Freedom Sells

Everyone likes movies. Since its inception at the turn of the 20th Century, film has evolved as one of the most prolific sources of social, political and spiritual commentary in history. As some have said, Hollywood is what Homer was to the ancients. Movies tell stories. Movies strive to move us. They can even rewrite history in the mind’s of a society. Needless to say, movies and TV shows are a crucial part of modern culture.

As dozens of high-budget Hollywood blockbuster hopefuls make their way to the screen every year, the reaction from the political sphere is largely the same: Hollywood is a liberal’s world. From the causes and candidates that actors and actresses support to the “socially progressive” message that many films portray, this is a rare case of bipartisan agreement.

However, when one analyzes the plot structure, character development, and themes of some of film’s most popular and most recent works, there seems to be an intriguing trend of conservative ideals that permeates them all. Allow me to explain.

One of the most basic principles of modern liberalism is big government is best. Nationalized healthcare, increased welfare state, increased regulation, etc. Conservatism then, obviously, opposes many of these views. So you would think an industry that is overwhelmingly stereotyped as liberal would tend to portray this kind of ideology in its products. However, in many cases this is just the opposite.

For example, take the popular genre of post-modern dystopian societies (aka Hunger Games, Divergent, Blade Runner, and the like). The vast majority of the time, the antagonist of these movies is blatantly identified as the government. It’s up to one strong-willed, unassuming underdog to courageously lead a revolt against the oppressive rulers who stand diametrically opposed to freedom and individual progress. Interesting.

Look at Gladiator, Braveheart, The Matrix, Star Wars, some of the most iconic movies of all time all share this common theme. Of course, the most inspiring movies use this David vs. Goliath tactic as a way to make an interesting plot line, but the cultural subtext here cannot be ignored. Where are the movies about the successes of an increased welfare state? Instead we have The Pursuit of Happyness. Where are the dramatic success stories of government security agencies? Instead we have the Bourne series. Where are the long-term success stories of those who tossed the rule book out the window, abandoned classic values and morals, and have a life of complete happiness and satisfaction to show for it? Instead we have Wolf of Wall Street.

No, Hollywood knows what makes a good story. It’s one that inspires us to succeed, to be entrepreneurial, to stand out, to think critically, to contribute, to work hard, to be free. It’s these kinds of stories that have made America the best country in the world. But these ideas aren’t just reserved for Americans. They resonate within everyone. Freedom makes sense. Freedom transcends. Freedom sells.

Do you have a story that exemplifies what it means to be free? Find and contact your state think tank here and share!

Uninformed in the Information Age: Listen to This Part IV

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Economics can be as interesting as it is complex. In Part III, we explored how to “think like a freak” with the Freakonomics podcast put together by New York Times columnist Stephen Dubner and University of Chicago Professor Steven Levitt. Learning the economics of everything can help you see the connection between small, everyday decisions and the intricacies of, say, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund. While Freakonomics gives you a full hour of entertaining content from all areas of life, sometimes your lifestyle calls for shorter episodes without all the trimmings. Thankfully, there’s a podcast for that.

Among the many genres NRP offers, the Planet Money podcast presents insightful stories from the realm of economics ranging from as short as seven minutes to around twenty. Much like Freakonomics, the hosts strive to give tough topics a conversational tone with input from high rollers, industry experts, and normal folks alike. The Planet Money website describes their unique selling proposition as, “Imagine you could call up a friend and say, ‘Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.’ Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening. That’s what we’re going for at Planet Money.” ‘Nough said.

While Freakonomics usually focuses on “freaky” socioeconomic issues, Planet Money has more of a broad, investigative touch, looking into the history of modern phenomena that most of us take for granted. For instance, how did the dollar became the center of global trade? What would happen if everyone at your organization knew each others’ salaries? What do the history of fondue and economics have in common? What e-commerce website has more traffic than Ebay and Amazon combined?  The answers to all these and more can be found within twenty minutes.

Like most other podcasts, Planet Money also offers additional content such as blogs, radio broadcasts, and links to their contributions to the most popular podcast on iTunes This American Life. Search by topic or program and stay informed on the latest headlines or whatever topics you find most interesting. And most importantly, it’s all free.

Whether you’re an economics major or have never heard the words “micro” and “macro” used outside of science class, the only requirements to enjoy Planet Money are the app and some spare time. But be careful, you might actually start looking forward to your daily commute.

Do you have any favorite podcasts that help you learn more about advancing liberty and economic freedom? Find us on Twitter at @StatePolicy and let us know!

 

Uninformed in the Information Age: Listen to This Part III

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The subject of economics can be intimidating. It has its own language and complexities that seem to be constantly evolving and contradicting each other. More often than not, it seems to be treated as more of a buzzword than something that can be studied and understood, or at least grasped. People talk about the state of “the economy” or the “economic downturn” of 2008. But what does economics really mean? Is it as simple as the Supply and Demand principle we learned in high school? While that’s a good place to start, there is a whole world out there dedicated to the intricacies of how people and governments consume, produce, and trade products. So how can one make sense of this broad-sweeping realm of ideas on which our society and standard of living hinge? Thankfully, there’s a podcast for that. A few of them actually. Here is one of my favorites.

 

You may be familiar with the title Freakonomics, a popular book published in 2005 that made it up to number two on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Times writer Stephen Dubner and University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt co-authored this revolutionary work in which they explore the “hidden side of everything.” From using life insurance information to help catch terrorists to the connection between Bo Jackson and Medieval nuns , Levitt and Dubner take basic economic ideas and apply them to topics with wildly entertaining correlations. Freakonomics’ resounding success has led to two more book releases following the same general strategy, not to mention an extraordinary weekly podcast.

The podcast features the brilliant journalism of Dubner peppered with the unfiltered quirks of economist Levitt, making the perfect “opposites attract” combination (listen to their origin story on the Intelligence Squared podcast from May 29, 2014). Each week, Dubner and Levitt find far-fetched economic links to real-world topics for those of us who don’t have a PhD. Some of their stories are extended editions of topics from their books, while others explore completely new areas. Dubner routinely enumerates his goal of teaching people think like a freak, which just so happens to be the title of the twos’ most recent book. And after a few listens, you can’t help but see the world as a series of ‘freaky’ incentives and trade offs.

Levitt and Dubner’s work has created a new mainstream conversation about the economics of everyday life and how these principles can be used to to explain (or at least explore) other complexities in sociology and human behavior. While they may not have pioneered the realm of behavioral economics, Levitt and Dubner have somehow managed to make economics cool, which may be their most impressive feat yet.

Needless to say, the Freakonomics podcast is an absolute must. Subscribe to it on iTunes and your phone will automatically download the latest episode when it becomes available for your listening pleasure. The episodes are usually in hour segments, making them the perfect length for long commutes, workouts, or just for fun. Steven Dubner is a consummate professional is his journalism, conveying sometimes tough economic concepts with engaging vernacular. Make no mistake, however, this is not Economics for Dummies. Learning about the economics of everything will help you make more sense of the complex conversations of Washington pundits and economic experts. It’s almost like a Rosetta Stone for economics. Learning these language will better equip you to engage in intelligent dialogue about important economic concepts as well as enable you to have a better grasp on how the free market works its magic. Read the books, listen to the podcasts, and learn how to think like a freak!

Up next –  We take economics to the next level with my second favorite podcast on the topic. Cut through all the noise and get your quick fix with this fast-paced, deeply informative podcast from NPR.

 

Uninformed in the Information Age: Listen to This Part II

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We see evidence all around us of people making decisions without sufficient information. This is perhaps most evident in realm of politics during this season: elections. Staying informed is tough. There are more media sources trying to grab your attention than Johnson & Johnson products in the personal health section of Walmart. Needless to say, it can get overwhelming. Thankfully the revolutionized realm of radio has transformed itself into the popular smartphone app called podcasts, where you can listen to variety of engaging topics at your leisure. However, podcasts can also be overwhelming, especially in the area of News and Politics. This series of posts aims to equip you with a few good options to supplement your information consumption, talk knowledgeably about current events, and expand your grasp of free-market principles.

In the last post I recommended the podcast called Ricochet, the product of ricochet.com, which strives to be the most civil conversation on the web for center-right issues. The next station (as podcasts are sometimes called) is another product of rocochet.com called GLOP. The name GLOP is a combination of the station’s hosts, Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long, and John Podhoretz. Jonah Goldberg is an incredibly popular conservative writer, whose work can be found in the LA Times, National Review, and his scintillating Twitter account. Rob Long (as introduced in the previous post) is the co-founder of Ricochet, TV Producer, and self-proclaimed rhino. John Podhoretz is another accomplished writer/author and editor of Commentary magazine. You may be asking yourself, how exactly are Ricochet and GLOP different? Their hosts have virtually the same resumes and they’re backed by the same website. While both share these similarities, the key difference is GLOP’s partial focus on pop culture’s role in current events, splitting its time fairly evenly between the two. In my opinion, the entertainment value of GLOP is much higher than Ricochet too, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusion. The hosts cover topics from Breaking Bad to the recent death of Joan Rivers to the explosion of NFL controversies and how they all play into the psyche of our culture, impacting how we function personally, interpersonally, and politically. GLOP’s masterful mixture of witty banter and intelligent analysis almost tricks your brain into blurring the line between knowledge and entertainment. As a social media powerhouse, Jonah Goldberg talks frequently about interactions with his followers, his take on popular TV shows, and other media topics. This then seamlessly flows into Rob Long’s wheelhouse, giving an insider’s view to the culture and history of Hollywood and how it has shaped the country’s worldview. John Podhoretz adds a sense of raw elegance with his New York Times style analysis and high-brow humor, balancing out Jonah and Rob’s unmistakable cackles and quibs. The only downside of GLOP is that it is posted monthly rather than weekly, which means you’ll have to stay stimulated with a few other suggested shows while you wait for that glorious little push notification to appear above the GLOP icon.

The greatest feature of these programs is that they make news and politics fun. While not even the “masterminds” in Washington fully understand all that is going on everyday in their own city, podcasts like GLOP give a smart, analytical, entertaining, and manageable look into the intricacies of current events. TV news and some print/digital newspapers seem to be filled with alarmist and cringe-worthy biases that make it hard to want to stay informed. GLOP takes their firm, unapologetic center-right stance and cuts through the kerfluffle of media ratings to bring you a genuine picture of what is important and why in our world today. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on these guys.

To listen to GLOP or any of these podcasts, simply download the podcast app from iTunes and search the name of the station. Tap the cloud icon to download directly to your phone so you don’t have to use internet to listen later. For great articles to also keep yourself informed in the information age, check out Jonah Goldberg’s works at National Review Online as well as his personal newsletter called the “G-File.”

Next up, economics doesn’t have to scary, but sometimes it can be a little freaky.

Uniformed in the Information Age: Listen to this Part I

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Election season is upon us, which means it’s time for the condescending commentary of media experts inside the beltway to debate about just how many standard deviations to the left the public is about important political topics and how the general lack of informed voters is hurting the state of democracy in our country. Unfortunately, there’s some validity to these complaints. Statistics really aren’t crucial to prove this point. From peoples’ responses about foreign policy to healthcare to free phones, the examples are endless. You have no doubt experienced this at a gathering of friends or family when one person posits an outlandish argument for his or her political flavor based on an article or two he or she probably found off another friend’s post on Facebook. Don’t be “that guy.” To be fair, though, staying informed can be overwhelming. There are a plethora of topics with myriads of opinions from a smorgasbord of sources. So how can one separate the wheat from the chaff and be a responsible, informed citizen? Listen to this.

Podcasts are a quick, easy and efficient way to stay abreast on almost any topic that peaks your interest. Most are free on iTunes and you can download the Podcast app from the App Store for free as well. Listen to them in your car, on a run, on a plane, or wherever. You can find podcasts for almost any category you would like, and you can download them straight to your phone so you can listen without needing an internet connection. Over the next few posts, I’ll be reviewing some of my personal favorite podcasts that can keep you informed about what’s going on in our country and help expand your knowledge of free-market ideas.

The first station I recommend is The Ricochet Podcast from the makers of the ricochet.com. Ricochet’s mantra boasts that members can join their community to be a part of the most civilized conversation on the web for center-right ideas. Their site features a variety of notable contributors but also allows for any paying member to post their thoughts as well, making for a very lively discussion about relevant topics all with the focus of maintaining the aura of respect, unlike what you see in the YouTube comments section. The weekly podcast is hosted by Rob Long, Ricochet co-founder and Hollywood TV producer (and an self-proclaimed rhino); Peter Robinson, Ricochet co-founder and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan; and columnist, author, and segue master James Lileks. The trio discuss the latest political headlines with a riveting combination of wit and intelligence. They aren’t shy about disagreement either. Download the most recent episode “Arguing in Good Faith” and you’ll see what I mean. In addition to discussing their own thoughts on these topics, they regularly interview guests from all spheres of the conservative realm. These men are incredibly entertaining and leave you incessantly swiping to refresh your feed every week for the latest post. You can check out their site at rochet.com. Three tiers of membership (appropriately named Coolidge, Thatcher and Reagan) are offered with a variety of features for each level. Not only is it the most civil conversation on the web, but it’s a great way to stay informed and entertained.

Next up, a podcast with the perfect mixture of politics and pop culture.

A Silent Champion

In every history or civics class, the same general characters are often used to describe the heroism of freedom that brought forth the America of today. There are, of course, the forefathers: Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Washington, and the like. Great thinkers such as Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, and Adam Smith may occaissionaly be mentioned in an economics class, though their respective contributions are invaluable. But rarely is any time spent discussing perhaps one of the most underrated presidents in our nation’s history. This might be because he is remembered by most for the things he didn’t say rather than the things he did; however, there is no doubt one of the greatest forefathers of free-market thinking in American history is our 30th President Calvin Coolidge.

Born on July 4th (the only president to claim this birthdate), “Silent Cal” was already off to a good start. His calm, calculated demeanor earned him this nickname early in his political career. Ironically, Coolidge loved studying famous speakers and learning languages. He was an avid reader of Cicero in his high school years and especially gifted in Italian and French. One foreign diplomat gibbed that Coolidge could be quiet in five languages. His seemingly contradictory nature of wordsmithing and introvert was no doubt a great asset in his political pursuits. For when Coolidge did speak, people listened.

For example, if you think the rise of Progressivism is a modern creation, Coolidge was battling its ideals all the way back in 1926. In one of his speeches, he turned Progressivism on its head by arguing with precision and eloquence that Progressivism was actually nothing of the sort. Since the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence are final ends (such as inalienable rights, equality for all, the origination of government’s power, etc.), the only direction to go from them is backwards. The progress has already been made and agreed upon, it must now be upheld and defended.

Coolidge set out to defend his Conservative paradigm with three simple goals for his presidency: cut spending, lower taxes, reduce regulation. It doesn’t get a whole lot more conservative than that. The product of these statutes resulted in what we now call the “Roaring Twenties,” where the stock market saw unprecedented highs and the middle class was booming. Federal spending was reduced by 43 percent, the highest tax bracket fell 49 percent over 8 years, and the national debt was reduced by $8 billion, which is around $150 billion today. While the crash of ‘29 gives some cause to speculate about the effectiveness of these maneuvers, there is no doubt that a build up of policies from previous administrations and the freshness of Wall Street were significant factors.

For Coolidge, his personality mirrored his politics in the wise, refined, and people-first manner that seems to be a lost art in the Washington of today. As he once famously said, “I have noticed that nothing I never said ever did me any harm.” This mindset coupled with his dedication to individual responsibility, property rights, and combating Progressivism during its inception make Coolidge a true icon for free-market economics. Perhaps the administration of the present and those of the future should take heed of the words said and unsaid from one of the greatest champions of not only free markets, but freedom as a whole.

“Show Me” The Money: Missouri’s Century-Long Battle For Reform

Last week, the Missouri legislature cut something that had only seen growth in over a century. Don’t worry, the Irish Tenors are still showing. Rather, the state House and Senate overruled Governor Jay Nixon’s  veto of income-tax breaks for Missourians. The most notable of these cuts is a .5 percent incremental decrease for the top marginal bracket and a 25 percent tax income-tax exemption for small businesses.

The Show Me State joins its neighbors in Oklahoma, Kansas and Indiana (among others) in what the Wall Street Journal calls “The Heartland Tax Rebellion” as states boasting income-tax reform plans that have showed seemingly positive results at both  the individual and state levels. Of course, these types of policies cross at the intersection of conservative and liberal ideologies, which has led to significant backfire from the Democratic Nixon and his legislative minorities.

The argument is predictable and even older than Missouri’s last tax cut. Nixon and his cohorts say the policy will take away from funding for other public services, namely education. On the other hand, Republicans advocate for their policy by saying that it puts more money in the pockets of individuals, thereby stimulating economic growth and job opportunities making Missouri more competitive with the other Heartland Rebels. Both sides look to other states with similar statutes to make their point, with Democrats showing the seemingly detrimental effects of Nevada and Florida’s policies and Republicans using Kansas and North Dakota’s as touchstones. However, both sides’ examples only demonstrate a facet of what comprises a state’s economic situation.

Therein lies the issue with these types of ideological bouts. No two states are the same. The whole reason the backbone of our government rests in the power of states is because they are dynamic. People reside in a certain state for a myriad of reasons: jobs, family, climate, tax incentives, etc. With something as complex as tax reform, and cuts in particular, each state must take into account its own demographic and customize the solution to the lives of their citizens. While studies indicate states with lower income-tax levels show better performance over time in employment, population, and state production, Missouri Republicans must be careful to not merely copy and paste methods that have worked in Kansas and Oklahoma. Rather, careful measurement and calculation is necessary in order to tailor this policy in a way that is mutually beneficial for individual prosperity and state growth.
For more information on Missouri’s journey towards comprehensive tax reform, check out this video from the Show-Me Institute

ObamaNet: Your Friendly Neighborhood Provider

After meeting their alleged goal of 7 million Obamacare enrollees, major progressive players like Susan Crawford have decided that nationalizing healthcare isn’t a big enough challenge. Now that the current administration has mastered the ability to have a functioning website, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things, such as creating a public option for the internet.

Susan Crawford (image from Twitter)

Susan Crawford (image from Twitter)

In an interview with the upstart online news source Vox, Crawford (former Special Assistant to President Obama on Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy) gives her argument for why a public option is needed for internet access. In a nutshell, Crawford poses the idea that America is behind the times in providing inexpensive and fast access to the Web to its citizens, citing statistics like Sweden’s blazing fast internet speeds at fractional prices compared to the US (the validity of which Tom Worstall calls into question in his article).

She goes on to explain that the private market has and will continue to provide substandard service in order to drive up profits, which will not serve the public good. Crawford claims quality service is only provided at high prices to the urban elite, leaving many Americans with the only choice of default service from their “local monopoly.”

So naturally, the only alternative is for a government takeover.

Excuse me, a “public option” rather. But what is the difference really? While Crawford claims that this service should be treated as a utility like electricity, the idea of subjecting internet service to utility regulation is far from historical comparison. According to Forbes.com, the US ranks in the top ten of quality broadband service worldwide, trailing densely populated countries like South Korea and Japan which do not deal with the extent of American rural living.

One valid concern about access to Internet is that monopolistic tendencies may keep competitive providers from allowing access for all. But rather than replace private enterprise that may show signs of monopolistic tendencies with a government monopoly, we should hold companies accountable to the standards that have been devised for exactly these types of situations. Inserting a public “option” into the marketplace will only skew prices and competition and – most importantly – stifle free-market innovation. We can do better.

Time For A Check-up: Four Years of Obamacare

This past month marked the four-year anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law. It’s been a bumpy ride for both parties, with Republicans struggling to devise convincing alternatives and Democrats dealing with delayed deadlines and faulty websites. Both sides have their respective success and horror stories, and have carefully selected the data that serves them best for the upcoming midterm elections.

Amongst all this kerfuffle and brouhaha, rarely do we take the time to step back and look at the last four years with perspective. Perhaps a more comprehensive look at the landscape of Obamacare will help gain a more meaningful understanding of its effects.

The whole idea behind a nationalized healthcare revolution was that consumers were frustrated with the market approach as it stood. Issues like pre-existing conditions, required emergency room care, Medicare and Medicaid emerged as the hot-button issues that the government saw as problems only they could fix. But therein lies one of the major problems.

Nationalized healthcare was a response to the need for healthcare  insurance, not primarily a need for increased healthcare quality. This seems to have created a sense of cognitive dissonance in the minds of many Americans, as the concept of government-run healthcare does not and cannot mean better service. Sure some individual premiums may go down, but the kind of quality healthcare that consumers are looking for will inevitably be found wanting.

As to the overall success of the law to date, Democrats have boasted an approximated 6 million sign ups ever since the administration learned how to create a website. 6 million? Sounds like a big number. However, an overwhelming minority are first-time holders, according to reports by McKinsey & Co. When this is combined with the number of enrollees who have yet to actually pay for their plan and those who just signed up for Medicaid, 6 million becomes very insignificant very quickly.

In addition, according to a recent study by Pew Research, Obamacare’s approval rating is below 50% in the vast majority of demographic categories. And it still hasn’t even taken full effect! With how much difficulty the administration has had just getting the law off the ground amongst multiple delays and technical difficulties, the thought of implementation is nothing short of frightening. And over half of the country seems to agree.

So how has the ACA fared in its pediatric checkup?

  • The compromises for cheap service are detrimental.
  • Initial traction is fractional.
  • Overall approval is dismal.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than a Platinum Plan to cover this system. Four years out, we’re learning the hard way that insurance coverage is not the same thing as health care.

And for fun, check out The Heritage Foundation’s spoof on the Obamacare ad campaign to get covered:

The War (For) Poverty

Photo from nypost.com

Photo from nypost.com

Looking back over the last five years under liberal rule, Americans have come to understand a very simple truth at both the state and national level: liberal leadership is an oxymoron. From the Governor’s mansion to the White House, the shortcomings of the liberal agenda have become a spectacle for the nation to witness; but the problem runs deeper than just the people in charge.

For example, New Yorkers have become all too familiar with this concept. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has virtually waged his own war for poverty by targeting and shutting down charter schools for underprivileged students. No matter that these schools have astonishingly higher test scores in almost every category compared to their public school counterparts. Rather than finding ways to capitalize on the tremendous work of these schools to educate students, de Blasio has blocked efforts with no clear alternative. But here’s the catch: this same platform was what got him 73 percent of the vote in his mayoral election.  How is this possible?

Similarly, the President has seen his approval rating drop to the low 40s as the “deadline” for healthcare enrollment approaches next week. He claimed the American people could keep their own insurance if they liked, but apparently that was just a nice thought. He said you could keep your doctor too, which has also been rescinded. Apparently this is what happens when you have to pass a bill to see what is in it. The administration has chosen to adopt executive orders and partisan strong arming as its standard operating procedures. However, as with de Blasio, this same agenda is what won the President both elections.

The answer for why voters experience such a disconnect with their lefty representatives is the vicious cycle perpetuated by the core beliefs of liberalism. Their most basic maxim is the more government the better. The only way to expand government power is to have elected officials create legislation to do so. And the only way to ensure those officials are elected is to make voters dependent on that legislation.

As a result, the stereotypes of liberals being the party of social justice and equality and conservatives as the enemy of the poor are ideologically reversed. In reality, liberals have no voter base if their constituency weans themselves off their government programs. In contrast, conservatives believe in the ownership of wealth, fighting for policy that creates opportunity for individuals rather than creating a state of dependency (i.e. welfare).

Because of this fundamental difference, liberals have no choice but to lambast and ridicule comments like those made by Paul Ryan about poverty’s roots in culture rather than allegedly oppressive conservative policy.

For if those left of center conceded that issues like poverty are rooted more deeply than dollars and cents, they put themselves in jeopardy of losing the vast majority of their voter base in exchange for more opportunity for those who need it most. God forbid.

If you would like to find out what innovative ideas are coming out of the states to address issues like these, check out spn.org/directory for a list of state think tanks.

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