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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Different paths of development

In discussions on this blog and elsewhere I sometimes have the impression that differences in cultural orientation might have a significant impact on the areas of focus in building up a base of knowledge relevant to the subject under discussion.   That in turn effects historical interpretations even before personality and other things influencing world view come into play.

The first excerpt is about how the history of development in early 1800s New England is different than the impression that most people have.

   Through a European lens, in fact, America looked very backward, if only because of its overwhelmingly rural demography.  In the 1820s, more than 90 percent of Americans still lived in the countryside, a pattern that had changed very little by mid-century.  In nineteenth-century Europe, rural areas were mostly peasant-ridden backwaters, but America’s agrarian patina concealed a beehive of commercial and industrial activity.  By the end of the War of 1812, Gordon Wood suggests, the northern states were possibly “the most thoroughly commercialized society in the world.”  A Rhode Island industrialist made the same point in 1829: “The manufacturing activities of the United States are carried on in little hamlets…around the water fall which serves to turn the mill wheel.” 
   American historians have suffered their own bafflements.  It is only in recent decades that a consensus of sorts has emerged on the nation’s early growth spurt.  Winifred Rothenberg did much of the groundbreaking work—twenty-five years of patient excavation of the account books, diaries, estates, mortgages, and other records of Massachusetts farmers.  What she finds is an organic, bottom-up form of modernization, originating in the increasing prosperity of ordinary farmers.  The British experience was starkly different.  The underbelly of Victorian society mapped by Charles Dickens was a rural proletariat brutally expelled from the countryside and herded into urban factories.
(Although we shouldn't exaggerate the negatives. )

Even if someone wants to point to government actions, don't be fooled - common genius was already a very significant force driving bottom-up organic growth.

Another point worth remembering was that the negative effects of slavery were obvious to visitors from  another country.

Democracy in America  pp. 344-348
   When a century had passed since the foundation of the colonies, an extraordinary fact began to strike the attention of everybody.  The population of those provinces that had practically no slaves increased in numbers, wealth, and well-being more rapidly than those that had slaves. 
   The inhabitants of the former had to cultivate the ground themselves or hire another’s services; in the latter they had laborers whom they did not need to pay.  With labor and expense on the one side and leisure and economy on the other, nonetheless the advantage lay with the former.

   The farther they went, the clearer it became that slavery, so cruel to the slave, was fatal to the master.

There is only one difference between the two states: Kentucky allows slaves, but Ohio refuses to have them. 
   So the traveler who lets the current carry him down the Ohio till it joins the Mississippi sails, so to say, between freedom and slavery; and he has only to glance around him to see instantly which is best for mankind. 
   On the left bank of the river the population is sparse; from time to time one sees a troop of slaves loitering through half-deserted fields; the primeval forest is constantly reappearing; one might say that society had gone to sleep; it is nature that seems active and alive, whereas man is idle. 
   But on the right bank a confused hum proclaims from afar that men are busily at work; fine crops cover the fields; elegant dwellings testify to the taste and industry of the workers; on all sides there is evidence of comfort; man appears rich and contented; he works. 
   The state of Kentucky was founded in 1775 and that of Ohio as much as twelve years later; twelve years in America counts for as much as half a century in Europe.  Now the population of Ohio is more than 250,000 greater than that of Kentucky.
   These contrasting effects of slavery and of freedom are easy to understand; they are enough to explain the differences between ancient civilization and modern. 
   On the left bank of the Ohio work is connected with the idea of slavery, but on the right with well-being and progress; on the one side it is degrading, but on the other honorable; on the left bank no white laborers are to be found, for they would be afraid of being like the slaves; for work people must rely on the Negroes; but one will never see a man of leisure on the right bank: the white man’s intelligent activity is used for work of every sort.

   Antiquity could only have a very imperfect understanding of this effect of slavery on the production of wealth.  Then slavery existed throughout the whole civilized world, only some barbarian peoples being without it.
   Christianity destroyed slavery by insisting on the slave’s rights; nowadays it can be attacked from the master’s point of view; in this respect interest and morality are in harmony.

Don Boudreaux  provides additional clarification in an article titled  What's so :

Another historical myth is that Southern slavery harmed only the blacks who were enslaved. There's no doubt that those who suffered most grievously from slavery were the slaves themselves. But slavery also inflicted great economic harm on non-slave-owning whites in the South.  
Most obviously, slavery artificially reduced the supply of workers available to work in whatever factories and businesses might have been established by non-slave-owning whites. Therefore, these whites — who outnumbered slave-owning whites, even in the South — suffered reduced opportunities to launch their own businesses. In the South, chattel slavery stymied the single greatest force for widespread and sustained economic growth: market-directed entrepreneurship.  
Also, by curbing entrepreneurship in the South, slavery reduced the rate of introduction of new goods and services that would have enriched consumers' lives.
There was yet another way that slavery kept the antebellum American South economically infantile. Here's the late economic historian Stanley Lebergott writing about the United States before the Civil War:  
“British vessels began to concentrate their voyages to New York, Boston and Philadelphia. For in these ports they could both deliver a full cargo of manufactured goods (to be consumed in the cities or sent along to the West) and also pick up return cargoes. The demand for manufactured goods and such luxuries as tea and coffee, however, grew far more slowly in such Southern centers as Charleston, Savannah, and Wilmington. One reason was that much of the nearby population were slaves, consuming little in the way of manufactured goods.”  
Lebergott sensibly argues that, had slavery not existed, Southern ports such as that at Charleston, S.C., would have gotten a great deal more shipping business. But because slavery artificially kept most Southerners — unfree  and free — poor, it kept the South from being a strong market for European manufactured goods. 
These historical realities should be kept in mind by anyone attracted to the argument that capitalism was fathered by slavery. 

As if this troubled history didn't present enough problems, there were further obstacles to escaping the impediments to progress even long after the botched or neglected Reconstruction.  Earlier in the same article other impediments to Southern development are highlighted:

Everyone knows, for example, that minimum-wage legislation is meant to help the working poor. A study of history, however, shows that this just ain't so.  
What  is so is that the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 — the legislation that created the national minimum wage in America — was designed to protect the higher wages of Northern textile workers, and the profits of Northern mill owners, from the intensifying competition unleashed by Southern textile mills in the Carolinas and Georgia.  
The competitive advantage enjoyed by Southern mills over their Northern rivals was access to lower-wage labor. Even at 15 cents per hour, these jobs were attractive to poor Southern workers, many of whom would otherwise have earned even less as sharecroppers. 
But being insensitive to the plight of poor Southern workers, Congress and FDR in 1938 outlawed jobs that paid less than 25 cents per hour. The purpose was to stifle competition and protect the profits of politically powerful producer groups in the North.

These obstacles, self imposed and otherwise, have delayed and slowed the economic convergence of the South.  Improvements in transportation, communication and infrastructure, combined with lower cost of living and cultural changes are improving circumstances.  Lee Habeeb is both a participant in and an observer of these changes:

When I told my friends in New Jersey nearly ten years ago that I was packing my bags and heading south, they thought I’d lost my mind. Why, they wondered, would I give up the food, shopping, and close proximity to New York City to live anywhere else, especially a place like Oxford, Miss.? I might as well have told them I was moving to Mogadishu. 
I tried to lighten things up by explaining that we had running water in Mississippi. And cable TV. Heck, we even had dentists. The planes coming and going in nearby Memphis got me most places in quick order, too. I then described the quality of life in Oxford and how far a dollar stretches. When I showed them pictures of my house and shared with them the cost of that house — and the low property-tax bill that came along with it — they got depressed.
And it isn’t just millions of American citizens packing their bags and heading south. Last month, in a move that shocked residents of northern New Jersey, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz USA announced it was moving its headquarters from Montvale (just miles from where I grew up) to Sandy Springs, Ga. And it’s bringing nearly 1,000 people along with it, at an average salary of nearly $80,000 per worker. 
“We think the infrastructure in the States has changed,” Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of Mercedes, told reporters. “The South is much more relevant than it used to be. We think it is a new start, a rejuvenation of our company to make the move.”
And there’s another angle to the southern-migration story that hasn’t received enough media attention, though it’s perhaps more profound: The past 30 years have seen an epic migration of black people to the South. Indeed, the percentage of the nation’s African-American population living in the South hit its highest point in half a century, as more and more black people moved out of declining cities in the Midwest and Northeast. 
A great many books have been written about the migration of rural black people from the South to the big cities of Chicago and Detroit during the 1940s and ’50s. Nicholas Lemann, former dean of Columbia University’s journalism school and a professor there, wrote one of them: The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. 
Why, a curious student might want to ask Professor Lemann, hasn’t he written about the reverse migration, and about the economic and cultural forces behind it? 
I think we know why he won’t. The ideological prejudices of so many journalists and media elites — and the academic elite, too, even in the South — won’t permit it. They’re so invested in the old narrative of the South, so busy reminding Americans about the tragic history of the region, they can’t bear the thought that it’s changed, let alone that black people are fleeing blue northern cities to live in red southern states.

But this much is self-evident: If the South is so backward, why are some of the most sophisticated foreign companies moving here? For decades, American policymakers have been worried that we would lose our manufacturing base to the world, but over the past few decades, the South has become a hub of manufacturing for the world. 
This much, too, is self-evident: If the South is so racist, why are so many black people moving back here?

You won’t ever see or hear any of the above stories covered in any depth in the media. They’re too busy recounting negative stories about the South’s past — stories that no doubt need telling — to notice the progress.

An appreciation for the differing perspectives that people have of the material presented here provides some understanding of how they might have divergent ideas about economic development in America.


erp said...

Pretty tangential question, but I'd love an informed opinion from this forum of scientific minds.

The school board here is considering a big increase in WIFI strength for the schools and a group of parents has become concerned about the potential danger of radiation to their young kids who will be in classroom with super WIFI powered computers.

Are their concerns valid??

Google didn’t come up with anything definitive.


Clovis e Adri said...


There are two answers. One is no, there is no danger. The other is, no one really knows.

The first apply to what we know and understand about the wifi frequencies and their usual amplitude in standard settings. The second to our ignorance regarding long term (and I mean long as in your whole life) exposure to the overall wifi (and others) radiation the kids will get in their entire life.

It is like asking if the parents should be concerned their kids are eating beef from cows to which were applied antibiotics. Below the level of the standard doses, we can't detetect any meaningful correlation with its impact on human health - which is not the same as saying there must be absolutely none.

Anyway, remember to tell the parents that, if their kids walk with their cellphones in very near contact with their bodies (like in their pockets), they are already taking far more exposure than any of the wifi sources present in school (just because distance is really important here, and their phone's antenna are so much closer to skin in their tight pants).

erp said...

Thanks Clovis. I'll pass on your answer.

Anonymous said...

I'll just agree with Clovis here. I note there was a panic about cell phones a few years back which now seems forgotten.

erp said...

Thanks aog, and before I pass it on, I have another question. Where exactly does the problem arise? At the router? The modem? Thin air?

With firing synapses rapidly going south, please don't get technical. Just give me the WIFI for Dummies quick answer.

My assumption is that since the router, modem, whatever would be in another part of the building, not in each classroom, wouldn't that mean the kids are safer than they would be at home where the magic beans are more likely to be in the same room or an adjoining one to where the kids are?

Anonymous said...

As Clovis noted, it'a all about the power density. WIFI is electromagnetic radiation which means it's like. You can reasonably think of each WIFI station like a light bulb that can shine through walls. Increasing the power means using brighter bulbs. The risk, if any, is related to how bright the light is where you are and the problem is the interaction of that EM radiation and your body (just like sunlight - which will burn you if it's too bright or you're in it too long). So, a router in the next room is not nearly as bad as a cell phone held directly against your head even if the router is higher power.

Of course, the WIFI device (e.g. your laptop) is also shining (so it can talk back to the router). I would bet that's the dominant source unless you've got some really super powered router.

Bret said...

One of the interesting things I read about cell phone towers was that if you're worried about cell phone radiation, you should want a cell phone tower very near your house. Why? Because your phone reduces it's outgoing power/radiation (to save battery) if there's a receiver nearby and you get less radiation from a whole tower right outside your house than a cell phone right next to your body.

Clovis e Adri said...


Maybe another point worth mentioning to concerned parents, taking in account AOG's explanation above, is that wifi radiation is by the microwave spectrum. Which means that, no matter how strong the routers they install, it is unable to knock out inner electrons from atoms and molecules - hence to directly induce chemical reactions that may affect cells and DNA; i.e. it is not like the UV radiation we get from sunlight, that can do exactly that.

As radiation penetrates our skin, it dies away along the path. The wifi radiation basically heats up our skin (and inner parts near it) in that process, by exciting the water molecules present there for example, so that's why we do not expect greater damage from it - unless you are taking levels such as inside a microwave oven.

erp said...

So then, if I understand you, we shouldn't oppose the school board's plan to increase the strength of signal going into the schools?

Thanks so much.

My friends will be relieved they won't have to fight another battle. They're already full out opposing Common Core.

erp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clovis e Adri said...

On the grounds of safety standards, I don't think the stronger wifi deserves their concern. What they should ask is if this is really necessary - a faster internet will help they teach better in class or is it going to make the kids even more unfocused?

erp said...

Whatever the reason to install a faster WIFI, it has nothing to do with teaching children.

The school board, like school boards all over the country now, dances to the tune of the teachers' unions, infamous for self-aggrandization and self-promotion to the detriment of their pupils.

Taxpayers will pick up the tab and probably some crony will get the job and kickback something to the union.

Anonymous said...

Clovis, erp;

I would suspect the reason for boosting the signal is to get better coverage, rather than faster data rates (although faster may be a side effect). If you need the coverage you can either (1) boost the signal strength or (2) buy more access points (routers). It's unclear which would be more expensive.

Clovis e Adri said...


Thanks for the correction, I should have stated "better" instead of "faster".


Aren't the school boards made up of parents? Why would they "dance to the tune of the teachers' unions"?

I am curious as to what extent you really believe that "some crony will get the job and kickback something to the union". I get it also may happen in the US, but I thought it would be more like the exception than the rule (unlike down here, where that's the rule).

Bret said...


That's what I don't get. My house is just big enough that the lowest end wifi doesn't quite cover the whole house. Looking in to it, I found it MUCH cheaper to buy two cheaper wifis instead of one better wifi.

Unless there is a wiring issue, not sure why anybody goes with the high-end wifis.

Bret said...


It varies across the country, but our school boards are elected. It is true that the teacher's unions spend money on influencing those elections. To the extent that the boards are beholden to those unions varies a lot from place to place.

Clovis e Adri said...

Well, if AOG is giving free advice, I want one too.

My father-in-law asked for help to get his whole house covered too, and I tried with one high-end wifi with triple the power output of the cheaper ones. It didn't do the job, part of the house kept uncovered.

Then I bought two cheap ones and made them repeaters (i.e. they would apper all under the same network name), distributing them over the house. It did give very good coverage, but it was of little help - after a few days his tablets and smartphones wouldn't work well. It was like the repeaters were making them "confused" over time and, even though the signal kept great, it wouldn't load anything unless you reseted all the wifi's (the source and the repeaters). I tried to change protocols and so on, to no avail.

Then we changed the repeaters to be like news sources - they would still get their own signal from the main one, but would transmit their own under another network name. That's it, problem solved.

Pray tell me AOG, what then made the problem before?

erp said...

Parents in the main are lo-info types as are we geezers. The school board is elected and school employees aka teachers and administrators and their families may vote in school board elections.

Something that wasn't true where we lived in Connecticut and Vermont.

Unions rule the schools which are eating up a huge chunk of the tax revenues.

Cronyism is rampant among elected officials and local service providers and others doing business with the county government and various other civil entities within the county.

Anonymous said...


"Unless there is a wiring issue"

I've done this and wiring can be *enormously* expensive, especially in older buildings. At home you can just tape the cable under the carpet but in a school you have to do better and that can cost some serious coin. It can even be power - you want an access point somewhere but there's no electrical outlet nearby.


I'm not a wireless expert but I would guess the devices didn't realize they were switchin access points because of the same SSID and eventually got too desynchronized with the access points. If the device switch SSID it will internally reset state for that reason and so doesn't get desynched. But I'm just guessing here, it's been a few years since I did any hands on of that sort. Sorry to not be of more help.

erp said...

We had our cable co out dozens of times because when we upgraded to "lightning" speed internet connection, the combination modem and router they installed was faulty.

Finally, one if the young kids they sent told me a lot of the problems people have are because during times of heavy usage, they manipulate the power rather go through the expense of upgrading their systems.

It's come to the point we can't believe anything elected officials tell us even at the very local level of our little town of under 4000, nevermind those at the county level where the bd of Ed resides.

Clovis e Adri said...


Well, thanks. I would think the protocols for communication for the repeater would know how to deal with that problem - on the contrary, the repeater is only of help for static users, which seems very outdated for our standards now.

Erp, Bret

If you also have the kind of rampant corruption we have down here, what makes up for the differences?

Or - taking the risk of sounding racist against myself - is it the case that Erp is experiencing consequences of a state heavily influenced by Latin culture, like Florida?

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "If you also have the kind of rampant corruption we have down here, what makes up for the differences?"

Being corruptible and corrupt is the natural state of humans. The political/social/economic structures of a society can influence a bit the level of corruption, but all cultures suffer from some level of corruption.

In San Diego, Latinos have very little power and, in my opinion likely correlated, aren't a very corrupt group.

erp said...

Clovis, absolutely no Latin influence in this area, ditto black. These are all good old boys or carpetbaggers. The problem is we no longer hold the law in high esteem.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret, Erp,

Sure we have no monopoly on corruption.
But the counterpart of that famous punchline, "There is no free lunch", is that you must see the holes in the cheese.

IOW, corruption renders society dysfunctional, and the very effective society you have makes me think there must be some exaggeration in Erp's portray here.

Anonymous said...


"There is a lot of ruin in a civilization".

Or the old saw about a guy who fall of a 100 story building and after 90 floors says "I'm doing fine, why do people think there's a problem?".

erp said...

Clovis, you are ridiculous. I've been in the midst of this country's fall from the rule of law to the rule of fascists. You may choose to believe that I am exaggerating, but I assure you that I only skim the surface of the problems here which is a microcosm of the problems nationwide.

BTW - I realized I used short hand and wasn't clear about the makeup of the wheelers and dealers here in our central Florida county. These cretins are of every sex, race and ethnicity even though they are good old boys (people who grew up here) and/or carpetbaggers (people who came here from up north).

The reason things look like they're still working to you is beautifully and graphically explained by aog above. When we crash and I think it will be soon, there will be a very very ugly splotch on the ground.

Harry Eagar said...

You probably want to read Fogel and Engerman and the subsequent debates before you start delving into the economic macrodynamics of slavery.

One thing everybody pretty much agrees on nowadays is that from the perspective of capital allocation (and that's what really counts, right?) slavery was the most efficient economic activity in the United States.

Howard said...

I'm pretty familiar with the work of Fogel and Engerman, both Time on the Cross and Without Consent or Contract as well as several other Fogel works. In fact my coblogger and I have had several discussions over the years about the relevant economics and how they were changing.

Here is a reasonable review of Time on the Cross for those who have not read Time on the Cross.

One thing everybody pretty much agrees on nowadays is that from the perspective of capital allocation (and that's what really counts, right?) slavery was the most efficient economic activity in the United States.

Huh? Search efficiency(better methods, organizational forms, new technologies) dwarfs allocative efficiency. Atleast that is the kind of misperception to be expected from someone steeped in the materialist fallacy.

Clovis e Adri said...

Short version of that review: it is way better to err eloquently in your research, for you'll be cited so often afterwards.

It is a rule valid in every area of science and I repeatedly find it to be true.

Harry Eagar said...

There was very little of technical or organizational expansion in the Slavocracy, yet it continued to swallow a disproportionate share of capital.

I do wish you guys would stick to your guns.

Howard said...

Your obsession with capital leads you astray. Capital is but a small facet of what in common use is called capitalism. This review comparing two books demonstrates such. It's very good - I highly recommend it to anyone.

Anonymous said...

Now Howard, be careful. I was pounded by Eagar and Clovis for conflating the terms "capitalism" and "free market" (and then by Clovis for not conflating the two). If you go back and check, you'll find that what Eagar means by "capitalism" is at best incidentally related to free markets.

Clovis e Adri said...


Ironic you mention so. Howard and you look like very fond of Capitalism in China, yet I am the one too obtuse to not get what you can possibly mean when conflating capitalism and free markets, for China is the model for freedom, isn't it?

Eagar has a point, you should really stick to your guns.

Anonymous said...

Howard and you look like very fond of Capitalism in China

Define "capitalism" as you use it here.

Point out where I indicated I was "fond" of this.

yet I am the one too obtuse to not get what you can possibly mean when conflating capitalism and free market

I have no idea what you mean here. As I have noted, I am attempting explicitly to not conflate them.

for China is the model for freedom, isn't it?

No. I find it very odd that you think that, after some of your previous comments about the "heavy boot of the state".

Eagar has a point, you should really stick to your guns.

No he doesn't, because he failed to understand Howard's actual point which is precisely that slave societies don't have much innovation, and it is that innvation that trumps any efficient gains from slavery (which, contrary to Eagar's assertion, is *not* "accepted by almost everyone" as more efficient, as indicated by Howard's link).

I am sticking to my guns, you and Eagar are simply making stuff up for this reason as far as I can tell.

Harry Eagar said...

Oh, so last week it was free markets, this week it's innovation.

But, as I have mentioned often (most recently: socialist sectors innovate at high rates, and the American system (whether it is capitalist or not) has a mixed record in this respect.

I do not agree that slave societies, as such, do not innovate. Needham and Kramer would not either. The American Slavocracy was notably conservative in all matters, not just economic; but it was not typical.

If we can keep this thread going a little longer, I think Clovis and I can maneuver you into saying that capitalism can exist without capital, sort of the way Stalin had to invent universal socialism 'in one country.'

I am a simple soul. Capital seems important to capitalism to me, and even important in non- or anticapitalist societies, but only in capitalism is it dominant.

Lastly, I don't think
Howard has read my comments carefully if he thinks I am a mercantilist. I am the furthest thing from that, since I have often pointed out that growth arises out of technic and can do so in almost any kind of economic system. (But does not in every one, which is why the question of takeoff has so vexed everyone.)

Anonymous said...

Oh, so last week it was free markets, this week it's innovation.

"Oh, so last week it was free markets, and this week properties of free markets".

You caught me. Wow.

as I have mentioned often

I would note that's distinct from "being accurate" and "convincing anyone". I have found your data in this regard cherry picked and unpersuasive.

If we can keep this thread going a little longer, I think Clovis and I can maneuver you into saying that capitalism can exist without capital

That seems unlikely, since I haven't written anything about capitalism (whatever that means for you this week)

I bet if we keep this going, we can get you to imply socialist nations are slave states.

Oh, wait, you already did that. I wrote "slave societies don't have much innovation" and you responded with "socialist sectors innovate at high rates". Nice!

Harry Eagar said...

Innovation isn't a special function of free markets. It occurs all over. Historically, it has occurred most often in unfree societies. Singer's five volumes of "The History of Technology" makes the point emphatically.

Clovis e Adri said...

The main driver of innovation throughout human history is one simple word: war.


Point out where I indicated I was "fond" of this.
You use sarcasm too often, yet does not recognize it?

which, contrary to Eagar's assertion, is *not* "accepted by almost everyone" as more efficient, as indicated by Howard's link
Correction: Howard's link about the Time on the Cross is pretty explicit about slave farms being more efficient - it is one of the few important things they were right about and was not later on corrected.

Harry Eagar said...

A historical anthropologist (whose name I have forgotten) proposed that, at least in the case of Egypt, most of the technological innovations arose not in the valley but among the people living outside, in the more demanding near-desert (as they were then) conditions.

There are other kinds of innovations than technical; I do not think that capitalist societies show any edge there.

Then there is the $64 trillion question: Why did all the early centers of innovation stop innovating? I am suggesting that a simple model of innovation must be wrong.

Howard said...

You're getting so close Harry. Stay tuned, same bat channel...

Clovis e Adri said...


Law of the diminishing returns, Harry.
My simplified version:

It often happens that you touch upon some new framework that is used to create innovation, and it is usually disruptive at its begin but turns into mainstream with time, and the innovation coming from it brings ever less returns.

Then humanity usually waited some new framework to develop, begining the cycle anew. It is within this view that you can see the interplay between (what we call nowadays) basic science and applied science/engineer.

The magic of the last 500 years is that we learned how to better couple those two steps as well as to improve each one separately, accelerating the process.

Capitalism did help a lot on that, though I think you should argue it in aggregate, not by looking at specific areas.