled with younger versions of the young black lady threatening the elderly (also Black) passenger in Atlanta for THEIR kids. They either send them to private schools or produce "private" public schools where baroque application processes weed out parents producing thugs and ignoramuses. They're called "magnet" schools in the LA area.

But, crime dominates public behavior. It's why Americans love their cars (avoid the criminal on the street).


Good Morning everyone, and welcome to the Kentucky and Oregon primaries. (yawn)

The crucial questions:

Will Obama clinch - and if not, why is he going to Iowa (where they probably wouldn't nominate him again)?

Will Hillary get any airtime?

Will enough women protest NBC on behalf of Hillary to get any press at the other stations?

Will Michelle Obama give us the finger?

More importantly, who will win IDOL? I say David, and I will take any bet for any amount.

And by far most importantly, John Lester pitched a no-hitter for the Red Sox last night.

Last October, Lester won the deciding game of the World Series, just 14 months removed from his diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Last night, with the assist of a remarkable diving catch by Jacoby Ellsbury, he threw the first no-hitter of the 2008 season, the 18th in club history, and first by a Sox pitcher since rookie Clay Buchholz last Sept. 1, and the first by a Sox lefthander since Mel Parnell more than a half-century ago.


Let the games begin!


So this dark family gets on an airplane, a father, a mother, and a child, and they're cruising along at 23,000 feet and a bad noise comes from an engine. The head captain comes out and says there is a problem and they're going to have to crash the plane and kill everybody or else just throw a few people out. So he takes out a poll and says they're going to have to choose alphabetically.

First he says are there any African-Americans on board? Silence, he looks all around.

Next he asks if there are any blacks on the the plane? Nothing. Not a peep.

Third, he wants to know if there are any colored folk flying? Not a murmur. Still.

The little black boy whispers, "Aren't we all of those things, Dad?"

"No, Son", Dad responds. "Today, we's niggahs; all those Mexicans can go first"


If Krugman were really interested, and an economist beyond his narrow specialization, he'd look at the taxation and the cost of materials and land for a free-standing home. When I lived in the Netherlands, it was outrageous and perturbed living patterns.

And from the other side, he'd look at the history of urban planning -- say, I don't know, Robert Moses and New York City. It was the centralized urban planning that proposed the major roadways to alleviate the traffic jams. The result, of course, was more and larger traffic jams beginning further out from the city.

So, my conclusion is that simply because Krugman writes doesn't give anyone good reason to read it.

Al Fin

Krugman is an officially sanctioned, politically correct star. That is all that matters to the NYT reading audience. He is "one of us", so we can put our critical minds to sleep, and fill up our brains with high octane Krugman. Media vetting--we need it. Else, how will we know what to think?

Eric Blair

Gee, maybe US cities might have better mass transit if they'd been bombed flat too during WWII so that they could have been completely rebuilt in the last 50 years.


I live in Chicago's West Loop, crime isn't what makes people move away--its schools and cost of housing.

3 good public schools are in walking distance, but admission is by lottery, so you take your chances.

We have the cheapest 3 bedroom condo in the area--we moved in 4 years ago for 390K. It would be perfect for 2 kids if we didn't work from home and need an office.

I don't mind not having a yard, it is safe here, and I love meeting up with other parents in the parks (4 good ones to walk to!)

Also, my husband meets clients downtown. He doesn't need a downtown office, and his commute takes 10 minutes door to door.

Avoiding the commute is the number one reason people live down here...its sort of an unsung "family values" issue.

Some Guy

Wow, "kim." Notice, the tactic with "progressives" is to pop into blog comments and smear them with racist comments and "jokes" to discredit the author. Then, there's either two outcomes:

1. The author doesn't police the comments, and the scumbag who posted the comments posts on his own blog a quick "AHA! They're all racists" piece.

2. They force the blog author to spend his workday monitoring and editing comments. This silences the blog author by wasting his time so he can't post as much.

Either way, the lefty gets the same outcome, which is to SILENCE THE OPPOSITION.

Just Curious

Trust me, or try it for yourself - the suburbs are easier to manage when lots of kids are in the picture.

I'm a bit unclear as to your meaning. The main thrust of your argument seems to be that suburbs make it easier to handle kids, but this sentence says that suburbs are somehow easier to live in with kids. Is it mutually reinforcing for some reason, or what?

I don't have kids and don't plan to, so I may be missing your point...


In certain ways it is easier to raise children in the city - why? Daycare providers can take public transit to your house, so you are not limited to those with a car, or needing to drive kids to a provider. Teenage children don't need cars to get around, and you don't need cars for them. And you don't have to worry that the teenagers are bored in suburbia and entertain themselves with drugs, sex, and rock & roll.


Historically -- as in going back centuries -- European cities have always depended upon inmigration from surrounding rural areas to maintain population. Modern cities no longer have the horrendous mortality rates characteristic of all cities up until fairly recently, but population replacement rates remain relatively low. Big implications demographically as population balances shift from rural/suburban to urban. How much of this is unavoidable, I wonder -- a matter of too many rats in the cage -- and how much cultural? Are there dense cities elsewhere in the world where birth rates are significantly higher?

Briny Eye

When I was in Boeblingen, Germany (thirty years ago), the people who wanted vegetable gardens had small plots outside of town.


Yeah, HLT, you're right. Because no teenager ever got into drugs, sex or rock & roll in the city.

Sheesh, don't you watch "Gossip Girl" or any episode of "Law & Order" where some preppy kid from an exclusive Upper East Side prep school kills another kid over the dope that they were dealing? Oh, but I'm sure you are only watching PBS so you wouldn't see those low class, trashy TV shows. :rolleyes:


Speaking as a 20-year Atlanta resident, and someone who lives 3 miles from my job in downtown, it's apparent Krugman knows very little. It's a little hard to enumerate the things he gets wrong in the short space of a comment, but here we go.

1. One of the unheralded urban stories is the regentrification of the city. Part of what has made that possible in a place like Atlanta is that the density addicts did not build any teeming towers in Atlanta during the 20s and before, and instead left cozy intown neighborhoods somewhat reminiscent of neighborhoods in small Southern towns. These are pleasent plaes to live, and when the density addicts and their developer friends come to one of these neighborhoods, they have a fight on their hands. Intown Atlanta actually is coming up with a good compromise -- the towers are rising in old industrial areas where the mills of plants have been abandoned.

2. In both Atlanta and Berlin and Paris, many of the true slums are in the suburbs, where there is inadequate public transit. In Atlanta, there is a history of racism that limited the growth of subway system beyond the two central counties in the metro area. The irony is that the minorities moved out to the suburbs anyway, while the white folk have moved back into the city (troubling our local political machine, which is slowly losing its relaible voting bloc.)

3. Suburbs developed years ago as a RESULT of public transit. The urge to get away from density and have some green space is ingrained in the human spirit. Those who want to consign us to aseries of Manhattans should take the plunge, instead of iving in beautiful, leafy Princeton NJ.

K T Cat

What a terrific post! I had never thought of this angle before. Thanks for sharing this with us.


Some Guy, you're misinterpreting the poll, but I'll persevere.


Another consideration is that when other people are telling you how to live your life your desire to raise children is going to go down as well. USSR anyone?


K T Cat; I like to call the aeries cliff dwellings, and we should husband our hydrocarbons for structure to fabricate them. A hundred billion won't be easy to house.


I'm living in Manhattan at the moment, and it's not the crime (which has been very low in recent years), it's the cost. Put simply: if you could buy a 3 or 4 bedroom condo for a few hundred thousand dollars, a lot of parents would raise their kids in the city. When the cost is a few million dollars, however, people move out to the suburbs.


Hey DCThunder - I do in fact watch more Law and Order and do not watch PBS, but I'm not sure fictional TV has any bearing on this discussion. Was just pointing out some of the pluses of raising children in the city.

Rich Berger

"Sprawl - A compact History" by Robert Bruegmann is a good book that points out that the spreading out of urban centers goes back pretty far in European history.

Percy Dovetonsils

Of course, if white people moved back en masse into the cities, Krugman and the rest of the sob sisters would be bitching and moaning about "gentrification."


SBW is generous to the Netherlands re: Area. The Netherlands' area is not only smaller than New York State's but smaller than West Virginia's, and just larger than Maryland's.


"Suburbs developed years ago as a RESULT of public transit."

Another good point that is often missed. They somehow always blame the car - but it was the commuter trains and interurban lines built decades before in places like Los Angeles and Seattle-Tacoma that were in good part responsible for giving those suburban areas the shapes they now have.


DC is gentrifying, too, and Krugman types are bitching about it to be sure.


Just remember that American suburbs are not in any meaningful way a result of the private market. Yes, nobody forced anyone to move out there, but zoning ordinances rule the landscape with an iron hand, and suburbs DO impose significant costs in both time and money for the 99% of us who can't work from home.

Nobody really knows what kind of development the free market would create, because there's never been a free market in land development.

Patrick R. Sullivan

It ought to be deeply embarrassing that a professional economist would say this:

Infrastructure is another problem. Public transit, in particular, faces a chicken-and-egg problem: it’s hard to justify transit systems unless there’s sufficient population density, yet it’s hard to persuade people to live in denser neighborhoods unless they come with the advantage of transit access.

Because, as Appalled noted, real estate developers who created the outlying neighborhoods around central cities (that later got annexed to create the cities we know today) put down rails and operated streetcars so that their potential customers would buy their houses.

August Belmont (the man who built NYC's original subway system) made a pile of money developing real estate, in conjunction with rail transport.


There's so much applicable to refuting his stupid argument we've only just begun.
Other things which have driven families out of the cities and which still do include: higher taxes, rent control (which reduces the amount of available housing driving up the cost of non-controlled price residenes, terrible schools which are impossible to change given the parasitic relationship of teachers unions and elected local officials. But there is one thing that is common to these things--most are the result of the efforts of people who'd support Krugman's views...which is to say dimwits.

Danube of Thought

Stacy, check out Houston. At least when I was in law school, it was famous for having no zoning ordinances at all. Don't know whether it's good or bad.

Danube of Thought

"The main thrust of your argument seems to be that suburbs make it easier to handle kids, but this sentence says that suburbs are somehow easier to live in with kids."

Say what?

Expat in Germany

"...but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes", says Krugman.

If he thinks Berlin is not a city of cars as well, he ought to try to park one there sometime.

By the way, one of the meanings in German of "Krug" is "crock".


I'm outside Philly -- it's definitely crime and schools here.


"a top-notch, objective economist like Krugman"



It's the cost of unions/government. The more urban, the bigger the score for "rent seeking" by organized interests using government do drain the wealth of the productive class. The only folks who can afford to pay the union/government premium of the urban centers are folks you don't want to pay for kids.

Shannon Love

My question - is it unreasonable to wonder whether the low European birth rates can be tied to their living arrangements?

Japan offers a good test of this hypothesis. It has much higher population density than does Europe and it has a lower birth rate as well. Within the U.S., birthrates also track population density.

If you research the matter, I think you will find that birth rate vary inversely with the cost of housing per unit area (square feet or meters). People simply seem to avoid having children when they cannot afford the space to do so.

As a cautionary tale of unintended consequences, the welfare state is usually sold as a means of supporting children. However, the actual cost of the welfare system makes having children to expensive.


Have Krugman buzz us when Berlin and Paris announce a plan to integrate their public school systems and bus kids from one neighborhood to another to achieve the politically acceptable mix.

Rick Ballard

Krugman pimping prog plantations?

What a shocker.

Has he announced plans to move to Trenton?


Don't know whether it's good or bad.

Well that depends on how much you like to depend solely on deed restrictions as a method of controlling what happens on land that you subdivide. Since judges are notorious for their dislike of such restrictions and are want to find creative reasons for non enforeability, then it would fall down to whether you think free use of your asset without any restriction is better than say preventing the possibility of a strip club being built right next to your church or a liquor store next to the high school.


Better yet, Rick, Newark or Camden.

Wacky Hermit

Even if my family could afford a place big enough for us in the city, we could never rely on public transit. We have four kids and we fill the back of the van with groceries every week. To only bring home an amount of groceries I could carry, I'd have to shop every day, which would take an inordinate amount of my time and involve a hell of a lot of frustration herding the kids on and off buses.


"To only bring home an amount of groceries I could carry, I'd have to shop every day, which would take an inordinate amount of my time and involve a hell of a lot of frustration herding the kids on and off buses."

I'll give you a hint- no one in NYC with that size family carries significant amounts of groceries home. You take home the things that need freezing or refrigeration (typically only a bag or two) and pay the $5 fee to have everything else delivered.

Jim O'Sullivan

My favorite Krugman column on this general topic was the one from about three years ago (right before the ill-fated TimeSelect experiment) in which he wrote that it was OK that the French worked shorter hours and made less money than Americans, because it gave the French "more time to spend with their children" or words to that effect. And he was right, except that they don't have children anymore.


Having lived in a few German cities and towns, I'll add my 2 cents. The beneficial apsects are that the public transportation there is easy and reliable; even small towns a few hours away by car serve major cities every hour or so.

Most of the cities have great parks all over, and there are pedestrian-only shopping areas easily served by publice transit, so it's possible, even preferable, to take a bus into the city for work, or recreation, or even go to a nearby city for a concert, on a workday and still be home before midnight. Many times, we'd go into the city and enjoy the whole day out of the house. In the suburbs, I am less likely to want to get in the car and drive to a mall or park just to shop or relax, so we stay home more.

My 11 year old daughter was able to take a bus across the city to go to her school, and would meet other friends in town to go to a movie or do other things. Here in the US, she has to be driven to do similar things.

That doesn't mean that Germans don't want to live in suburbs or small towns as opposed to city apartment life. Every workday morning and evening between Frankfurt and Mainz the rush hour traffic is insane. It's the expense of living in the cities, as well as actually limited housing availablity that force younger workers to live outside the city, and more middle class Germans are able to afford detached or townhouse style homes outside of these cities, so they move out of the city gladly but commute into the city for work.

In the US, I live in the Shenandoah Valley two hous from Washington, Richmond, or Baltimore, it's over an hour to the nearest park'n'ride into DC, and the only passenger rail available runs twice daily. It would not allow me to make it to the cities before the start of the work day, allow me to spend more than 2 hours in these cities, or allow me to see a an evening play, sporting event, or musical performance in these cities and make it home that same day.

I love where I live now, however, so I don't mind not having a real city conveniently close.

So, to each his own, but the US once had reliable, and more widespread public transportation. It fell out of vogue as gas prices and, land costs, auto costs fell, and wages increased; still I think some por choices were made back then to let that network go, and now we'll have to make hard choices and decide if we want to bring it back.


People originally lived and worked in the same place,most artisans "lived over the shop".With the development of machinery and the rise of the factory system towns began to attract agricultural workers,towns and cities began to grow unplanned,"Manchester" by de Tocqueville gives a description of the appalling conditions.Towns and cities grew where there was a source of power,water,steam coal,and a transport system,roads ,canals,ports and railways.
As with the "doughnut" way towns develop,as the poor moved in the centre the more affluent moved out.Whilst the factory workers still lived near to the huge factories which sprang up in city centres in the acres of terraced housing built to house the workers,the middle classes were moving into the new suburbs,usually built round a surrounding village.Over the years cities spread to absorb these outlying suburbs.
After WWII and into the sixties,much of the housing was demolished,shiny new social housing was built,often on satellite estates several miles out of the cities.
The sixties also saw the hearts ripped out of towns and cities in the name of socialist planning and to make way for the car.Ironically it was the rise of the latter which put the final nail in the coffin of many towns an cities.Bigger and better road schemes meant less of the old build,more congestion and parking requirement.Councils discovered that there was gold in those parking spaces,there was also gold in council taxes on commercial property.With the factories long gone,the only attractions the city centres had were shop and offices.
The former were monopoliised by chain stores,small specialist businesses could not afford the council taxes.Huge offices were erected on a speculative basis simply because the developers could borrow money on them to build more,to borrow more money.
Unfortunately,taxes and cars also drove out many of the businesses occupying the office blocks.Banks closed branches,most are now wine bars,even in the big cities.
One unfortunate plantation from America was the out of town shopping mall which wiped out city centre shopping and put more traffic on the roads.There are plenty of shops,but in general these seem to be of a transient nature.
There have been moves to rejuvenate cities by getting more people to live in the centres.Old mills and warehouses have been converted,whilst these are ideal for the young,plenty of entertainment,restaurants and bars there is a problem for families.
Schools are inner city schools,but the biggest problem is privacy.
City centres have different populations according to what time of day it is.
During the day,office workers and shoppers,early evening the after work drinkers slowly being displaced by the cinema and theatre goers.After that comes the influx of young people coming for a night out.Suddenly pubs sprout doormen.Later the drunks and the predators take over,doorways become al fresco toilets,half eaten takeaway meals adorn the municipality.
That is why people move out.

Don Meaker
Does Krugman mean that the USA is going to legalize prostitution and weed?

Posted by: Perfect Sense

Prostitution is already legal for politians, and weed seems to be required for liberal columnists.

Brendon Carr (Korea Law Blog)

Further to Shannon Love's comment above:

Japan offers a good test of this hypothesis. It has much higher population density than does Europe and it has a lower birth rate as well. Within the U.S., birthrates also track population density.

If you research the matter, I think you will find that birth rate vary inversely with the cost of housing per unit area (square feet or meters). People simply seem to avoid having children when they cannot afford the space to do so.

Korea, more densely populated than even Japan, has an even lower birthrate -- 1.08 children per couple, the lowest in the world. The cost of urban housing, which approaches 19.8 years' average income in Seoul, means that we live in very small, expensive apartments and can't afford more children.

I write a lot about the Korean housing bubble, which frightens the dickens out of me, on my Korea Law Blog.

Brendon Carr (Korea Law Blog)

Oh, and for the record, despite being so densely populated, crime rates in Korea and Japan are shockingly low when compared to the United States. "Urbanized" people are not necessarily prone to violent crime; there is something going on in the US and European city centers which is different from what we experience here in Asia.

There is not a single street in Seoul on which I would not feel completely comfortable walking around at 2:00 a.m.


Brendon, regarding crime rates, can you expand on the curriculum in Korean K-12 schools? I'm interested to learn how an individual's relationship to society is presented.


There is not a single street in Seoul on which I would not feel completely comfortable walking around at 2:00 a.m.

Hear, hear, Brendon.
I felt the same way in Tokyo and Hong Kong. It is wonderful and I wish is was something the US would strive for.

I'm interested to learn how an individual's relationship to society is presented.

sbw, I tried to convince a Japanese woman I knew to write a parenting book for the western market. I figured if books like "French Women Don't Get Fat" could make it big, a "Japanese Children Don't Become Violent" book could too.


Maybee, while not Korean, I have found adequate threads for civil society in Confucius' writings.

But, hey, Americans don't expect to learn anything from either the past or furriners because what I feel now is understanding enough.

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