Reason Podcast

Why We Should Kill the Mortgage-Interest Deduction Once and for All: Podcast


One of the most-controversial parts of Republican tax reform is the Senate's proposal to sharply limit the amount of mortgage interest homeowners can deduct from their taxes.

Under current law, homeowners can deduct interest on mortgage loans of up to $1 million for two houses, plus interest on home equity loans worth another $100,000. That currently costs the federal government about $70 billion in foregone revenue, making it one of the biggest "tax expenditures" in the federal budget. The Senate tax bill would allow homeowners to deduct the interest on $500,000 of mortgage debt for a single residence.

But even that lower level is too much of a giveaway, says Anthony Randazzo, the director of economic research at Reason Foundation. He notes that countries such as Great Britain and Canada don't allow deductions for mortgage interest and yet have higher home-ownership rates than the United States, that the deduction increases the price of houses, and that only about 20 percent of tax filers take the mortgage-interest deduction. It is, in his analysis, a classic case of special interests—the housing trade, realtors, and existing homeowners—extracting a concentrated benefit while spreading the cost around to relatively poorer and less-powerful people.

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  1. Interesting. On the one hand, I support any reduction in government revenue. On the other hand, if such reductions are in favor of one group over another, we do have a problem. Let’s get rid of all tax benefits for married people next.

    1. and what tax benefits are there for being married?

      1. Depends on how closely you conform to the “traditional model”. If you have a single earner, then generally speaking you’ll pay less then you would have if you weren’t married. This continues to hold true for having two-incomes so long as the two incomes are sufficiently disparate.

        On the flip-side, if you have two fairly equal earners, then you’ll pay more then you would if you weren’t married.

        And that’s just the most direct one. Pretty much down the line you’ll fine little incentives and bonuses based around the idea that a married couple are raising/supporting kids, buying houses and so-on. From the mortgage interest deduction to baby strollers, many incentives trace back to the “ideal” of “Mom, dad, 2.5 children, golden retriever and picket white fence”.

        1. The right wants people to get married for traditional reasons.

          The left wants to use marriage as a form of welfare via the divorce court.

        2. Yeah, no. All that matters is the combined income. Married couples have brackets that kick in at less than 2x singles starting in the middle of the 25% bracket, i.e. the single 25% bracket ends at 92k while the married 25% bracket ends at 153k. It diverges further after that. If you have a disparity in income, then effectively the lower earning spouse is paying the marginal rate of the higher earner.

          1. Notanotherskippy, escherenigma is correct – there is a “marriage penalty” if you have two spouses with fairly equal incomes. They will pay more in Federal income taxes than they would if they were both single. Before 1986, there was a tax deduction (or credit – I can’t remember which) that offset some of this penalty. Reagan got rid of it.

    2. Also, let’s get rid of the deductions for children. Why should I support that lifestyle choice?

      When someone doesn’t support your deduction they talk about foregone revenue, which is bull shit.

      1. I agree, Bladdyk. The tax system should be used solely to raise revenue and not be a hidden welfare system for special interests or promoting political ideology. They should get rid of all personal exemptions, tax deductions, and tax credits. Additionally, they should eliminate any separate filing statuses (married, single, etc.). Finally, the system should be a flat rate on all income, with the rate voted on yearly by Congress. This would prevent Congress from sneaking in “back door” subsidies for special interests, as well as forcing them to yearly debate before their constituents how much tax burden would be placed on them.

      2. You have to get rid of the social-welfare system first, particularly SS and medicare. A replacement birthrate is required to fund these systems, thus it is very much in the economic interest of the country to subsidize child-rearing.

        1. MikeP2, you sound like a true socialist

          1. Yeh, certainly. you are basing that on my first sentence? “You have to get rid of the social-welfare system first”

            Spoken like a true socialist.


      3. You are not thinking long term enough. In the short run children cost tax money. But generally children of tax payers are a net positive to the federal government tax column over the course of their lives. It is a MLM. No children = no downstream.

        That being said:
        Disband the IRS.
        Repeal Income Tax
        Institute a Sales Tax

        That alone would add 37 billion to the economy each year that gets wasted in tax code compliance.

        1. Not a big dent in the upcoming 1.5 trillion dollar deficit. You’d get more by trimming defense spending waste. In 2015 we spend abou8t $600 billion on defense.

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  2. That currently costs the federal government about $70 billion in foregone revenue

    While I can entertain the argument that a highly specialized deduction that tends to go only to wealthier Americans should be eliminated– or capped, arguing that its existence bleeds the state of life-giving succor is not my core concern.

    1. Yeah, that sounds more like a libertarian argument in favor of expanding the mortgage interest deduction.

      1. How about a “I didn’t kill anyone this year” deduction. We all win, and bad cops get punished.

        1. Can we slip in a “I didn’t kill any dogs this year” deduction as well? Might need a work-around for vets and the like.

          1. Nope, discriminates against cats.

            1. When cops start killing cats as aggressively as they kill dogs, I’ll care.

    2. It’s more to the point that the lower government revenue collected by offering the mortgage interest tax deduction does not translate into a corresponding reduction in government spending.

      Anyone interested in the principles of balanced/solvent government spending, or taxation without representation, should welcome the reduction and end of the MITD.

    3. Eliminating the mortgage interest deduction ($70B) and the so-called earned income tax credit ($85B), which is really the government’s largest welfare program, would go a long way towards closing current federal structural deficits.

      1. The federal deficit is currently $660 billion – and that’s at near ZIRP. Raise interest rates by 1% and the deficit goes up by $200 billion for every %. That’s Pentagon spending (and potentially SS/Medicare) – not EITC spending.

  3. Eliminating the SALT, mortgage interest deduction, etc. would be great if it was coupled with changes to the base tax rates so that people generally ended up paying that same after as they did before.

    Not, as Republicans are doing, raising taxes on the middle income brackets so that they can lower the taxes of billionaires.

    1. Another thing I found interesting was this idea that the fed should just bill the states directly and the states alone are required to do the money raising so it is all handled at one level. There are obviously still issues here, such as how does the fed determine what each state owes, but it flattens taxes to one specific level which seems better in the long run.

      1. That idea that the states collect and then pay was how the Articles of Confederation was structured. Problem was – they either didn’t pay and said FYTW – or they created local insurrections because they also had their own wartime debt loads too. The only direct revenue source for the feds was land sales. Hence the Constitution when the previous version failed.

        That said – a land value tax would work very well between states and feds. Charge states the increased transport value for interstates (combo of off/on-ramps and miles). Charge states for port infrastructure and coastal defense based on coastline. Charge states for air defense by land area. If states want to do some stuff among themselves, then thats what interstate compacts are for. If states don’t pay, then set up a special bankruptcy/receiver court where they get taken over and redistributed as homesteads or a more micro-level LVT.

        This restores competition between state and fed level. It de-funds the imperial DC mindset. It forces states to consider land taxes instead of making their internal problems worse via income/sales taxes.

        1. States/cantons collect is also I think how Switzerland does its taxes. Not sure about that though. But I think cantons collect the actual tax returns which are jointly developed by the feds/cantons – and the feds redistribute most revenues back to those cantons. Its one reason they can have a three-legged tax base at the federal level (3% food/8% other VAT, 12% income over 30k, 50bp wealth/asset tax over 200k?) without the fears that each leg becomes an excuse for raising taxes.

      2. While acknowledging JFree’s notes about the Articles of Confederation, I think the bigger problem is that the states themselves don’t currently have a voice in the Federal government. Previously this was the Senate, but with direct election of senators that’s no longer the case.

        That said, going back to stricter applications of federalism really can’t happen until the states are empowered to deny the Fed. As is, the Fed has all the power and the states have to capitulate, if they had a direct voice in how much money the Fed got, then there would be more checks & balances involved.

        To go back to the problems with the Articles, however, I think things would go differently today then they did in the 1700s. When the Articles were new, there wasn’t a strong national identity, and it really was understood as a collection of sovereign nations, with no standing army, no territories and so-on. Today is much different. Especially if we threaten House of Representatives seats based on delinquency.

        All that said, it makes for fun Science Fiction or “Alternate History Fiction”, but it’s so unlikely to happen today that I don’t plan to ponder it seriously enough to find more flaws.

    2. so that people generally ended up paying that same after as they did before.

      That ship left the barn and rode off into the sunset about $20 trillion ago.

      1% point increase in interest rates and we either have to cut discretionary spending (mostly military now) by 20% – or reduce SS/Medicare – or raise taxes by 7%.

      1. Reduce SS/Medicare? Just eliminate welfare. The budget will be balanced the next day.

        1. Remove carriage returns from this link:


          We spend more any of the following: SS, Medicare, Defense then welfare.

          Just cutting out welfare totally would not balance the budget. Although, it would make a lot of children and old people suffer (yes there are a lot of freeloaders but there are also a lot of children and old people who get food stamps etc.)

    3. What a bunch of lefty bullshit rhetoric that you read in the “mainstream” media. Most taxpayers are going to see their taxes go down by a little bit, not up. Of course, if you already pay zero taxes (or close to it), you won’t see a decrease.

      But yes, in an ideal world, the entire existing tax code would be scrapped and replaced with a simple and fair tax that can fit on a page or two and everyone could do their taxes themselves in an hour or so.

      I’m even willing to go along with one rate for the “haves” and a lower-rate for the “have nots” if it’ll help stupid ass class warfare waging left-wing Block Yomommatards like you keep your big stupid mouths shut.

      1. In the first year, sure. But as the income tax changes expire, they’ll return to, and then exceed, current levels.

        1. Just like they did in 2012, right? The only reason that the individual tax cuts are temporary is because your team blue friends oppose them. But that will change for the majority of the cuts just like it did for 80% of the Bush II tax cuts when it came time to renew them.

      2. Bad news for domestics and dissidents; you can do your taxes in under an hour under the old system (last year) using free (federal) software. Almost everyone, including someone with self employment income can enter the data in less than an hour. Unless you have multiple business and very complex investments, all you have to do is key in the data on the W2, 1099, and other forms, and watch the program tell you what the tax is.
        I have never spent more than an hour on taxes, including when I had my own corporation, when my wife ran a music instruction business, and any combination of those things. (I did have to pay a few bucks to the software tax guys for the corporate taxes, but did it ‘myself’)
        Now I am retired, in took me less than 20 minutes last year.

    4. What’s the reason to be revenue neutral? Because the debt will go up? Name me one time that’s ever mattered.

      The tax code should not be a giant mess of distortions. Remove ’em all.

      1. The debt going up does matter because it is likely above the threshold where it has a depressing effect on economic growth. Less economic growth means less opportunity for everyone, and also means even worse problems with government debt. Interest on the debt is also very high, and having it go higher clearly f***s everyone over more.

        1. That’s basic economic theory. However, it’s never proven to be real, at least since 1950. There’s been zero measurable economic downside to our debt.

          I agree that odds are, sooner or later, BOOM. But I’m done trying to predict it.

          1. There’s been zero measurable economic downside to our debt.

            That’s because we have the world’s reserve currency. That means our money is demanded for its own sake rather than purely its interest rate by third parties elsewhere – and since dollar-denominated debt is the only way to create dollars (outside the mint which is irrelevant now), it creates a different ‘debt effect’ for us and basically uniquely for us.

            The cost for us has been the mathematical requirement that we export dollars – which means running a huge net trade deficit – which means regularly gutting our mfg sector from the bottom up – and also means the financialization of our economy – oh and we also have to be the worlds global enforcer. So yeah there’s a cost.

          2. No measurable downside? How about the endless drain of interest? Like any immature, irresponsible borrower carrying a permanent debt means that part of recurring expenses is just interest.

            So our national budget has to pay almost $250 billion every year to service the debt (sexual innuendo included).

            For liberals/progressives this should be a shouting point, since it transfers wealth from ordinary people to the investor class.

            For libertarians, conservatives this should be annoying since eliminating revenue to fund interest payments would reduce taxes by 6%.

            So tell me why this does not matter.

            1. So tell me why this does not matter.
              Because none of the power players in Washington actually care. The Democrats have never made as big a deal of the debt as the GOP has, but the GOP sure pretended to care during Clinton and Obama. But as we saw during Bush and now Trump, that was just a talking point.

              So sure, y’all are setting up an economic time-bomb for Millenials to deal with, but y’all are still in power and y’all don’t care. So nope. Doesn’t matter. Even if it should matter.

      2. When a Democrat was in the white house.

        1. It mattered so much they added nearly 10TT.

          1. You misunderstand my snark. The moment Democrats are in the white house, the GOP suddenly remembers that deficits are bad and spends eight years whining about them. The moment a Republican is back in the White House, that all goes down the memory hole.

            So yes. Deficits only matter when there’s a Democrat in the White House. The rest of the time no one cares.

    5. Billionaires do not get to deduct anything on personal income. The poor get earned income credit. The middle class get all kinds of deductions.

      1. Billionaires get to decide what their income is (and what others income is too if they own enough of companies to decide on dividends/etc) – move it from year to year depending on tax loopholes – offset income with tax churning to realize losses with a limit only on wash sales – and you yourself called them billionaires which indicates you understand that wealth is more significant than income at that level. The middle class can’t even remotely begin to play those games.

        Warren Buffet’s ‘earned’ $12 million in 2015 – took $5.5 million in deductions (whoops – so much for your BS) – paid about $2 million in taxes. The media (forbes/etc) reported that his wealth grew by $15 billion that year – so his annual income that year was roughly 1/1000 of his increase in net wealth. And that wealth is also the basis for him getting roughly $9 billion in the TARP bailout. Income is irrelevant at that level. Probably 100 baseball players each pay more in taxes than Buffet.

        1. Jfree, Buffet’s wealth grew due to appreciation in the value of his stock holdings in Berkshire Hathaway. Like any asset, you actually have to sell the stock to realize any spendable income from it. That being said, I do believe it is patently unfair that “investment” income, which is the primary income source for many of the wealthiest taxpayers, is taxed at a lower rate than much of most people’s “earned” income. There should be no difference in taxation rates for different types of income.

          1. Like any asset, you actually have to sell the stock to realize any spendable income from it.

            But that is irrelevant if by HOLDING the asset you get a bailout (or any distortion that preserves the value of those assets – eg police eviction of tenants/thieves from property, infrastructure capital costs, counter-cyclical interest rates, Medicare/SS that subsidize income needs for those who have had an entire lifetime to accumulate assets and who will soon be dead, etc) from those who have to pay taxes from their spendable income. And like it or not a MAJOR portion of everything government does is to preserve or increase asset values – NOT to preserve/increase earning power. Those can only fairly be paid for by charging those who OWN those assets – not by charging those merely earn a living or those who used-to-own-those-assets-but-not-anymore.

            Our systems complete focus on ‘income’ as the sole tax base is essentially creating an economic moat around ‘wealth’ class (already rich and/or older) – while harming the ‘income’ class (roughly middle-class and/or younger). And the higher those marginal rates on that income class, the more we create a poverty/dependence trap for the ‘consumption’ class (everyone else below). It’s totally fucked up – and every billionaire knows that too.

  4. Institute a consumption based VAT and permanently abolish all other forms of taxation.

    Tax complication solved.

      1. I know that I really dislike payroll taxes, and all the information they hide from the people.

    1. Yes, it is my preference because the power brokers would have to manage growth to raise revenue.

    2. People who support VAT should be given the Pinochet treatment.

      It doesn’t “solve” anything. It just creates 47 metric shit tons of paperwork per filer, drives up prices, and boat anchors the economy.

      Which is why liberals will engage in obscene acts with Orangutans to pass it.

      1. Too few people realize just how expensive it is to collect and audit sales taxes. If you want to grow the IRS you go to a national sales tax.

        1. And a sales tax will lead to an accounting of everything you buy. Statists will rejoice.

    3. Unless you actually meant a sales tax and aren’t clear on the difference.

      1. A VAT is a sales tax but with the extra headaches that you describe. I strongly prefer a pure final retail sales tax but too many leftards see boogeyman tax avoidance which a VAT can actually improve very slightly on.

        1. ^^this for the most part. I would prefer a standard sales tax as well, but I would guess, net, a VAT with no other forms of taxation would require a boatload less paperwork than the current system.

          Btw, re: Iman, a sales tax drives up prices too.

    4. Not hardly my friend. A VAT is the worst of all possible worlds. It hides the taxes in the price of consumer goods, and requires an even bigger army of bureaucrats than now. A simple retail sales tax does it in a more open manner. When you hear most people griping about the price of gasoline, often they are griping about the taxes on the gasoline, not the actual fuel. Once you allow the amount of the taxes to hide in the consumer price, taxes increases are out of view.

  5. I can’t even

  6. “the deduction increases the price of houses, and that only about 20 percent of tax filers take the mortgage-interest deduction.”

    They’re missing a huge part of the analysis. They say that it costs the Feds about $70 billion with only 20% of filers taking the deduction. However, they also say that it increases the prices of houses. I assume they mean 100% of houses which means that local governments are getting a big boost in property taxes. I don’t see that dollar figure listed.

    1. Or that pulling out that particular rug from under this particular house of cards would start another housing led recession…

      1. That’s crossed my mind too. Depending on where you in the US, the market still hasn’t recovered from the Great Recession. Complete elimination of the deduction could easily cause a collapse.

        The problem with these decisions is that they break the social contract without warning and make it impossible for people to make long term plans.

        I still would have bought a house in 2011 if the deduction didn’t exist, but I would have bought a different house. Regardless of the current outcome, I’ll think differently about my next purchase knowing that the deduction could disappear at any time.

        I’ve been paying into Soc Sec for 40 years with the expectation that my benefit will be related to my contributions. But some want to means test SS benefits and not pay wealthy retirees. How do I plan? I don’t know if there will be means testing and, if there is, I don’t know what “wealthy” will be. Maybe I should negotiate more perks and less salary. Or maybe not. I don’t know what the deal will be when I retire.

        Since turning 50, I’ve started ROTH IRAs and some people tell me to invest far more in ROTHs than I’m doing. Can I trust the promise that my ROTH balances will be tax free when I retire? I can easily imagine Congress drooling over our collective ROTH balances and finding a way to tax them.

        There are a lot of libertarian reasons to create a simpler system but what if we actually got it? It could be changed back the next year. People still couldn’t make any long term plans.

  7. Pretty sure the Senate version caps the mortgage interest deduction at 1 million dollars, not 500K.

    1. Maybe, but who can read the handwritten notes in the margins?

  8. Interest deductions should be gradually phased out. I don’t think it’s a good idea to yank the rug out from under people who made home purchasing decisions based in part on a long standing government tax policy. My understanding of the new tax plan is that it puts randomly picked thresholds for the amount of a mortgage that can be deducted along with grandfather clauses. I would prefer is was more like next year can deduct 90%, the following 80%, and so on.

  9. I think the question we all want to know is:

    How would eliminating the mortgage interest deduction impact AMSOC?

  10. As one commenter said a few days ago, just leave the tax code as it is and add a line to the 1040 saying, “Multiply the tax owed line by 5% and deduct that amount from the tax you owe.” You like your deductions and loopholes, you can keep your deductions and loopholes.

    1. If the actual goal was to reduce personal taxes by 5%, that would be an adorable idea.

      But lets be honest, reductions to personal taxes are not the goal of the GOP’s tax reform plan, reductions to Corporate taxes are. The changes to personal taxes (short-term drop with long-term raise) are just how they’re balancing it enough to get it into law.

      1. Still waiting for you to be honest.

        1. The corporate tax cuts are permanent. The income tax cuts are not, and in fact become tax increases in a few years.

          Revealed vs. stated preferences and all that jazz.

  11. Philosophically, I agree that the mortgage interest deduction should go, but removing it immediately is a terrible idea.

    However, something that makes no sense to me is why the cap is same nationwide. I understand why, politically, but mathematically, it clearly should be adjusted based on local housing costs.

    On that thought, why is the standard deduction also national? $24k goes a lot further in Springfield, MO than it does in NYC. If we use $24k in Springfield, MO as a baseline, the standard deduction for someone in Manhattan should be $61k ( numbers).

    1. Pretty sure it’s just the practical/political side of things. I mean, the Fed already calculates that to a degree in the OPM’s Locality Pay Table. So it’s not like they don’t know that it costs different amounts to live in different areas.

      But I think part of the “politics” part is who would be the winners and losers? The current net-payer states, like New York, California and Massachusets would probably see their taxes decrease to accommodate their high cost of living, while states that have low cost of living like Alabama and Georgia would see their taxes go up.

      So tax-breaks for the wealthy, tax increases for the already poor? Oh, wait, no, that’s already in the Tax Reform.
      So tax-breaks for blue states, tax increases for red states?

      That, and it’d kind of be the reverse of the SALT deduction, which the GOP are already trying to kill because they view it as a boon to blue states.

      So yeah. Politics. All the way down.

      1. Because your tax liability is based on your income which is exactly what you team blue types advocate for? I mean you do want to pay your fair share, right? Even better, blue states receive more government transfer payments per capita than red states. Pretty sweet.

        Again, still waiting for some honest analysis from you.

        1. Seeing as you think “blue states receive more government transfer payments per capita than red states”, I’m not sure it’s an honest analysis that you’re interested in.

    2. So you get a tax cut by buying an expensive house or choosing to live in an expensive state? Pretty sweet. Can we also put a cap on income in those states as well?

    3. Because the federal tax is a federal tax and should be applied evenly across the country?

      People who choose to live in high cost of living areas (including high tax areas) perceive a benefit that suits their lifestyle choice, and accept the results. Or so the libertarian thought goes.

  12. The political message when the interest deduction and later, the $500,000 capital gains exclusion, were put into place was that it would make home ownership easier.

    The effect of both of these programs was to artificially raise real estate prices.

    The law of unintended consequences rearing its ugly head over and over in the name of political expediency.

    1. I am pretty sure those are intended consequences. why else would all the realtors, lawyers, and construction companies give all that money?

    2. Raising real estate prices was and is a gift to political donors in the real estate business.

  13. The fair solution is a flat tax.

    Say 0% and everyone pays.

    That’s only fair.

    1. But life will still be unfair!

  14. Wait. Mortgage interest on a $500k mortgage is $15-20k.

    Standard deduction for married is going up to $24k?

    The number of people who deduct their mortgage interest is going to go way down.

  15. I duh-know, I like the idea of the Government promoting home ownership because people who OWN HOME tend to care more about their communities, Care about how government spends their money, and are more active in politics… BECUASE they have “skin in the game”.

    1. There is the concern that when you subsidize the markers of the middle class, you actually undermine the values that were needed originally to acquire those markers. Then the predictive quality of the marker is subverted. See also section 8 housing.

    2. Actually, you’re only promoting some home ownership, because a significant percentage of home buyers at the low end don’t qualify for the deduction at all, or qualify for only a few years until the interest portion of the loan falls below the minimum. They don’t need government help to have “skin in the game” anyway, because they are building equity as opposed to renting.

      Something else I was wondering about: if the mortgage interest deduction does inflate prices, there should be a discernible gap in market prices where the “subsidized” market ends and the “unsubsidized” one begins. I’m probably oversimplifying, but I wonder if anyone’s ever examined the data. And it might not be pronounced for reasons related to what I was talking about in the last paragraph.

    3. “I duh-know, I like the idea of the Government promoting home ownership because people who OWN HOME tend to care more about their communities, Care about how government spends their money, and are more active in politics… BECUASE they have “skin in the game”.”

      Which is none of the government’s business.
      I’d prefer people to be UN-active regarding the government, sort of like they deal with the clean-up crew on Aisle 6 at the supermarket after someone spills something.
      That’s the government’s purpose.

  16. Leave it to Reason to publish advocacy for increasing taxes, and to talk about how the home mortgage interest deduction is too big a “giveaway” and “costs” the government foregone revenue.
    What a sad state of affairs at reason.
    Taxation is theft.
    So Reason wants the theft spread around a little differently, huh? Please tell me you have been smoking too much . . .

    1. It seems you have not read the article, or have, in your ignorance, misunderstood it.
      Let’s see if this is clear enough:
      The government has no business encouraging anyone to buy anything.
      Is that clear enough?

  17. Refraining from looting is NOT A GIVEAWAY, for fuck’s sake. What is this, the NYT or some shit like that?


  18. I’ve argued this for a long time, and I’d support getting rid of the mortgage interest tax deduction even though it would be against my own personal economic interests. I shouldn’t be forced to subsidize your mortgage and you shouldn’t be forced to subsidize mine.

  19. The mortgage interest deduction should be removed, but it needs to be phased out. People have made financial decisions that depend on it.

    1. Right. “Hi, we’re from the federal government, and we’re here to help you.
      NEVER make a financial decision based on current tax policy.

  20. On top of it being wrong we know subsidies just raise the price of the good by the same amount. The purpose of trying to make housing affordable is defeated by it’s own existence.

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