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Thomas Sowell

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Thomas Sowell


Thomas Sowell sowelljpg

June 30, 1930 (age 93) (
Gastonia, North Carolina, U.S.

Hoover Institution (1980–present)UCLA (1970–1972, 1974–1980)Urban Institute (1972–1974)Brandeis University (1969–1970)Cornell University (1965–1969)

EconomicsWelfare economicsEducationPoliticsHistoryRace relationsChild development

School or tradition
Chicago School of economics

Alma mater
Friedrich HayekMilton FriedmanKarl MarxEdmund Burke

Clarence Thomas, Milton Friedman, Steven Pinker, Walter E. Williams

Basic Economics: A Citizen, Black Rednecks and Whit, A Conflict of Visions, The Vision of the Anointed, intellectuals and Society

Similar People
Walter E Williams, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin

Thomas sowell in the right direction complete

Thomas Sowell (; born June 30, 1930) is an American economist, turned social theorist, political philosopher, and author.


Thomas Sowell WORLD Thomas Sowell on the root causes of income

He is currently senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Sowell was born in North Carolina, but grew up in Harlem, New York. He dropped out of high school and served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. He received a bachelor's degree, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1958 and a Master's degree from Columbia University in 1959. In 1968, he earned his doctorate in Economics from the University of Chicago.

Thomas Sowell wwwtsowellcomimagestom4bjpg

Sowell has served on the faculties of several universities, including Cornell University and University of California, Los Angeles. He has also worked for think tanks such as the Urban Institute. Since 1980, he has worked at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He writes from a libertarian conservative perspective, advocating supply-side economics. Sowell has written more than thirty books (a number of which have been reprinted in revised editions), and his work has been widely anthologized. He is a National Humanities Medal recipient.

Thomas Sowell Thomas Sowell on emaze

Thomas sowell brings the world into focus through an economics lens

Early life and education

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Sowell was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, near the border with South Carolina. His father died shortly before he was born, and his mother, a housemaid, already had four children. A great-aunt and her two grown daughters adopted Sowell and raised him. In his autobiography, A Personal Odyssey, Sowell wrote that his childhood encounters with white people were so limited that he did not know that blond was a hair color. When Sowell was nine, his family moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Harlem, New York City as part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North for greater opportunities. He qualified for Stuyvesant High School, a prestigious academic high school in New York City; he was the first in his family to study beyond the sixth grade. However, he was forced to drop out at age 17 because of financial difficulties and problems in his home.

Sowell held a number of positions, including one at a machine shop and another as a delivery man for Western Union, and he tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948. He was drafted into the military in 1951, during the Korean War and was assigned to the United States Marine Corps. Because of his experience in photography, Sowell became a Marine Corps photographer.

Education and career

After his discharge, Sowell worked a civil service job in Washington, D.C. and attended night classes at Howard University, a historically black college. His high scores on the College Board exams and recommendations by two professors helped him gain admission to Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. He earned a Master's degree from Columbia University the following year.

Sowell has said that he was a Marxist "during the decade of my 20s"; one of his earliest professional publications was a sympathetic examination of Marxist thought vs. Marxist–Leninist practice. His experience working as a federal government intern during the summer of 1960 caused him to reject Marxian economics in favor of free market economic theory. During his work, Sowell discovered an association between the rise of mandated minimum wages for workers in the sugar industry of Puerto Rico and the rise of unemployment in that industry. Studying the patterns led Sowell to theorize that the government employees who administered the minimum wage law cared more about their own jobs than the plight of the poor.

Sowell received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1968. His dissertation was titled Say's Law and the General Glut Controversy. Sowell had initially chosen Columbia University to study under George Stigler (who would later receive the Nobel Prize in Economics). When he learned that Stigler had moved to the University of Chicago, he followed him there.

From 1965–1969, Sowell was an assistant professor of economics at Cornell University. Writing thirty years later about the 1969 violent takeover by black Cornell students of Willard Straight Hall, Sowell characterized the students as "hoodlums" with "serious academic problems [and] admitted under lower academic standards", and noted "it so happens that the pervasive racism that black students supposedly encountered at every turn on campus and in town was not apparent to me during the four years that I taught at Cornell and lived in Ithaca."

Sowell has taught economics at Howard University, Rutgers, Cornell, Brandeis University, Amherst College, and UCLA. Since 1980 he has been a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he holds a fellowship named after Rose and Milton Friedman, his mentor. In addition, Sowell appeared several times on William F. Buckley's show Firing Line, during which he discussed the economics of race and privatization.

In 1987, Sowell testified in favor of federal appeals court judge Robert Bork during the hearings for Bork's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. In his testimony, Sowell said that Bork was "the most highly qualified nominee of this generation" and that judicial activism, a concept that Bork opposed, "has not been beneficial to minorities."

In a review of a 1987 book, Larry D. Nachman in Commentary magazine described Sowell as a leading representative of the Chicago school of economics.


Sowell is both a syndicated columnist and an academic economist, whose column was distributed by Creators Syndicate. Themes of Sowell's writing range from social policy on race, ethnic groups, education and decision-making, to classical and Marxist economics, to the problems of children perceived as having disabilities.

While often described as a black conservative, he prefers not to be labeled, having stated, "I prefer not to have labels, but I suspect that 'libertarian' would suit me better than many others, although I disagree with the libertarian movement on a number of things". He primarily writes on economic subjects, generally advocating a free market approach to capitalism. Sowell opposes the Federal Reserve, arguing that it has been unsuccessful in preventing economic depressions and limiting inflation.

Sowell also writes on racial topics and is a critic of affirmative action and race-based quotas. On the topic of affirmative action, Sowell has stated it's "one of the few policies that can be said to harm virtually every group in a different way… Obviously, whites and Asians lose out when you have preferential admission for black students or Hispanic students—but blacks and Hispanics lose out because what typically happens is the students who have all the credentials to succeed in college are admitted to colleges where the standards are so much higher that they fail." He takes strong issue with the notion of government as a helper or savior of minorities, arguing that the historical record shows quite the opposite.

Sowell occasionally writes on the subject of gun control, about which he has stated: "One can cherry-pick the factual studies, or cite some studies that have subsequently been discredited, but the great bulk of the studies show that gun control laws do not in fact control guns. On net balance, they do not save lives but cost lives."

Books on economics

Sowell has also written a trilogy of books on ideologies and political positions, including A Conflict of Visions, where he speaks about the origins of political strife; The Vision of the Anointed, where he compares the conservative/libertarian and liberal/progressive worldviews; and The Quest for Cosmic Justice, where, as in many of his other writings, he outlines his thesis of the need for intellectuals, politicians and leaders to fix and perfect the world in utopian, and ultimately he posits, disastrous fashions. Separate from the trilogy, but also in discussion of the subject, he wrote Intellectuals and Society, where, building on his earlier work, he discusses what he argues to be the blind hubris and follies of intellectuals in a variety of areas.

Sowell challenges the notion that black progress is due to progressive government programs or policies, in The Economics and Politics of Race, (1983), Ethnic America (1981), Affirmative Action Around the World (2004), and other books. He claims that many problems identified with blacks in modern society are not unique, either in terms of American ethnic groups, or in terms of a rural proletariat struggling with disruption as it became urbanized, as discussed in his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals.

In Affirmative Action Around the World Sowell holds that affirmative action covers most of the American population, particularly women, and has long since ceased to favor blacks.

Sowell described his serious study of Karl Marx in his autobiography. He opposes Marxism, providing a critique in his book Marxism: Philosophy and Economics.

Sowell also favors decriminalization of all drugs.

Books on other subjects

In Intellectuals and Race, Sowell argues that IQ gaps are hardly startling or unusual between, or within, ethnic groups. He notes that the roughly 15-point gap in contemporary black–white IQ scores is similar to that between the national average and the scores of certain ethnic white groups in years past, in periods when the nation was absorbing new immigrants.

Sowell wrote The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late, a follow-up to his Late-Talking Children, discussing a condition he termed Einstein syndrome. This book investigates the phenomenon of late-talking children, frequently misdiagnosed with autism or pervasive developmental disorder. He includes the research of—among others—Professor Stephen Camarata, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University and Professor Steven Pinker, Ph.D., of Harvard University in this overview of a poorly understood developmental trait. It is a trait which he says affected many historical figures. He discusses late-talkers who developed prominent careers, such as physicists Albert Einstein, Edward Teller and Richard Feynman; mathematician Julia Robinson; and musicians Arthur Rubenstein and Clara Schumann. He makes the case for the theory that some children develop unevenly (asynchronous development) for a period in childhood due to rapid and extraordinary development in the analytical functions of the brain. This may temporarily "rob resources" from neighboring functions such as language development. Sowell disagrees with Simon Baron-Cohen's speculation that Einstein may have had Asperger syndrome (see also people speculated to have been autistic).


Sowell had a nationally syndicated column distributed by Creators Syndicate that was published in Forbes magazine, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The New York Post and other major newspapers, as well as online on websites such as RealClearPolitics, Townhall, WND, and the Jewish World Review.

Sowell comments on current issues, which include liberal media bias; judicial activism (while defending originalism); partial birth abortion; the minimum wage; socializing health care; government undermining of familial autonomy; affirmative action; government bureaucracy; gun control; militancy in U.S. foreign policy; the U.S. war on drugs, and multiculturalism.

In a Townhall editorial, "The Bush Legacy," Sowell assessed President George W. Bush as "a mixed bag," but "an honorable man."

Sowell was strongly critical of Republican nominee Donald Trump, and officially endorsed Ted Cruz in the Republican 2016 primaries in a February article. However, he said he would vote against the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in the general election.

Sowell announced the end of syndicated column on December 27, 2016. He wrote that, at age 86, "the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long", and cited a desire to focus on his photography hobby.


Among conservatives, Sowell is lauded as a "giant", brilliant, one of the most original and prolific intellects of modern times, "a national treasure", and someone worthy of a Nobel Prize. Admirers cite his originality, great depth and breadth, clarity of expression, thoroughness of research, persuasiveness, clear-thinking, marshaling of evidence, and propensity to uncover surprising and unexpected facts and statistics and for up-ending conventional wisdom. Playwright David Mamet has referred to him as "[America's] greatest contemporary philosopher."

However, others have criticized Sowell for drawing causal inferences without a coherent methodology, and for commenting on subjects in which he has no training or formal background, a criticism Sowell has issued towards others. In 1981, The New York Times noted that two of Sowell's books, Markets and Minorities and Ethnic America, "have just been published, to much praise from fellow conservatives and a lot of criticism, some of it bitter, from fellow blacks and from liberal intellectuals." Bernadette Chachere, an economist at Hampton University, criticized Markets and Minorities for ignoring past economic research on income disparities between races: "To cite one article published in 1973, after controlling for age, region of residence, parents' income, father's occupation and education, place where raised, number of siblings, health, local labor, market conditions, geographic mobility, and seasonal employment, there still remained a 70% difference in the earnings of whites and nonwhites unexplained... the lack of such a [literature] review does preclude Sowell's claim to a monopoly on 'rigorous' analysis. Sowell is walking on severely trampled terrain as if it were virgin territory. There is not one footnote to this chapter."

Sowell's 1983 book The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective was strongly praised by Commentary Magazine, which found the book "thoroughly, almost dauntingly, researched, yet it is as readable as a novel. Sowell has an uncanny knack for choosing just the right set of historical illustrations and statistics to annihilate yet another commonplace that everyone “knows” to be true. In this book, as in his previous work, he has contributed enormously to clearing away cant and illuminating the world as it is."

Reviewing Sowell's 1984 book Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality? for the New York Times, University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson said that Sowell did not explore "reasonable alternative explanations and hypotheses" in his critiques of affirmative action. For instance, regarding Sowell's theory that women are underrepresented in fields such as law and engineering because of the heavy responsibilities of marriage (such as childrearing and other household work), Wilson wrote: "A plausible alternative to Mr. Sowell's hypothesis on women's pay differentials and occupational segregation is that women are virtually excluded from many desirable positions and therefore crowd into obtainable occupations." Nevertheless, Wilson still declared that Sowell's book " a brutally frank, perceptive and important contribution to the national debate over the means to achieve equality and social justice for minorities and women."

Sowell's 1987 book A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles was laudingly reviewed by Charles Murray eighteen years after publication for the American Enterprise Institute. "One mark of a great book" Murray said, "is a thesis so powerful that after a few years people take it for granted. Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions (1987) is such a book. Its thesis: The policy arguments between liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, do not arise just from differences in priorities regarding freedom, equality, and security. At root, they draw from different conceptions of the nature of man." Murray concluded "A Conflict of Visions gives us an intellectual framework that must shape an attentive reader's way of looking at the political world forever after. But I cannot celebrate it without pointing out that this is just one of over 30 Sowell books to date, and not necessarily the one that his biographers will designate his most important... Sowell is still at work, but his intellectual legacy is already staggering in its combination of breadth and depth. He is a national treasure."

In 1995, Josef Joffe, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, reviewed Sowell's Race and Culture: A World View for Commentary magazine, finding "Thomas Sowell's work is a relentless, 331-page attack against the wisdom of the day, which comes under the frazzled labels of “multiculturalism,” “PC,” and “affirmative action”; but the argument takes place on a breathtaking intellectual level that ought to command the respect even of those who violently disagree with him." However, in reviewing the same book for the American political science Review, political scientist Richard Coughlin notes that "In general, Sowell's attempt to build a case for the independent role played by culture works better in some areas than in others. The effort to expand the examination of race/ethnicity beyond one national setting is laudable, and the coverage of a literature drawn from several disciplines is impressive. But the absence of a coherent (much less, rigorous) comparative methodology renders the analysis less compelling than it might otherwise be. Sowell's approach is to adduce various examples drawn from one or more nations, cultures, or time periods in support of his argument. This approach is the weakest of the comparative methodologies, since it does not lend itself to negative findings. Nowhere does Sowell acknowledge the extensive comparative methods literature in "so-called 'social science'," nor does he provide a rationale for his selection of specific cases (i.e., a sampling design, however rudimentary). This ad hoc treatment of empirical evidence will not trouble those predisposed to agree with Sowell's blend of social conservative and laissez-faire economics ideology. But the book's lack of methodological rigor will, I suspect, make it easy for readers holding opposing viewpoints to discount Sowell's conclusions."

A 1996 Los Angeles Times review of Sowell's Migrations and Cultures: A World View said "In this grim tome, Thomas Sowell rakes through history for shards he can glue together to make a pot whose shape he has already determined. If the pieces don't fit, he will chip away at them until they do." The review summarizes Sowell's theory as: "Cultures" largely determine human behavior. These cultures persist for generations, for centuries, even as the groups they denominate move about the globe. The cultures of six migrant groups—Germans, Japanese, Italians, Chinese, Jews and Indians from the subcontinent—embody certain virtues. These virtues are hard work, thrift and belief in education. Importantly, these groups do not engage in ethnic politics. Ultimately they achieve economic success. Sowell, the reviewer feels, "seems to be in the grip of a kind of historical Calvinism that saves some people and damns the rest, and leaves meager room for alteration."

In 1998, British author and historian Paul Johnson, in endorsing Conquest and Cultures: An International History, said of Sowell: "Thomas Sowell is, in my opinion, the most original and interesting philosopher at work in America. I have learned a great deal from him..."

In 2004, The Economist magazine praised Sowell's book Affirmative Action Around the World as "a delight: terse, well argued and utterly convincing" and "brief, but crammed with striking anecdotes and statistics." The magazine praised Sowell's 2008 book Economic Facts and Fallacies in similar terms, stating "Mr Sowell marshals his arguments with admirable clarity and authority. There is not a chapter in which he does not produce a statistic that both surprises and overturns received wisdom."

In 2004, Cato Journal reviewed Sowell's Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy and Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One. The reviewer (the Economics Editor writing under a pseudonym) wrote "I can think of no better way for a conscientious U.S. voter to start out this election year than by reading one or both of these two remarkable books by Thomas Sowell. Taken alone or together, both volumes succeed admirably—each in its own way—in their intention to provide a broad public audience with clear and cogent guidance on how to apply basic principles of economic logic and analysis to a variety of complex issues, many of which are likely to be discussed during the election campaign and beyond."

In 2005, Jay Nordlinger, reviewing Sowell's Black Rednecks and White Liberals for National Review, wrote "What a surprise, Thomas Sowell has written another brilliant book. He's written about 30 of them—books, that is, and brilliant ones, or at least excellent ones. You won't find a dud in the bunch. His books are on race, education, history, economics—and there is a quirky autobiography befitting the man. Sowell has also written hundreds of scholarly essays, magazine pieces, and reviews. He has done a newspaper column almost continually since the late 1970s. He is a model of the public intellectual, to use a term he probably doesn't like."

In 2011, Kevin D. Williamson, reviewing The Thomas Sowell Reader for Commentary, said "If a mad scientist were to repair to his laboratory to design a machine that would make white liberals uncomfortable, that machine would be Thomas Sowell, whose input is data and whose output is socioeconomic criticism in several grades, ranging from bemused observation to thorough debunking to high-test scorn—all of which are represented in The Thomas Sowell Reader". Williamson says "Thomas Sowell is that rarest of things among serious academics: plainspoken... His plain speaking also makes him dangerous, and that danger is intensified by the fact that Sowell is black. And not just black, but unassailably black: He's Southern-born, Harlem-raised, brought up poor, and the first of his family to be educated beyond the sixth grade... Because he is black, his opinions about race are controversial. If he were white, they probably would be unpublishable. This is a rare case in which we are all beneficiaries of American racial hypocrisy. That he works in the special bubble of permissiveness extended by the liberal establishment to some conservatives who are black (in exchange for their being regarded as inauthentic, self-loathing, soulless race traitors) must be maddening to Sowell, even more so than it is for other notable black conservatives. It is plain that the core of his identity, his heart of hearts, is not that of a man who is black. It is that of a man who knows a whole lot more about things than you do and is intent on setting you straight, at length if necessary, if you'd only listen."

In 2013, Abigail Thernstrom, reviewing Sowell's Intellectuals and Race for National Review, wrote "This book is a wonderful spin-off from Thomas Sowell's magnificent 2009 volume Intellectuals and Society. For those who want a short introduction to Sowell-think, this small book is a perfect place to start. His main message—amply illustrated—is that, on the subject of race, intellectuals are useless. Indeed, they don't even ask the right questions. Thus, they're woefully lost when it comes to analyzing America's most important domestic issue: the status of blacks and the state of race relations. Of course his point about lame-brained intellectuals extends far beyond their writings on race. Indeed, his book is a primer on rigorous thinking about social and economic issues in general, here and abroad." Thernstrom, herself a noted scholar of race relations and the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, concluded, "I didn't think I would learn much from Sowell's wonderful little book, having slogged through the literature on race since I was born—or at least it feels like it's been that long. But I did. Most NR readers will not have been masochistically race-obsessed for years, but this book's tough questions and clear-eyed answers should make them even more disgusted with America's anti-intellectual intelligentsia than they probably already are. Intellectuals and Race is a feast of hard thinking about America's ongoing racial agony."

Stanford law Professor Richard Thompson Ford, reviewing Intellectuals and Race for The American Interest, wrote "Too much of Intellectuals and Race reads [as if it is playing up to a specific audience eager to attack 'ivory tower professors' for their supposed liberal bias]... with overly tendentious and snide attacks on caricatured liberal theories. This detracts from the fair and often too quickly dismissed points Sowell makes." Thompson says "The book is a response to the common intuition that inequality between the races must be caused by discrimination or exploitation of the disadvantaged group by the better off, necessitating reparations or corrective intervention in the market economy. Sowell insists instead that differences in productive capabilities explain the differences in outcomes." Thompson writes, "Rather like Booker T. Washington," Sowell argues that today's racial inequalities are the fault of a black culture that encourages the most talented to squander their time and energy mastering esoteric social theories that blame others for their problems, rather than learning the practical skills that will help them solve those problems themselves. He complains that a malcontented 'intelligentsia have demanded an equality of outcome and of social recognition, irrespective of the skills, behavior or performance of the group to which they belong or on whose behalf they spoke.'" Sowell, Thompson finds, "downplays the toll that American racism has taken, not only on black fortunes but on American civic culture and politics."

In 2015, Forbes Magazine, reviewing Sowell's Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective, said "It's a scandal that economist Thomas Sowell has not been awarded the Nobel Prize. No one alive has turned out so many insightful, richly researched books. His latest is another triumph of crackling observations that underscore the ignorance of our economists and policymakers. His take on how culture, geography, politics and social factors affect how societies progress—or don't—will rile those addicted to political correctness but leave everyone else wiser." However, The Washington Post critiqued Sowell by saying, "As an intellectual combatant, Sowell thrives on jousting with straw men whose existence he posits with little or no proof. In the world according to Sowell, liberals (including rich ones, apparently) are so filled with envy and resentment that they will deny billionaires the chance to create new jobs and new products if it means adding even a dollar to their incomes. Black leaders want to keep their people in poverty because otherwise they would have no purpose. The media and government officials systematically ignore and cover up racially motivated black-on-white violence (he knows about these incidents, according to the footnotes, from major news outlets). These are more like the rants of a talk-radio host than the considered judgments of a respected academic." Overall, however, the response from economists has been positive. For example, Walter E. Williams stated, "Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective is a true gem in terms of exposing the demagoguery and sheer ignorance of politicians and intellectuals in their claims about wealth and poverty. Sowell discusses a number of factors that help explain wealth and income differences among people and nations around the world. They include geographical, cultural, social and political factors, which Sowell explains in individual chapters."

Legacy and honors

In 1990, Sowell won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 1998, he received the Sydney Hook Award from the National Association of Scholars. In 2002, Sowell was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholarship melding history, economics, and political science. In 2003, he was awarded the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement. In 2004, he was given Laissez Faire Books' Lysander Spooner Award for his book Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One. In 2008, getAbstract awarded his book Economic Facts and Fallacies its International Book Award.

Personal life

Previously married to Alma Jean Parr from 1964 to 1975, Sowell married Mary Ash in 1980. He has two children. Sowell has mentioned that he does not watch talk shows on television, and "on radio I listen only to Rush Limbaugh and a couple of others." He has stated that he believes in "traditional values." Sowell is also known for his disdain of self-promotion.

Career highlights

  • Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, September 1980–present
  • Professor of Economics, UCLA, July 1974 – June 1980
  • Visiting Professor of Economics, Amherst College, September–December 1977
  • Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, April–August 1977
  • Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, July 1976 – March 1977
  • Project Director, The Urban Institute, August 1972 – July 1974
  • Associate Professor of Economics, UCLA, September 1970 – June 1972
  • Associate Professor of Economics, Brandeis University, September 1969 – June 1970
  • Assistant Professor of Economics, Cornell University, September 1965 – August 1969
  • Economic Analyst, American Telephone & Telegraph Co., June 1964 – August 1965
  • Lecturer in Economics, Howard University, September 1963 – June 1964
  • Instructor in Economics, Douglass College, Rutgers University, September 1962 – June 1963
  • Labor Economist, U.S. Department of Labor, June 1961 – August 1962
  • References

    Thomas Sowell Wikipedia

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