BITS & BRIEFS: Piketty and fellow economists // Why poverty clusters in city’s east // Tax Policy created the 1% // Civil rights and unionism // Consumption, debt, and personal well-being

>  Why Are Economists Giving Piketty the Cold Shoulder? Piketty questioned the very value of having a credentialed economics elite empowered to make policy in the name of the public interest but not answerable to public opinion — by Marshall Steinbaum

In so many cities, historically and currently,  poor districts surprisingly tend to cluster in the east. A study suggests a surprising reason: it’s about air pollution

The political history of capital gains tax in the US: boosting the wealthy and widening the racial inequality — by Julia Ott

> The Decline of Labor, the Increase of Inequality. In the wake of the civil rights movement and the second wave feminism of the 1960s, an effort started to integrate the race and gender struggles for equal rights with the ethos of trade unionism, but the timing was terrible especially for African-American women — by Rich Yeselson

Buying Alone: the rise in consumption and personal debt is due to an erosion of social and environmental resources, and a fall in people’s well-being — by  Stefano Bartolini, Luigi Bonatti and Francesco Sarracino

buy more stuff.jpg

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Pierre Bourdieu: Economism is a form of ethnocentrism

pierre bourdieuEconomic Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu is very rich and brilliantly enlightening, as well as non-univocal, and theoretically and intellectually multifaceted.
Reflecting on his great contribution to the field, which he preferred to call “Economic Anthropology”, his classic The Logic of Practice (1990; open access below) has recently sprung to my mind. In this book Bourdieu explores questions such as the interplay between structure and practice (a phenomenon Bourdieu describes as habitus), the manipulation of time, varieties of symbolic capital, and modes of domination, social categories of classification,  ritualized exchanges, and more.
In the following excerpt from The Logic of Practice, Bourdieu elaborates — in his unique way of writing — the concept of Economism, its logics and practices. As the great theorist, Bourdieu discusses the topic paving his own challenging trajectories and terminology. 

The ‘rational actor’ theory, which seeks the ‘origin’ of acts, strictly economic or not, in an ‘intention’ of  ‘consciousness’, is often associated with a narrow conception of the ‘rationality’ of practices, an economism which regards as rational (or, which amounts to the same thing in this logic, as economic) those practices that are consciously oriented by the pursuit of maximum (economic) profit at minimum (economic) costFinalist economism explains practices by relating them directly and exclusively to economic interests, treated as consciously posited ends; mechanistic economism relates them no less directly and exclusively to economic interests, defined just as narrowly but treated as causes. Both are unaware that practices can have other principles than mechanical causes or conscious ends and can obey an economic logic without obeying narrowly economic interests. There is an economy of practices, a reason immanent in practices, whose ‘origin’ lies neither in the ‘decisions’ of reason understood as rational calculation nor in the determinations of mechanisms external to and superior to the agents. Being constitutive of the structure of rational practice, that is, the practice most appropriate to achieve the objectives inscribed in the logic of a particular field at the lowest cost, this economy can be defined in relation to all kinds of functions, one of which, among others, is the maximization of monetary profit, the only one recognized by economism. In other words, if one fails to recognize any form of action other than rational action or mechanical reaction, it is impossible to understand the logic of all the actions that are reasonable without being the product of a reasoned design, still less of rational calculation; informed by a kind of objective finality without being consciously organized in relation to an explicitly constituted end; intelligible and coherent without springing from an intention of coherence and a deliberate decision; adjusted to the future without being the product of a project or a plan. And, if one fails to see that the economy described by economic theory is a particular case of a whole universe of economies, that is, of fields of struggle differing both in the stakes and scarcities that are generated within them and in the forms of capital deployed in them, it is impossible to account for the specific forms, contents and leverage points thus imposed on the pursuit of maximum specific profits and on the very general optimizing strategies (of which economic strategies in the narrow sense are one form among others). (p. 50-51)
Economism is a form of ethnocentrism. Treating pre-capitalist economies, in Marx’s phrase, ‘as the Fathers of the Church treated the religions which preceded Christianity’, it applies to them categories, methods (economic accountancy, for example) or concepts (such as the notions of interest, investment or capital) which are the historical product of capitalism and which induce a radical transformation of their object, similar to the historical transformation from which they arose. Economism recognizes no other form of interest than that which capitalism has produced, through a kind of real operation of abstraction, by setting up a universe of relations between man and man based, as Marx says, on ‘callous cash payment’ and more generally by favouring the creation of relatively autonomous fields, capable of establishing their own axiomatics (through the fundamental tautology ‘business is business’, on which ‘the economy’ is based). It can therefore find no place in its analyses, still less in its calculations, for any form of ‘non-economic’ interest. It is as if economic calculation had been able to appropriate the territory objectively assigned to the remorseless logic of what Marx calls ‘naked self-interest’, only by relinquishing an island of the ‘sacred’, miraculously spared by the ‘icy waters of egoistic calculation’, the refuge of what has no price because it has too much or too little. But, above all, it can make nothing of universes that have not performed such a dissociation and so have, as it were, an economy in itself and not for itself. Thus, any partial or total objectification of the archaic economy that does not include a theory of the subjective relation of misrecognition which agents adapted to this economy maintain with its ‘objective’ (that is, objectivist) truth, succumbs to the most subtle and most irreproachable form of ethnocentrism. […]
By reducing this economy to its ‘objective’ reality, economism annihilates the specificity located precisely in the socially maintained discrepancy between the ‘objective’ reality and the social representation of production and exchange. It is no accident that the vocabulary of the archaic economy is entirely made up of double-sided notions that are condemned to disintegrate in the very history of the economy, because, owing to their duality, the social relations that they designate represent unstable structures which inevitably split in two as soon as the social mechanisms sustaining them are weakened.” (p. 112-3)

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. The Logic of Practice. Stanford University Press. (open access)

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Academic conferences — a true story ;-)


See more memories of these unique intellectual fetes here and here 🙂  

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Yes We Got Money

That money talks, I’ll not deny,
I heard it once: It said, ‘Goodbye’.

(Richard Armour)

Yes We Got Money

“Yes We Got Money” by Klaus Langer


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BITS & BRIEFS: NY Fiscal Crisis and austerity politics // Capitalism v. Nature // Employer is more powerful than a state // On derivatives with Randy Martin // Currency without Central Bank

This time — especially worth reading (and sharing) articles:

How bankers and technocrats used the 1975 New York Fiscal Crisis to permanently reshape the city: the early and exemplary case of imposing neoliberal austerity — an interview with Kim Phillips-Fein, an author of Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis And The Rise Of Austerity Politics

> Capitalism is a way of organizing nature… [It looks for] new parts of nature that have not been commodified or brought into the cash nexus” — an interview with Jason W. Moore, an author of Capitalism in the Web of Life 

How did employers gain power over nowadays workers’ lives that the government itself doesn’t hold? Miya Tokumitsu’s insightful reflection on James Livingston’s No More Work and Elizabeth Anderson’s Private Government

Randy Martin: “Derivatives emerge from the space between the measurable and the immeasurable”. McKenzie Wark analyzes derivatives and their logics through Martin’s intellectual contribution

The odd case of orphaned currency: Since 1991 Somali shillings are in circulation without Central Bank — by J.P. Koning


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Leveling mountains to define Corporate Liability

In the seminal 1909 case, New York Central R. Co. v. United States, 212 U.S. 481-499, the railroad argued that as a corporation it could not be held criminally liable for the unlawful acts (such as paying prohibited rebates to another company) of its managers. The US Supreme Court rejected this argument and discarded the previously common (in those years of The Robber Barons) viewpoint that a company cannot commit felony in its corporate capacity. Eventually, the Court held the railroad criminally responsible, quoting an incisive passage from a contemporary treatise:
If, for example, the invisible, intangible essence or air, which we term a corporation, can level mountains, fill up valleys, lay down iron tracks, and run railroad cars on them, it can intend to do it, and can act therein as well viciously as virtuously.” (p. 491)

The Sharp Method by J.A. Wales

“The Sharp Method” by J.A. Wales, 1990

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Great academic opportunities: 19 calls for papers, 3 PhD scholarships, 2 postdocs, 2 summer schools, a job opening, and a prize for a debut woman writer

Dear ES/PE community member, see below an abundant list of great and interesting academic opportunities: call for papers13 calls for papers for conferences and workshops, 6 calls for contributions to journals’ special issues, 3 doctoral scholarships,  2 calls for summer schools, 2 postdoc positions, a job opening, and a prize for a debut woman writer — in various areas of economic sociology and political economy. Several opportunities are partially funded.
Share this post with your colleagues and students. Good luck!

Calls for Papers:

CfP: “Empire, Capital and Transnational Resistance” conference, University Brighton (UK), 13-15 September, 2017. DL: June 30

> CfP: “Markets, Metrics and Calculative Practice in Public Services” interdisciplinary workshop, University of Edinburgh (UK), 2-3 November 2017. There is a limited number of fee waiver for accepted PhD students. DL: June 30   

> CfP: “The making and circulation of Nordic models, ideas and images” workshop, he Norwegian University Centre in Paris, October 4-6, 2017. DL: June 30.

> CfP: “Challenges for Diverse Societies“, The 4th Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences interdisciplinary doctoral conference, Bamberg University (Germany), 20 – 21 September 2017.  Travel grants available. There are sessions on Labour Markets, Social Mobility, Regional Inequalities, Private Education, and more. DL: June 30 

> CfP: “Working Class Culture“, a research area at the Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association annual conference, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA), 8-11 November, 2017. DL: June 30

> CfP: “Sustainability Governance“, Münster Junior Researchers Colloquium, Institut für Politikwissenschaften (Münster, Germany), 12 July 2017. No participation fee. Young scholars will also benefit from a workshop on methodological choices. DL: June 30

CfP: “Reshaping Work” conference, University of Amsterdam, October 19-20, 2017. DL: July 1

CfP: “Economic transformation in Cyprus and the Levant, 1850-1939” conference,  Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation (Nicosia, Cyprus), 3-5 November, 2017. DL: July 1

> CfP: “Policy making in hard times: Deregulation, Dismantling, and Compensation” workshop, Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals (Spain), 15-17 November 2017. There is a number of grants for graduate students & early-career scholars from South-Europe, and PhD students & PostDocs from Germany. DL: July 15 

> The 5th Economic Sociology Conference, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business (Washington, DC, USA). DL: July 15 

> CfP: “Reassessment and perspectives of labour policies” international conference, University Roma Tre (Italy), 14-15 December, 2017. Extended DL: July 15 

> CfP: “The Case for Solidarity: Multi-Faith Perspectives on Basic Income” conference, Dominican Institute of Toronto (Canada), 20 October 2017. DL: July 15

> CfP and CfA: “Structural Transformation in Africa“, Review of African Political Economy’s three workshops for scholars and activists in Ghana (November 2017), Tanzania (April 2018) and South Africa (September 2018). 

Calls for papers for special issues:

> CfP: “Peak neoliberalism? Revisiting and rethinking the concept of neoliberalism“, a special issue of Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization. DL: June 30

> CfP: “Facing and Coping with Vulnerability“, a special issue of Research in Economic Anthropology. DL: July 4 

> CfP: “Contesting Markets: How Organizations and Social Movements Shape the Political Economy“, a special issue of Socio-Economic Review. DL: September 1 

CfP: “The Poverty of Academia: Exploring the (Intersectional) Realities of Working Class Academics“, a special issue of Journal of Working Class Studies. DL: September 1

> CfP: “From the mixed embeddedness approach to what? Migrant entrepreneurship at a glance“, a special issue of Sociologica – Italian Journal of Sociology (in English). DL: September 1

> CfP: “Exploitation“, a special issue of The Review of Social Economy exploring the conceptual, political and economic aspects of exploitation. DL: December 31

Summer Schools:

> CfA: “Urban Poverty: The Praxis of Planning in Unequal Cities“, Sapienza Summer School, Rome (Italy), 12-15 September 2017. DL: June 30

> CfA: A Training Course in Economic and Social History for postgraduate students, University of Manchester, 29 November – 2 December 2017. DL: July 17 

Postdoctoral positions:

> Postdoc position in the research project “Combatting Fiscal Fraud and Empowering Regulators” at University of Bamberg. DL: July 7

3 Postdoc Fellowships on “Conviviality in Unequal Societies: Perspectives from Latin America” at Merian Centre in São Paulo (Brazil). DL: July 9

Doctoral scholarships:

> The Economic History Society’s bursaries for PhD students in economic and/or social history, residing in UK colleges and universities. DL: July 1

> PhD position in the research project “Combatting Fiscal Fraud and Empowering Regulators” at University of Bamberg. DL: July 7

2 PhD Candidates in Business and Human Rights at the University of New South Wales, (Sydney, Australia). DL: July 21


> Virago and New Statesman women’s prize for politics & economics. The aim with this award is to find new and exciting women’s voices in the field of politics and economics: areas (particularly in economics) where female analysts are woefully under-represented in the media and nonfiction. This prize awards a debut woman writer £500 and a contract for a 20,000 word essay to be published as a Virago ebook, with an option to contract for a full-length book. DL: July 31

Job opportunity:

Professorship in Economic and Social History with a special research focus on World Economy in the 19th and 20th Century, University of Vienna. DL: June 30

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India, Modernity and the Great Divergence – Why the Industrial Revolution and Modern Economic Growth first occurred in England

by Kaveh Yazdani

How come the world’s eight wealthiest men are as rich as half the planet’s population? Why do the vast bulk of the super-rich come from the West despite the rise of Chinese and Indian capital? And why are most economically prosperous regions of the world still disproportionately located in the West?
The fascinating riddle of why Europeans became the masters of the world and ideas of Europe’s supposed superiority vis-à-vis the rest of the globe already haunted the minds of eminent scholars such as Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Max Weber. But partly as a result of China’s and India’s economic upsurge and since the seminal contributions by Jared Diamond, David Landes, André Gunder Frank and Kenneth Pomeranz there has been an increased interest in issues of economic development and underdevelopment as well as a boom in world comparative studies on the possible historical roots of modern economic growth and Western Europe’s global supremacy in the 19th century. There are few controversies in current history writing and historical sociology that have been as hotly discussed as the rise of the West and so-called Great Divergence debates. Needless to mention, the period between the 16th and 18th century witnessed major historical watersheds. The reasons for these key junctures help us to better understand the structure of our contemporary world.
A great amount of studies that have addressed the important question of Western Europe’s historical ascent to world domination adhere to the Eurocentric schools of thought. Yet, during the past two decades, especially adherents of the ‘California School’ and a number of British scholars have increasingly engaged in the arduous work of understanding and analyzing the ‘West and the rest’ from a non-Eurocentric and global perspective. While Eurocentrists mostly emphasize internal processes, non-Eurocentrists bring to attention the importance of external factors, contingencies and the way in which the connected histories of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas contributed to Western socio-economic development. The causes of the Great Divergence lie at the heart of the debate. The lively discussion is mostly concerned with the reasons behind the Industrial Revolution and why it took off in England and not in other European core areas or advanced regions of China. Few historians and social scientists have examined Mughal and post-Mughal India relative to the rise of the West and the journey towards modernity from a particularly ‘Indian perspective’. Although there are a number of articles that deal with this important macro-historical puzzle, there are only few monographs that have examined South Asia in detail (see e.g. Parthasarathi 2011; Studer 2015). This is rather surprising as India was the textile workshop of the world and one of the most vibrant economic regions of the 17th and 18th century along with the Chinese Ming and Qing Empires.
India, Modernity and the Great DivergenceTo fill this gap, I have extensively studied India’s journey towards modernity in my India, Modernity and the Great Divergence: Mysore and Gujarat (17th to 19th C.), published by Brill earlier this year (2017). For the main part, I examined and analyzed the socio-economic, techno-scientific, military, political and institutional developments of the subcontinent. The focus is on two of the historically most dynamic regions of South Asia: Mysore (Southern India) under the Muslim rule of Haidar ‘Ali and Tipu Sultan during the second half of the 18th century and Gujarat (North-Western India) between the 17th and early 19th centuries. Primary sources from archives in India, England, France and Germany, as well as the latest secondary sources in English, French, German and Persian have been consulted for this purpose.
In order to explain phenomena such as the reasons behind the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the West, most historians and sociologists from both the Eurocentric and non-Eurocentric spectrum have put forward rather mono-causal explanations, merely focusing on a few factors that potentially triggered Western Europe’s take-off. Holistic explanations remain rare. Therefore in my study, I argue that a totalizing approach is more capable of shedding light on the complexity of the matter. What caused the Great Divergence was a combination of factors, a global dialectical conjuncture based on a concatenation of internal, external, long-term, short-term, continuous and contingent factors. Hence, the level of market integration, wages, living standards and the causes of techno-scientific innovations in comparative perspective, global contexts (e.g. competition in the world market), world-wide exchange and global entanglements (e.g. diffusion of knowledge), politics, institutions and the role of the state, the level of production and manufacture, the emergence of capitalist social relations, coercion, force, violence, warfare, culture and the role of chance and accident need to be incorporated and combined into an overarching narrative to do justice to the intricacies at hand. In this spirit, my survey attempts to bridge the gap between Eurocentrics and reverse-Orientalists and, thus, suggest a different reading and understanding of the ‘West and the rest’ question.
The upshot of this study is that Gujarat’s and Mysore’s level of capitalist development, the depth of secular philosophical discussion, the level of advancement of science, secular education, circulation of knowledge, secularization of society, institutional efficiency, property rights, the nascent bourgeois class consciousness, inter-communal and proto-national identity formations seem to have been less developed than in advanced parts of 17th and 18th century Western Europe, especially England, France and the Dutch Republic and, except for the missing rise of the North-East Asian bourgeoisie, also less vigorous than in advanced parts of China and Japan. Furthermore, contingent geo-climatic circumstances were probably more apt in Western Europe, implying lesser degrees of South Asian transport capacities (during the wet season) and market integration, even though its effects should not be exaggerated. More or less like many European cities, however, urban centers of Mughal and post-Mughal India (e.g. Delhi, Lucknow, Surat) witnessed the gradual emergence of a ‘public sphere’. Moreover, the two regions at hand possessed a substantial level of agricultural growth, living standards, transport (during the dry season) and infrastructure, military capabilities in terms of ground forces (in the case of Mysore), commercial and manufacturing capacities and social mobility of merchants (in the case of Gujarat) that – in spite of less dynamism, inventions and innovations – did not look unfavorable when compared to European core areas.
By and large, I hold that parts of late 16th to late 18th century Mughal India and its successor states were in a transitory phase. I intend to apply a non-teleological notion of transition that allows me to propose a middle ground and leave room for different possible trajectories and scenarios that could have unfolded in the absence of the British Raj. In transition periods, generally no particular mode of production is dominant, but at earlier or later stages of development, one of them might prevail. Pre-capitalist modes of production could either be preserved in spite of increasing commercial capitalist advancements and fall back to feudal or other pre-capitalist forms or capitalist potentialities could grow and lead to industrial capitalism, depending on the given socio-economic context. To this effect, 16th to 18th century India possessed both potentialities as well as obstacles for an industrial breakthrough. At the same time, as David Washbrook points out, it is far less clear why India should have failed to make use of industrial technologies once they had been invented elsewhere and become available. While India never might have become a unified nation state without British rule, the socio-economic and techno-scientific structure of South Asia’s most advanced regions were sophisticated enough to adopt foreign expertise, science and technology as the period under scrutiny has demonstrated.
In short, neither the Eurocentric emphasis on irreconcilable differences between the East and West nor the reverse-Orientalist assumptions of a preponderant congruence of the two poles or a mere Eastern pre-eminence, do justice to the complex historical trajectories of Asia and Europe.
* Kaveh Yazdani received his PhD degree in social sciences at the University of Osnabrück in 2014. He was granted the Prince Dr Sabbar Farman-Farmaian fellowship at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam in 2015 and is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa (

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BITS & BRIEFS: In praise of cash // Mechanical Turn in economics // Financialization of Higher Education // Economics of racial violence // Decline in manufacturing shapes family structure

Cashless society is the bank-controlled society. Cash money is a great public good, important for rich and poor alike — asserts Brett Scott

The Mechanical Turn in economics and its consequences. Instead of exploring the inner structure of interest, community feeling, or the impact of culture, these were assumed to be irrelevant to the market —  argues Douglass Carmichael

The Financialization of Higher Education: risky swap deals are booming, conflicts of interests are intensifying, while student debt is increasing — a report by Dominic Russel, Carrie Sloan, Alan Smith 

Economics of racial violence: lynching, interests, and status anxiety of white US southerners. Megan Ming Francis on the groundbreaking work of Ida B. Wells  

Decline in manufacturing employment is shaping family structure; When Factory Jobs Vanish, “marriageable” men wane too 

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Market Bubbles: Finance, Art, and the Golden Calf

Two overwhelming events occurred on September 15 and 16, 2008. The first is known to all, the second – to few — but a thread passes between them, showing the fabric of the current socio-economic and cultural system.
On September 15 Lehman Brothers investment bank filed for the largest bankruptcy in history and the next day the US government provided the $85 billion bailout for the insurance giant AIG. This was the burst of financialized delusions and financial bubbles which have been intentionally inflated during the years of neoliberalism. At that time, it seemed that a 
depressing worst nightmare scenario for the global economy eventually befell.
The Golden CalfBut exactly on those dates, another unprecedented event happened, but in an entirely different atmosphere. At the Sotheby’s auction in London, an artist Damien Hirst managed to shock the respective milieu with a record-breaking sale of his works for $198 million, becoming instantly the world’s richest artist. The item that attracted the most attention and the highest bid ($18 million) was “The Golden Calf” — a two-metre bull sculpture, crowned by a solid gold disc and encased in a gold-plated box on a marble base. “Hirst’s London art sale defies economic blues”, rejoiced Reuters.
These two spectacular events that took place in two Capital’s capital cities were not merely coincidence, but mutually reinforcing intertwined phenomena. While some bubbles blow up, others puff up — this is finance capitalism in a nutshell.
A notable French sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard included in his book La Transparence du Mal (The Transparency of Evil, 1993) an illuminating and challenging essay “Transaesthetics”. Its final part also brilliantly connects the dots in our story, concurrently raising exclamation and question marks:

“…because an end has been put to any deference to the law of value, to the logic of commodities, everything has become ‘more expensive than expensive’ — expensive, as it were, squared. Prices are exorbitant — the bidding has gone through the roof. Just as the abandonment of all aesthetic ground rules provokes a kind of brush fire of aesthetic values, so the loss of all reference to the laws of exchange means that the market hurtles into unrestrained speculation.
The frenzy, the folly, the sheer excess are the same. The promotional ignition of art is directly linked to the impossibility of all aesthetic evaluation. In the absence of value judgements, value goes up in flames. And it goes up in a sort of ecstasy.
There are two art markets today. One is still regulated by a hierarchy of values, even if these are already of a speculative kind. The other resembles nothing so much as floating and uncontrollable capital in the financial market: it is pure speculation, movement for movement’s sake, with no apparent purpose other than to defy the law of value. This second market has much in common with poker or potlatch — it is a kind of space opera in the hyperspace of value. Should we be scandalized? No. There is nothing immoral here. Just as present-day art is beyond beautiful and ugly, the market, for its part, is beyond good and evil.”                                                                                                                   (Baudrillard 1993: 18-19)

And what about Damien Hirst? Well, by 2009 his annual auction sales had shrunk by 93%, to $19 million, and the 2010 total revenue was even lower.
There is an end of all balloons.

The Golden Calf

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