Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is It Time To Consider Raising Top Marginal Tax Rates?...

by: Les Carpenter
Rational Nation USA
Liberty -vs- Tyranny


There is most definitely a huge gap between what proponents of low marginal tax rates argue and what the actual results of lowering said rates over the past 30 to 40 years has been. While reading the following article from The Guardian think long term effect. Many are arguing the policies of lower taxes and increased spending (much on defense and the MIC) during this time period is largely responsible for our present sorry fiscal state state of affairs. They may have a point and it is most certainly worth considering as we look to 2014 and 2016. At the very least the party of lower and lower taxes and increased spending, and we all know who that is, should rethink it's strategy for success.

In the United States, the share of total pre-tax income accruing to the top 1% has more than doubled, from less than 10% in the 1970s to over 20% today (pdf). A similar pattern is true of other English-speaking countries. Contrary to the widely-held view, however, globalisation and new technologies are not to blame. Other OECD countries, such as those in continental Europe, or Japan have seen far less concentration of income among the mega rich.

At the same time, top income tax rates on upper income earners have declined significantly since the 1970s in many OECD countries – again, particularly in English-speaking ones. For example, top marginal income tax rates in the United States or the United Kingdom were above 70% in the 1970s, before the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions drastically cut them by 40 percentage points within a decade.

At a time when most OECD countries face large deficits and debt burdens, a crucial public policy question is whether governments should tax high earners more. The potential tax revenue at stake is now very large.

For example, doubling the average US individual income tax rate on the top 1% income earners from the current 22.5% level to 45% would increase tax revenue by 2.7% of GDP per year – as much as letting all of the Bush tax cuts expire (only a small fraction of them lapsed in January 2013). But of course, this simple calculation is static: such a large increase in taxes may well affect the economic behaviour of the rich and the income they report pre-tax, the broader economy and, ultimately, the tax revenue generated. In recent research, we analyse this issue both conceptually and empirically using international evidence on top incomes and top tax rates since the 1970s.

There is a strong correlation between the reductions in top tax rates and the increases in top 1% pre-tax income shares, for the period from 1975-79 to 2004-08, across 18 OECD countries for which top income share information is available. For example, the United States experienced a 35 percentage-point reduction in its top income tax rate and a very large ten percentage-point increase in its top 1% pre-tax income share. By contrast, France or Germany saw very little change in their top tax rates and their top 1% income shares during the same period.

So, the evolution of top tax rates is a good predictor of changes in pre-tax income concentration. There are three scenarios to explain the strong response of top pre-tax incomes to top tax rates; each has very different policy implications.

First, higher top tax rates may discourage work effort and business creation among the most talented: the so-called supply-side effect. In this scenario, lower top tax rates would lead to more economic activity by the rich and hence more economic growth. If all the correlation of top income shares and top tax rates seen in the above data were due to such supply-side effects, the revenue-maximising top tax rate would be 57%. This would imply that the United States still has some leeway to increase taxes on the rich, but that the upper limit has already been reached in many European countries.

Second, higher top tax rates can increase tax avoidance. In that scenario, increasing top rates in a tax system riddled with loopholes and tax avoidance opportunities is not productive either. A better policy would be to first close loopholes so as to eliminate most tax avoidance opportunities, and only then increase top tax rates. With sufficient political will and international co-operation to enforce taxes, it is possible to eliminate most tax avoidance opportunities, which are well documented. Then, with a broad tax base offering no significant avoidance opportunities, only real supply-side responses would limit how high top tax rate can be set before becoming counter-productive.

In the third scenario, while standard economic models assume that pay reflects productivity, there are strong reasons to be sceptical, especially at the top of the income distribution where the actual economic contribution of managers working in complex organisations is particularly difficult to measure. Here, top earners might be able to partly set their own pay by bargaining harder or influencing compensation committees.

Naturally, the incentives for such "rent-seeking" are much stronger when top tax rates are low. In this scenario, cuts in top tax rates can still increase top income shares, but the increases in top 1% incomes now come at the expense of the remaining 99%. In other words, top rate cuts stimulate rent-seeking at the top but not overall economic growth – the key difference with the first, supply-side, scenario.

To tell these various scenarios apart, we need to analyse to what extent top tax rate cuts lead to higher economic growth. Again, data show that there is no correlation between cuts in top tax rates and average annual real GDP-per-capita growth since the 1970s. For example, countries that made large cuts in top tax rates, such as the United Kingdom or the United States, have not grown significantly faster than countries that did not, such as Germany or Denmark.

What that tells us is that a substantial fraction of the response of pre-tax top incomes to top tax rates may be due to increased rent-seeking at the top (that is, scenario three), rather than increased productive effort.

Naturally, cross-country comparisons are bound to be fragile; exact results vary with the specification, years, and countries. But the bottom line is that rich countries have all grown at roughly the same rate over the past 30 years – in spite of huge variations in tax policies. By our calculations about the response of top earners to top tax rate cuts being due in part to increased rent-seeking behaviour and in part to increased productive work, we find that the top tax rate could potentially be set as high as 83% (as opposed to the 57% allowed by the pure supply-side model).

Until the 1970s, policy-makers and public opinion probably considered – rightly or wrongly – that at the very top of the income ladder, pay increases reflected mostly greed rather than productive work effort. This is why governments were able to set marginal tax rates as high as 80% in the US and the UK. The Reagan/Thatcher revolution has succeeded in making such top tax rate levels "unthinkable" since then.

Now, however, we have seen decades of increasing income concentration that have brought about mediocre growth since the 1970s. And with the Great Recession that was triggered by financial sector excesses, a rethink of the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions is underway.

The United Kingdom increased its top income tax rate from 40% to 50% in 2010, in part to curb top pay excesses. In the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement and its famous "We are the 99%" slogan also reflects a view that the top 1% has gained at the expense of the 99% – a view endorsed by our findings about the highly unequal distribution of income gains during the recovery.

In the end, the future of top tax rates depends on what the public believes about whether top pay fairly reflects productivity or whether top pay, rather unfairly, arises from rent-seeking. With higher income concentration, top earners have more economic resources to influence both social beliefs (through thinktanks and media) and policies (through lobbying), thereby creating some "reverse causality" between income inequality, perceptions, and policies.

The job of economists should be to make a top rate tax level of 80% at least "thinkable" again.

This is an updated version of an article originally published by VoxEU

While I certainly don't advocate a top marginal tax rate of 80% in the USA it certainly seems reasonable to entertain at this time a return to Clinton era rates (or slightly higher)and review the effects of an increase in say ten years or so. If at that time our nation, and the middle class is in better shape then stick with success.

Via: Memeorandum


43 comments:

  1. It is something that hasn't been tried in a generation. ..a generation of middle class stagnancy and
    wealth skew. Why not?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well here you go RN:

    Countries with the highest tax rates:

    http://www.therichest.com/business/the-top-ten-countries-with-the-highest-tax-rates/

    Then you have:

    http://www.therichest.com/expensive-lifestyle/lifestyle/the-10-countries-with-the-lowest-tax-rates/

    Oh, and for Will, while the United States has 422 billionaires, China has 100! (http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/rich-countries/countries-with-the-wealthiest-people/6/)

    Gee, the US economic system has been around for a couple of hundred years and we could only produce 422 billionaires? The Communists in China have created 100 billionaires in what? 50 years?

    Looks to me if you want to use the number of billionaires as a measure of economic opportunity then Chinese Communism is the way to go! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Replies
    1. No, but I here Will might be considering he thinks the number of billionaires an economy creates is really important...

      Delete
  4. Time to explain why the Waltons (Wal-Mart) pay only 15% on their dividends and coupon clipping while the average working stiff may pay more.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've never seen or heard of a correlation between entrepreneurship and the tax rate over the course of American history. We are told the higher the tax rate, the lower the impetus to make more money. There is no historical precedent for that. It is on the face of it ridiculous, and when you think about it, self-fulfilling propaganda. After all, if you have less money, then you have less money - duh, your taxes went up. But if there is money to be made, people will make it, regardless of the tax rate. Taxes, like death, are just an inevitable, irrelevant happening.

    Sure, you can have a controlling all-interested government, like the old USSR or China, but anyone who thinks raising the tax rate a little now and then is akin to the friggin' Leap Forward is a moron. We need less talk like that from the Right. Fortunately, there seem to be more and more concerted efforts from the old establishment GOP to rein in the loons. Maybe that will open to the door to a little smarter tax policy in the foreseeable future. Maybe.

    JMJ

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  6. A few quick thoughts:
    #1 – There is no empirical evidence in support of the supply-side hypothesis, and the only person in human history who ever benefited from this approach is Sarah Palin who spent half her adult life trickling down on pregnancy test strips;
    #2 – Increased revenue from higher marginal tax rates will shift the cost burdens of civilization from a beleaguered middle class to top earners - with the added benefit of bringing in new revenue for cutting the deficit and nation-building at home;
    #3 – The key to changing tax policy is political will, where appearances matter more than content.

    Now pay attention to your intrepid cephalopod. Offer a wind-back-the-clock approach, where you simply reset the tax tables to a point in history predicated on past economic performance. Actual numbers don’t really matter – whether the rate is 39%, 50%, 80% or Avogadro’s Number.

    Offer several packages, each wrapped with colorful ribbons and bows and a friendly gift card inside: The Clinton package, the Reagan package, The Kennedy package, the Truman Package. All solid and respected Americans, no one will accuse you of being a “Marxist-commie-collectivist-Islamo-Terrorist.” See my point?

    Conservatives and liberals alike will more likely choose the Reagan package because it will be an “easier sell.” The way I see it, Reagan was a former Democrat whose party left him. Today, there are mainstream Republicans whose party is leaving them; so it makes sense for disgruntled citizens of every stripe to follow suit, leave their respective parties, and take the Regan package. The actual marginal tax rate number is immaterial; what matters more is appearance. After all, if Regan did it, how can it be bad!

    Make sense?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anyone here remember the Powell Doctrine? This doctrine was only evidenced once or twice in the 1990s by Bush 41 and Clinton. It did, however, make a handy selling point for the regime-changer Iraq war. Instead of a lean and intelligent military action to accomplish a specific goal to protect our national security interests with a clear exit strategy, Blue Meanies in the Pentagon, the Cheney administration and the prominent contractors for the MIC were able to sell a new, more profitable approach to modern warfare. For simplicity's sake, I will call it the "Ass of Evil." First order of business is to gut the Army of any responsibility for caring for any of the basic needs of its service men and women. These must be privatized to "save money." Once all of the contractors have been lined up, then it is time to exhaust as much as 50% to 75% of all of the resources of the United States military and new Pentagon budget to send as much military equipment as may be owned to the Persian Gulf via the Panama canal. Then comes the real fun. Set up Forward Operating Bases replete with air-conditioned tents, MacDonald's concessions, lots of cigarettes, plenty of home entertainment and lots of very expensive bottled water. Don't worry about gasoline for vehicles or armor or anything like that. We'll take care of that later. Remember $100/gallon gas? Hey it's a war zone. You go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had, right? Then make sure that any U.S. soldier has unlimited credit based upon their future earning potential. Couple that with a black ops style Pentagon budget with absolutely no accountability and you are ready to set up shop. Load millions of dollars in 100s and 50s on pallets to grease the wheels to necessary parties. You are now ready to set down the "Ass of Evil" in enemy territory. Let the money start pouring in! Yahoo!

    Now that the treasury is bankrupt and hemorrhaging $60 billion every day... Yes, it might be a good idea to repeal the Bush tax cuts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another part of that privatization involved security forces. Blackwater put armed personnel
      in Humvees for $600/day for one 'guard'. US Army troops, working under far more hazardous and grueling conditions were paid about $85 a day. Tell me again about the
      efficiencies of the private sector!!

      Delete
    2. FJ, not that I'm disputing your statements but any links you would recomend the skeptics might visit. Not that the saber rattelers would be convinced.

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    3. Thank you for your interest RN,

      There actually are two newspaper articles that framed my thinking on this tired old anti-war meme. The first was an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune from late spring or summer of 2003 that detailed the incredible effort of loading the super-duper Bob Hope Class Vehicle Cargo Ship that brought equipment from the west coast of the U.S.A. to the Persian Gulf. The article was a real eye-opener. Crews of longshoremen supervised by U.S. Marine and Army commanders worked tirelessly for more than three weeks loading Bradleys, tanks and Humvees deep into the hold of one of these enormous cargo ships. Each ship is equipped with two massive 110-ton cranes mounted right on the deck. It was a logistical super-achievement simply to load such a vast amount of equipment into the world’s premier freighter vessel. Unfortunately, the San Diego U-T is not readily archivable from the web. What is of some interest is that I observed one of these beauties cruising northwest along the coast of San Diego from Naval Air Station North Island and actually slowing down a little bit past Windansea surfing beach to tack southwest towards, presumably a trade route down to the Horn, or perhaps the Panama Canal. It would not have made sense for the great vessel to proceed directly south in the shallow waters off of the coast of Mexico. This article had a profound effect on my thinking, because I realized that nearly all of the vehicles and helicopters that had been stockpiled in California were now being shipped off to Iraq. I also got that the price of existing assets that were sent off to Iraq would never be counted in the stated cost of the war. The best I can do is quote a letter that I sent to local radio personality, Stacy Taylor, predicting additional deaths and a trillion dollar price tag to the war. I have since revised that figure to three trillion. From the April 2007 archives of the venerable Dog Report, I present an excerpt of my post entitled Maybe You Predicted this Too.

      .
      Also... now that the "thin green line" report has been made public, it might do to talk about the squandering of the wealth and assets of the most powerful military in the world. We all knew when the enormous Navy cargo vessels were being loaded to the gunwhales with humvees, fighting vehicles and every imaginable type of equipment that none of that equipment would ever return to the U.S. or any other strategic location in the world. The president would have his war no matter what, even as he lied through his teeth about it being Saddam who chose this war. Probably the gas needed to ship all that stuff across the Atlantic caused the oil shortage. If the stated cost of the war is hovering around 250 gigadollars, you know that does not include assets that were already paid for, fuel, or a thousand other hidden costs. The sad part is that even if every American believed that the war would eventually cost more than a trillion dollars, there will someday be 3,000 American dead, and somehow became aware of Iraqi casualties and miraculously actually gave a damn, there would still be those who said it was the right thing to do. At least we got rid of that Saddam!


      I was partially wrong in my prediction that these assets would never be moved to a strategic military location. See below.

      As far as the article from the NYT, it was about the cost of moving portable forward-operating bases, (FOBs) as a component of the Ass of Evil from Iraq to Afghanistan, that were not surprisingly never used in Iraq, through Turkey, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Uzbekistan via old Soviet railroads eventually to Afghanistan. It gives an extremely clear picture of the fatness and comfort associated with our American heroes. No Shortcuts when Military Moves a War.

      I think we all can remember the debacle of pallets of cash and out-of-control civilian contractors.

      Delete
    4. Here is the true link to the 2010 article about moving the FOBs around the Middle East.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/world/01logistics.html?_r=0

      Delete
    5. Thanks FJ

      I've been away from blogging for the most part the past few days but will get to looking at the linked article tomorrow. Thanks again, appreciated.

      Delete
  8. BB-Idaho,
    Confirmed. My oldest daughter served 3 deployments in Iraq and expressed profound bitterness with respect to her experiences of Blackwater, who treated enlistees - even officers - lower than dirt.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Offer a wind-back-the-clock approach ..."

    INDEED! What a LOVELY idea!

    By ALL means, let's return to pre-1913 policies and scrap the vicious stranglehold quasi-Marxist progressive government has put on thrift, savings, intelligent private investment, individual initiative and the possibility of accumulating private wealth by dint of hard work coupled with creativity, self-discipline, far-sightedness and the development of superior workable ideas put into production.

    Crypto-Marxist policies have spawned the Crony Capitalism -- the unholy partnership between Big Business and Big Government that business interests developed as their only possible defense against the untoward encroachments of ever burgeoning, ever more intrusive, ever more destructive government interference.

    The result, of course, has been the ungodly, stinking mess we lie with today, none of which would have happened had it not been for the "reforms" instituted very early in the last century.

    Remember, please, that I am the guy whose grandparents were born in the years immediately following the civil War. I know THEIR story, which in many ways was The Story of the Birth and Early Fulfillment of The American Dream, from FIRSTHAND accounts.

    All of THEM understood how deluded and misguided Woodrow Wilson was. They also saw with utmost Od World clarity FDR and his benighted, bucktoothed, busybody bride for the preposterous farceurs they were -- mere marionettes made and manipulated by malicious Marxists.

    ReplyDelete
  10. We DID go back to the Clinton top rates; 39.6% on everything over $400,000 (so, if you live in CA you're dishing out more than half of everything over $400,000, not including sales, property taxes, etc.). Me, I'm thinking that that's probably enough.

    ReplyDelete
  11. No one's dishing out "more than half of everything over $400,000." That's just ignorant.

    JMJ

    ReplyDelete
  12. Alright let me do the math here. Dude makes $500,000. He pays 9% state tax on everything over $93,000 but let's round it up to $100,000 for simplicity's sake. That comes out to $36,000 ($9,000 from $400,000 to $500,000. He deducts that off of his Federal tax and so he has to pay 40% on $64,000. That comes out to $25,600 for a total of $34,600. Yeah, you're right, for that guy it would be less than 50% (plus he'd also be able to deduct the 6-7% on the first $93,000 and deduct his property taxes, too). My bad (though I was kind of surprised that the top rate in CA kicks in at $93,000 thereby beefing up the amount that a person can deduct on his Federal).

    ReplyDelete
  13. Alright, here's another scenario. A 50 year old guy in CA pulls in $2 million a year (salary, interest, dividends) and he owns a $1 million home outright. He's healthy and has no medical expenses. That person would pay a total of $192,928.12 in state income taxes (I took it through all 7 brackets) and approximately $30,000 more in property taxes. This would make his taxable federal amount $1,777,071.88 and the taxes on that would be $661,484.22 for grand total (state, local, and federal) of $884,412.34. Of that total, $704,120.47 represented what was taxed at over $400,000. I divided that by $1.6 million (the total amount of income over $400,000) and came up with an effective rate of 44.01% (his overall effective rate would be 42.72%, 44.22% if you also included his property taxes). No, it isn't 50% and, no, it may not be a typical case but this guy is definitely paying his "fair share".

    ReplyDelete
  14. CA has a lot of wealthy people, Will. It's not the "progressive" state people think it is. The wealthy are only so progressive.

    JMJ

    ReplyDelete
  15. "Fair share" is all in the eye of the beholder. If this CA guy had to pay 10% more in federal taxes on say anything over one million, he would still have close to a million dollars after taxes to survive on. I don't think he would starve. In fact he would continue to live on more than 99+% of the American people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's not the point, Jerry. The point is that a) it isn't the government's money, b) he just got handed a tax increase (back up to the 39.6% level) this year, and c) inordinately taxing something generally tends to discourage it (just compare the # of millionaires before and after Wilson's tax increase).

      Delete
    2. Indeed fair share is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore fair share is nothing more than a subjective determination.It all depends on the perspective of the one(s) perceiving.

      Delete
  16. Les, the last official year that the IRS has released is 2010. In that year the top 1% earned 18.9% of the total AGI (the top year that I could find was 2007 when the top 1% earned 22.9% of the total AGI) and paid 37.4% of the total federal income tax. That seems reasonably fair to me.............I would also point here to research by Antony Davies from Duquesnes in which he showed that in 1954 when the top tax rate was 91% and in 1964 when the top tax rate was 77%, the feds only collected $2,600 per taxpayer, and in 1984 when the top tax rate was 50%, the average amount collected went all the way up to $5,700 per taxpayer. Yes, some of that increase could have been due strictly to increases in GDP but perhaps one could argue that the reduction in taxation stimulated this growth to begin with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Reduction in taxes when they are 90%, and even 70% may stimulate economic activity and growth. However, recent trends seem to show with taxes at current levels not so much.

      Delete
    2. I have no problems with the top rates going back to 39.6% and I even argued in favor of it several times (as a part of an overall deficit reduction package). But these progressives are never satisfied (we just raised taxes $60 billion a year and they're already clamoring for more) and you really do have to say no to them once in a while.

      Delete
  17. Replies
    1. Like with most things there is just a tinge of bias in the HuffPo perspective. But, the basic truth is inescapable.

      Delete
    2. Some countries are looking at draconian measures to stop the bleeding of assets to the tippy top. IMO, should the phenomena continue, RN is correct: mega social unrest and the results thereof.

      Delete
    3. Again, you're looking at static categories here. I refer you guys to the 2007 report from the Department of the Treasury, "Income Mobility in the U.S. From 1996 to 2005". According to their data, the actual flesh and blood human beings from the bottom quintile in 1996 saw their income increase by an average of 91% (adjusted for inflation) by 2005 and more than half of these folks moved out of that bottom 20% during that same time-frame.......I would also add that these income figures do not take into account transfer payments which have allowed a great number of these people in the bottom to greatly increase their purchasing power (consumption as a percentage of income has risen from 112% in the '60s to 198% in the 2000s).

      Delete
    4. Will,

      Here is a link to the study you consider the holy grail of income mobility studies:

      http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/tax-policy/Documents/incomemobilitystudy03-08revise.pdf

      You might want to read it again and think about the data that is used. Some of the points you believe it makes it does not make.

      Delete
    5. Which ones, Tao? Table 1 clearly shows that 57.4% of people in the top 1% in 1996 were out of it by 2005. Yes, the point on transfer payments and consumption as a percentage of income I got from somewhere else.

      Delete
    6. And on page 9 it says that the median income of the bottom quintile rose by 90%. What, you're going to give me 4 Pinocchios because I said 91%?

      Delete
    7. http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/123566 - the consumption as a percentage of income figure comes from the Department of Labor.

      Delete
  18. It's not just the income, either. Voo Doo economics do not work because the money does not move down. The wealthier you are, the less risks you take, the more the money floats at the top. It is that accrued wealth that is the problem. You can affect that with income taxes, but the wealth is now stuck there. It will take years to get out of this, and we may not have that long. It may take another depression. This is an unsustainable imbalance.

    JMJ

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    Replies
    1. We actually agree on your closing statement. But I hope we're wrong.

      Delete
    2. A couple of problems with Jersey's analysis here. a) Not every bit of a wealthy person's wealth just sits there. A lot of it gets loaned out by the banks and it finds it way into the economy that way. And b) wealth is generally something that is accrued over decades. If you look at the wealthiest demographic it just happens to be people aged 65-74 (their median net worth being nearly 3Xs that of people aged 35-44).

      Delete
    3. That's true, and with the impending retirement of the Baby Boomers we are going to have a historically substantial redistribution of wealth. The only question will be, where does it go?

      JMJ

      Delete
    4. Younger people trail the elderly in net worth, always have. I know I did when I was 35-44.
      The elderly typically have more equity in their home, and many have finally paid it off. According to PEW, the net worth of the seniors is $170,000 , house, car, perhaps an annuity. We
      need recall that this is 'median' and how that distributes among that population is the question. It is doubtful the 3x elderly possess the median 'income' of the younger set.
      In my experience, the elderly do not drive the economy...other than the health sector...

      Delete
    5. According Wikipedia (their sources being the FED and the Census), the median net worth of those 65-74 is $218,000 and the average (obviously weighted upward by the Warren Buffett's of the world) is $923,000. These are roughly 3Xs the $78,000 and $296,000 numbers of those 35-44. No, the elderly obviously don't make as much in terms of income but the fact that such things as SS, HUD, and reverse mortgage income generally aren't included in their totals clearly mediates some of that.

      Delete
  19. It's just reality, regardless of how conservatives spin it. A lot of the wealth disparity in America is tied up with the Baby Boomers and will move on down when they... er, uh... well, expire.

    JMJ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, Jersey, it will expire when the people 45-54, the demographic that is currently earning the most in terms of income, retire.

      Delete

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