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Why You Should Be a Socialist

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A primer on Democratic Socialism for those who are extremely skeptical of it. America is witnessing the rise of a new generation of socialist activists. More young people support socialism now than at any time since the labor movement of the 1920s. The Democratic Socialists of America, a big-tent leftist organization, has just surpassed 50,000 members nationwide. In the A primer on Democratic Socialism for those who are extremely skeptical of it. America is witnessing the rise of a new generation of socialist activists. More young people support socialism now than at any time since the labor movement of the 1920s. The Democratic Socialists of America, a big-tent leftist organization, has just surpassed 50,000 members nationwide. In the fall of 2018, one of the most influential congressmen in the Democratic Party lost a primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old socialist who had never held office before. But what does all this mean? Should we be worried about our country, or should we join the march toward our bright socialist future? In Why You Should Be a Socialist, Nathan J. Robinson will give readers a primer on twenty-first-century socialism: what it is, what it isn’t, and why everyone should want to be a part of this exciting new chapter of American politics. From the heyday of Occupy Wall Street through Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and beyond, young progressives have been increasingly drawn to socialist ideas. However, the movement’s goals need to be defined more sharply before it can effect real change on a national scale. Likewise, liberals and conservatives will benefit from a deeper understanding of the true nature of this ideology, whether they agree with it or not. Robinson’s charming, accessible, and well-argued book will convince even the most skeptical readers of the merits of socialist thought.


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A primer on Democratic Socialism for those who are extremely skeptical of it. America is witnessing the rise of a new generation of socialist activists. More young people support socialism now than at any time since the labor movement of the 1920s. The Democratic Socialists of America, a big-tent leftist organization, has just surpassed 50,000 members nationwide. In the A primer on Democratic Socialism for those who are extremely skeptical of it. America is witnessing the rise of a new generation of socialist activists. More young people support socialism now than at any time since the labor movement of the 1920s. The Democratic Socialists of America, a big-tent leftist organization, has just surpassed 50,000 members nationwide. In the fall of 2018, one of the most influential congressmen in the Democratic Party lost a primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old socialist who had never held office before. But what does all this mean? Should we be worried about our country, or should we join the march toward our bright socialist future? In Why You Should Be a Socialist, Nathan J. Robinson will give readers a primer on twenty-first-century socialism: what it is, what it isn’t, and why everyone should want to be a part of this exciting new chapter of American politics. From the heyday of Occupy Wall Street through Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and beyond, young progressives have been increasingly drawn to socialist ideas. However, the movement’s goals need to be defined more sharply before it can effect real change on a national scale. Likewise, liberals and conservatives will benefit from a deeper understanding of the true nature of this ideology, whether they agree with it or not. Robinson’s charming, accessible, and well-argued book will convince even the most skeptical readers of the merits of socialist thought.

30 review for Why You Should Be a Socialist

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    I’ll admit that there was some uncertainty before reading the book as to whether I might call myself a socialist or not. I have not traditionally labeled myself as such, although I support left-leaning candidates like Bernie Sanders and generally subscribe to liberal policies. It’s true, as Robinson points out, that it is only the left that seems to have any solutions. When you’re ideologically wedded to the market—as the right is—and it is the market that is creating the problems in the first I’ll admit that there was some uncertainty before reading the book as to whether I might call myself a socialist or not. I have not traditionally labeled myself as such, although I support left-leaning candidates like Bernie Sanders and generally subscribe to liberal policies. It’s true, as Robinson points out, that it is only the left that seems to have any solutions. When you’re ideologically wedded to the market—as the right is—and it is the market that is creating the problems in the first place, you can have no possible solutions to offer. Cutting taxes and deregulation is just going to make matters worse, but you can’t admit that because that is the foundation of your political philosophy. So if we’re going to do anything to solve our social and political problems, we by necessity have to look to the left. The left, at a minimum, does not cripple itself by limiting its own funding and ability to provide useful services and programs. But is socialism, specifically, the answer? The answer depends on how you define socialism, and definitions are tricky. Not only is socialism intrinsically difficult to define, but it also has a host of negative historical connotations to battle against. When the average person hears the word socialism, the Soviet-style variety is unfortunately what comes to mind. While the difference between Stalinism and guaranteed healthcare should be obvious, some people simply can’t shake the Soviet connection. In the end, whether or not you would call yourself a socialist is largely a matter of how you might define the term. (Although it raises the question of why you would want to stubbornly cling to a term with that kind of historical baggage.) Ironically, this book has ultimately confirmed that I will not be calling myself a socialist, based on how Robinson defines the term and on its historical baggage. In Robinson’s own words: “Personally, I consider myself both a radical and a pragmatist. I think there should be no borders, no prisons, and no bosses. That makes me a utopian socialist.” Elsewhere, he writes that “in the long term I’d like to live in a stateless society in which the means of production are democratically controlled.” Well, at least you know what you are dealing with. While I agree with Robinson’s diagnosis of the major social and economic problems, and with his critique of conservatism, and with his vision of a more equitable society, I am far less confident that I would want to live in a society with no state, no borders, and no prisons. He has apparently more confidence than I do in my ability to predict what a world like that would actually be like. I work under the assumption that imagination and reality do not always perfectly correlate, and what you think you want does not always materialize in the way you might think. This becomes more of a problem the further you move away from the current state of affairs. I do, however, share Robinson’s belief that political problems can be solved, and that the world can be made to be a more fair and equitable place. We might both agree on things like universal healthcare and education, and that progressive taxation can reduce economic and political inequality. We are probably both in favor of getting money out of politics and that the free market is inefficient in all the ways that matter most. But where we disagree seems to be at the critical juncture where socialism turns into progressivism. In line with Karl Popper’s “piecemeal social engineering,” and with Joseph Stiglitz’s version of progressive capitalism, I would much prefer incremental reform to a complete overhaul of the system. The law of unintended consequences is highly relevant here, and in addition, we already know that capitalism can create high levels of growth and wealth and a variety of goods and services to match a variety of preferences. It seems both more realistic and less risky to leverage the better aspects of capitalism in a mixed economy where the wealth that is created is redistributed in a more equitable manner, not unlike the Nordic countries of today. The thing is, you can agree with all of Robinson’s policy recommendations (universal healthcare and education, more robust worker rights, etc.) without also thinking that we should one day live in a stateless society or completely upend the system we have. But maybe that’s what makes socialism different from progressivism, and if so, then I have renewed confidence in calling myself a progressive. Despite Robinson’s radical positions, the book is certainly worth the read. He correctly outlines the problems, makes a strong moral case for taking action, suggests effective policy recommendations, and delivers strong critiques of the competing political ideologies. But his insistence on the necessity of a utopian vision, and his overconfidence in knowing what drastic changes would or would not be preferable upon implementation make this book unlikely to convert many people over to radical socialism. This book may very well convert people over to the left—which I think it should—but it will likely stop far short of the stateless society that he thinks he wants.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    This book is for your intelligent friend who is turned off by politics and doesn't spend a whole lot of time on it. It is a primer for them on why the left is best. It explains why Socialism or at least social democracy is the way things should go and gives common-sense reasons why liberalism is inferior and conservatism is even worse. It argues for a Democratic Socialism probably Fabian (explained in the book for examples one can think of Beatrix Potter and Bertrand Russell or Oscar Wilde). It This book is for your intelligent friend who is turned off by politics and doesn't spend a whole lot of time on it. It is a primer for them on why the left is best. It explains why Socialism or at least social democracy is the way things should go and gives common-sense reasons why liberalism is inferior and conservatism is even worse. It argues for a Democratic Socialism probably Fabian (explained in the book for examples one can think of Beatrix Potter and Bertrand Russell or Oscar Wilde). It is the kind of socialism I can get behind. Short book explaining why this ideology might work for you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO71K... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk6HK...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    This book should have been titled Why You Should Be an Eccentric Social Democrat. Nathan Robinson does a good job of gently convincing the reader to leave behind the worst of American liberalism. Unfortunately, the book has fundamental shortcomings: it’s ideologically closer to social democracy than actual socialism, uses terminology in confusing ways, leaves out large swaths of important anti-capitalist analysis, and reduces socialism to a kind of moralizing philosophy rather than a movement This book should have been titled Why You Should Be an Eccentric Social Democrat. Nathan Robinson does a good job of gently convincing the reader to leave behind the worst of American liberalism. Unfortunately, the book has fundamental shortcomings: it’s ideologically closer to social democracy than actual socialism, uses terminology in confusing ways, leaves out large swaths of important anti-capitalist analysis, and reduces socialism to a kind of moralizing philosophy rather than a movement grounded in material struggles. The best thing about this book is that Nathan Robinson writes very clearly. The tone is friendly, and every argument is made from first principles. It reads exactly like the author’s work in Current Affairs: sometimes long-winded, but always accessible. Robinson never assumes, as too many “introductory” left-wing texts do, that readers know any of the left’s jargon or share our motives and presuppositions. Yet the book has, in my view, two major shortcomings that prevent me from recommending it to friends who are curious about socialism. First, the book uses terminology in confusing and nonstandard ways. Robinson spends considerable time expounding the superiority of his particular leftist tendency: libertarian socialism. Normally, I would be pleased to read something like this, but unfortunately, the politics advanced in this book aren’t consistent with the libertarian socialist tradition. Libertarian socialism, as defined pretty clearly on Wikipedia or in this short explainer by the Black Rose Federation, is an anti-state ideology; it opposes both the existence of the state (regardless of economic system), as well as the use of electoral politics (i.e. accessing the power of the capitalist state) to advance the socialist cause. This book, on the other hand, not only doesn’t discuss dismantling the state, but puts its full weight behind the electoral road to socialism without any discussion of its viability or its consistency with anti-authoritarian principles. On the whole, I could call Robinson a democratic socialist or social democrat, with a large element of utopian socialism. But I would not call this a libertarian socialist book, at least not in the standard use of the term. (I wonder if this ideological cloudiness is a Noam Chomsky influence.) The second major problem with the book is that it omits a lot of simple yet important ideas and analysis that are crucial to understanding capitalism and socialism. For instance, nowhere does the book define “class,” or “working class”/“proletariat,” or “capitalist”/“bourgeoisie.” It doesn’t explain why the proletariat (as opposed to the “middle class” or some other category) is at the center of the socialist movement. It doesn’t explain where profit comes from, or how the labor market disciplines workers. It talks briefly about specific oppressions faced by people of color, non-men, trans people, Indigenous people, and immigrants; yet it doesn’t show how these oppressions are intertwined with the mechanisms of capitalist accumulation, imperialism, production, and reproduction. The result is not just a book that’s light on theory, which might not be a bad thing in itself. The problem is that, without some understanding of capitalist political economy, we easily devise the wrong tools to fight capital. When it comes to socialist strategy, Why You Should Be a Socialist reflexively assumes that convincing people to elect nominally socialist politicians to office is the only viable way to implement socialism. Nowhere does it discuss the many revolutionary strategies that leftists have developed. In doing so, the book ignores the structural barriers to overcoming the capitalist system from within government (a fact illustrated by a painfully long history of social-democratic failures). Many of Robinson’s heroes — Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxemburg, Errico Malatesta, and so forth — understood this well. Even other democratic socialist publications, such as Jacobin, at least give well-reasoned arguments for why they believe in the electoral reform path to socialism. Whatever your stance is, it’s irresponsible to leave out, in an introductory socialist text, the question of “reform vs. revolution.” At some level, these glaring omissions have to do with Robinson’s skepticism of Marx and Marxism — indeed, the book uncritically channels the mainstream misrepresentation of Marxism as containing inherently authoritarian tendencies. At one point Robinson writes, “I know some socialists who believe that nobody can really be a socialist unless they have read Karl Marx. I don’t agree with them. To me, this is like saying that nobody can be a physicist unless they have read Isaac Newton.” I agree in a very literal way: when I studied physics, I didn’t whip out my copy of the Principia Mathematica. But I did still have to absorb the basic principles discovered by Newton and his academic descendants. The same is true of Marx: one can be a plenty good socialist without reading Capital, but we still need to learn Marxist fundamentals from somewhere, because no other intellectual tradition offers nearly as much insight into capitalist society, its dynamics, and its vulnerabilities. And so, eschewing an analytic critique of capitalism, Robinson relies on moral arguments about inequality and unfairness, so that the emotional register of the book is closer to left-liberal outrage than proletarian solidarity, and class struggle is minimized in favor of rationally convincing voters to support social-democratic representatives. In the burgeoning microgenre of “socialism 101” books, I can see a place for Why You Should Be a Socialist in moving some liberals a bit leftward in the narrow realm of policy. But if a friend comes to me looking for a serious primer on socialist, communist, or anarchist ideas, I unfortunately won’t be recommending this one.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    Never mind the Gulag, they never understood Socialism well. Robinson promises the Heaven on Earth, probably after you die, but it's for a good cause, right?

  5. 5 out of 5

    David Scheckel

    Good! Not too much in here that I didn't already know or thought already but it's clearly aimed at skeptics. Nathan's optimism is really motivating.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Henry Silver

    In this particular publication and equally his other writings, I find Nathan Robinson an eloquent and erudite exponent of the socialist tradition and worldview, applied both to history and to contemporary conditions.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pantsonhead

    I love Nathan Robinson, I am even subscribed to his magazine, but this book is frankly just embarrassing. The CORE of a good introduction to socialist politics is in here. Nathan uses some of the same basic arguments and explanations that managed to turn me into a fellow traveler, if not quite a "socialist" yet. (I used to be a generally apolitical/soft libertarian sort of guy.) But this decent core is surrounded by unnecessary cruft. The introduction made me cringe, even ignoring the unfortunate I love Nathan Robinson, I am even subscribed to his magazine, but this book is frankly just embarrassing. The CORE of a good introduction to socialist politics is in here. Nathan uses some of the same basic arguments and explanations that managed to turn me into a fellow traveler, if not quite a "socialist" yet. (I used to be a generally apolitical/soft libertarian sort of guy.) But this decent core is surrounded by unnecessary cruft. The introduction made me cringe, even ignoring the unfortunate references to Jeremy Corbyn becoming PM. What this book needed is aggressive editing. Instead the publishers allowed Nathan to include awkward ramblings about himself, or stupid Twitter-style asinine "joke" segments. About half the content here is actively detrimental to the purpose of the book, and could have been easily cut out. As it stands, this works as a gag gift to conservative relatives, or a supplemental to people who already read (and like) Current Affairs. But I'm afraid the introductory few chapters alone makes it useless for converting non-believers. To make things worse, I listened to the audiobook version. Nathan chose to narrate the audiobook himself. He is not a professional narrator, and his enunciation is very annoying. Listening to him speak felt like listening to an overenthusiastic highschooler giving his report in front of class. Unprofessional and unpleasant. A real shame. I wanted to like this book, but I couldn't.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cristie Underwood

    This is a great resource for anyone that has questions about socialism and the impact it has. So many people have a negative view and don’t know much about it. The author really broke down the benefits of socialism in easy to understand language. Highly recommend!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bakari

    It’s very refreshing and important that this book is published, especially in a time when we have democratic socialist candidate, Bernie Sanders, building a movement for progressive change in this country and using his platform to take the Democratic party in the direction is should be going in support of the working class. Nathan Robinson is a very astute and well read writer, critic, and socialist who not only explains the various, often competing views of socialism, but he also makes very It’s very refreshing and important that this book is published, especially in a time when we have democratic socialist candidate, Bernie Sanders, building a movement for progressive change in this country and using his platform to take the Democratic party in the direction is should be going in support of the working class. Nathan Robinson is a very astute and well read writer, critic, and socialist who not only explains the various, often competing views of socialism, but he also makes very sound responses to those who criticize socialism. For too long the socialist left has not always been very good about explaining socialism without using traditional Marxist terms like “proletariat,” and “dialectical materialism.” You’re not going to find such terminology in this book. It’s not because Marxist terminology is not useful, but such terms not required (though useful) to understand the visions and soundness of a socialist political economy. Socialism essentially seeks to make sure that the basic needs of all people are met, and that we are not exploited and deprived of our human rights and dignity by being controlled by the forces market driven capitalism. Socialism does not mean giving away everything for free or not having private property and rights, it means that everything doesn’t require a price tag at the point of need. We can actually collectivize our taxes and our labor to work in the common good of one another. I’m not sure how much this book will reach its intended audience—people who are conservative or liberal, but I don’t think it’s also useful for people like myself who support and advocate socialism. Nathan provides sound arguments for discussing socialism with people who criticize it. The book also references dozens of other books, magazines, podcasts and other media that we can consume to develop a better understanding of how socialism can make societies better. This book, along with Health Justice Now: Single Payer and What Comes Next are two of my favorite books about visions for change. It’s so important that we not only read and talk about capitalism, but that we also talk about the system, but also more importantly how it should be changed. Lastly, I like this book because Robinson makes it somewhat personal. He’s so correct when he says people who advocate socialism are typically caring individuals who hate to see people oppressed, exploited and marginalized. Though it’s cliché to say it, we do “think a better world is possible”, and we won’t keep our mouths shut about the need for change. We’re socialist because we give a damn.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sky

    Wish I could give everyone I know a copy of this, whether committed socialist, skeptic, or on the fence. Nathan Robinson is easily one of my favorite writers out there. His argument in this book is directed more towards skeptics or those with questions, but I would equally recommend it for those already converted to socialism, in order to help strengthen your own arguments and know how to challenge skeptics around you. The book covers just about every argument out there that tries to discredit Wish I could give everyone I know a copy of this, whether committed socialist, skeptic, or on the fence. Nathan Robinson is easily one of my favorite writers out there. His argument in this book is directed more towards skeptics or those with questions, but I would equally recommend it for those already converted to socialism, in order to help strengthen your own arguments and know how to challenge skeptics around you. The book covers just about every argument out there that tries to discredit socialism, and easily exposes the flaws in these arguments. He also spends some time exposing the flaws of other ideologies, like liberalism and conservatism. Written simply enough for a beginner who wants to understand the basic principles of socialism without getting too deep in the weeds of theory, but also engaging enough for those of us who’ve graduated beyond a beginners’ level of socialist reading. Highly recommended, regardless of where you’re at ideologically, or how far along you’ve come in your intellectual journey. As someone who’s been on the socialist left for a while now, and who needs no introduction on socialism, this was still a page-turner for me (blew right through it in just three days), and is now at the top of my reading recommendations for those wanting to learn more about socialism, what it is, and why they should be one.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gjc Gj

    Socialism, more like Communism, and that's what i'm talkin' about. Lenin shall rise again. poopie

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    This book is thorough, clear, and full of passion. I appreciate Robinson's precision -- he's not invested in the latest twitter squabble or cable news showdown -- instead, he is deeply invested in the on-the-ground experience of contemporary injustice. The book, therefore, focuses on a focused examination of the overwhelming reality that fear, suffering, and toil are so unequally distributed in our society, and why that should be morally unacceptable. Robinson combined an astute assessment of This book is thorough, clear, and full of passion. I appreciate Robinson's precision -- he's not invested in the latest twitter squabble or cable news showdown -- instead, he is deeply invested in the on-the-ground experience of contemporary injustice. The book, therefore, focuses on a focused examination of the overwhelming reality that fear, suffering, and toil are so unequally distributed in our society, and why that should be morally unacceptable. Robinson combined an astute assessment of the disastrous state of affairs and why it doesn't have to be this way. This last part is key, because the book does not merely list a litany of offenses. In fact, it is highly pragmatic, and not in a 'let's make incremental change only' pragmatic way, but in a 'the world is what we make it' way. So Robinson manages to also express a great amount of hope and idealism for what kind of world socialists want society to look like (the chapter on utopia especially). I'm sure i will return to this again, and I'm deeply grateful to Robinson for writing it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jack Tomascak

    Robinson at-length is not nearly as tendentious as people make him out to be, though the last few chapters do get a bit dense. Overall a fine resource for onboarding people to left causes in a current context. Buy The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason for your Gen-X/millenial Jon Stewart worshipping friends who think Mayor Pete's a cool guy, buy this for the boomers who don't even know where to begin.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Nathan J Robinson explained socialism in a way I've never heard. Surprised to learn some prominent people, such as Helen Keller and George Orwell, also believed socialism was the best way to operate society. The book has extensive research behind it and I noted several of the end notes for further reading. Only drawback for me was the very end. A bit of a downer...but only, I suppose, if you believe in Intelligent Design. Robinson makes a clear case for true democratic socialism's superior moral Nathan J Robinson explained socialism in a way I've never heard. Surprised to learn some prominent people, such as Helen Keller and George Orwell, also believed socialism was the best way to operate society. The book has extensive research behind it and I noted several of the end notes for further reading. Only drawback for me was the very end. A bit of a downer...but only, I suppose, if you believe in Intelligent Design. Robinson makes a clear case for true democratic socialism's superior moral standing (vs capitalism) but ends with no way to justify why we should be moral people (we should, of course...but why?).

  15. 4 out of 5

    Graham

    part II (chapters 4-9) is an elegantly laid out argument. you might just want to skip to this section. his rhetorical strategy is refreshing. this book is more about a general moral/political orientation in one's goals. less a specific advocacy for specific policies based on annual grain yields etc. not sure who this book is for. but i hope it finds its audience. for baby leftists, "appendix: a left media diet" is a helfpul list

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steve Nolan

    Sorta is too, "Current Affairs"-y at points - I get it, you wanna be exhaustive but sometimes that ends up being exhausting. Overall, might be pretty good for a non -commie like me as an intro, but also might be too in-depth on certain things for a true newbie. I guess I'll see what my apolitical mom thinks! Merry Christmas, ma! Here's a book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Annarella

    An interesting and well written book, with clear explanations and examples. I liked the style of writing and appreciated the author's ideas. Recommended! Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Winston Plum

    Spectacular. Moral. Succinct. Now.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I accidentally requested this book from NetGalley, so I gave it a chance. I agreed with all that I read, but the author’s tone was so snarky that I could not continue reading.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Micah

    Reviewing this for a forthcoming issue of Bookforum.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Garrison

    Socialism is back in vogue in a country that has long suppressed any tendencies towards meaningful economic justice. Nathan Robinson diagnoses a wide array of social ills, attempts to define socialism, and explains why it offers the best solutions to those ills. I say "attempts" because defining any concept as meaty as socialism is sure to miss something and anger someone. Instead of saying that socialism is X, Robinson defines it as a set of principles that should be deferred to when building Socialism is back in vogue in a country that has long suppressed any tendencies towards meaningful economic justice. Nathan Robinson diagnoses a wide array of social ills, attempts to define socialism, and explains why it offers the best solutions to those ills. I say "attempts" because defining any concept as meaty as socialism is sure to miss something and anger someone. Instead of saying that socialism is X, Robinson defines it as a set of principles that should be deferred to when building movements and setting policy. At its core, Robinson's socialism (and my own) is rooted in expanding democracy, both in the political and economic spheres. This commitment would have prevented the descent into authoritarian violence that so many other "socialist" attempts fell victim to. Robinson also addresses the two other prevailing ideologies (conservatism and liberalism) and explains why they are cruel and inadequate respectively. He concludes by responding to common objections to socialism.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  23. 4 out of 5

    Adam Whitley

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas D

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lafayette Cates

  26. 4 out of 5

    J.P. McD

  27. 4 out of 5

    Yasharz

  28. 4 out of 5

    August Denys

  29. 4 out of 5

    Keith

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline

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