Going John Galt And Protesting Government Waste

Grim Reaper As John GaltJohn Galt is a fictional character in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged (1957).  The phrase, “Going John Galt ” or “Going Galt” is used to describe “productive” members of society cutting back on work in response to the projected increase in U.S. marginal tax rates, increased limits on tax deductions, and the use immoral or inefficient use of tax revenues.

I’m not sure if I was a more productive member of society when I was working. I just got into the office regularly around 5:30am-6am to try and learn and do as much as possible before my superiors got in. The result of working more was simply earning more than the median pay. Not a big deal nor a surprise that working more gets you paid more.

As someone who has now forsaken his day job for more freedom, in a large way, I’m “Going Galt.” I’ve been a big opponent of Big Government for a long time because politicians have a history of lying, pandering only to their supporters, saying one thing and doing another, abusing power, and wasting money. You can spend your money much more efficiently than the government.

If you’ve paid a couple hundred thousand in taxes one year, and the city is unwilling to fix their broken water main pipe underneath their sidewalk outside your house, you will be pissed!  If it takes 11 months to finally get the City to fix a clanking manhole cover after you’ve called 38 times, you will be agitated beyond belief. If the Federal Government uses your tax dollars to fund a war you don’t believe in, and kill thousands of innocent civilians, you will be despondent. When your property’s value goes up $280,000 during the worst economic recession just so the State can collect more property taxes, you are going to riot!

The only way you can cut off the head of the beast is by sharpening your samurai sword with knowledge and never feeding the beast another morsel of food again. The more money the government gets from you and me, the more they are going to abuse their power.

MAKING LESS FEELS SURPRISINGLY GOOD

Many people have asked whether I’ll feel bad no longer earning a steady paycheck. I told them I wasn’t sure until I experienced the lack of income. Now that I no longer have the income, I feel surprisingly good!

The ideal adjusted gross income (AGI) for maximum happiness is $200,000 per individual and $250,000 per couple. Why?  Because $200,000-$250,000 is a healthy amount of money to live a good life, save, and take advantage of the deductions the government provides. Earn any more and your deductions begin to phase out and you will be assaulted by the government through income profiling and tax increases such as the 3.8% medicare tax for 2013 and beyond.

Believe it or not, it takes a lot of effort to make a lot of money. I regularly had to put in 12 hour work days, travel constantly, and entertain clients. Now I’m just a starving writer trying to support his tennis habit and survive off ramen noodles. I “work” on average two to four hours a day and that’s it. I guess writing posts, connecting over social media, responding to comments, and responding to e-mails is work. But boy, I’ve got to tell you that my work doesn’t feel like work at all!

Any income over $200,000 is seriously just gravy for most individuals. I would say 99% of the world out there can live happily on $200,000 a year. I also believe most people who earn $200,000 a year save most of their money beyond this income level.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Saving money feels good, but it’s not that rewarding in the near term. Only when you get to spend your saved money when you’re free does savings provide you the most return. In the medium term, savings just keeps you comfortable, which is not a bad feeling at all.

THE BENEFITS OF MAKING LESS AND WORKING LESS

* Less taxes. Assuming no itemized deductions, your effective Federal tax rate is only about 18% at $200K. The effective Federal tax rate obviously goes down the less you make.

* Less agitated by the Government. Your ears no longer burn when you hear the President talk about class warfare when all you’ve been doing is working hard, paying taxes, and minding your own business in a peaceful way. You might even start chanting, “Let’s get the rich!” in your head for fun!

* More deductions. Alternative Minimum Tax and income phaseouts aren’t as aggressive at $200,000 or below.  Therefore, you get more deductions and pay less taxes. If you want to start a family, you will finally be treated equally and also receive a Child Tax Credit if your household income is below ~$110,000.

* Less contempt by others. It’s human nature to attack those who have more than you, whether it be money, fame, power, health, looks, and so forth. We like to blame others for our short comings because it’s easier than improving ourselves. The less income you make, the less people will come and hunt you down.

* More aligned with your consumption habits. If you are single person earning $200,000, are you really consuming $40,000 a year of taxes from public works?  Perhaps if you were a single parent with 15 children in public school and spent much of your family’s time at the wonderful parks and libraries then yes.  For most individuals, this is not the case.

* More confidence. Given you’re closer to middle class, you will have more confidence in doing business and living life in general because politicians can’t afford to assail the middle class. The middle class is the majority, and politicians will pander to you now!  You don’t have to worry about being denied XYZ benefits because you make too much.

* Feel more patriotic. Earning $200,000 is a great income, no matter which way you slice it. Paying $40,000 in Federal taxes as an individual is a lot, but it will make you feel proud that you are supporting your country. Pay much more than $40,000 a year in Federal taxes starts reversing that good feeling inside.

* Increased happiness. Given making over $200,000 doesn’t bring more happiness, you will become more happy because of all of the things mentioned above! $200,000 is plenty enough for a single person to have a great life.

* Less stress. Our tax system is one of the most complicated tax systems on the planet. Thanks to 70,000+ pages of tax code, I’ve made my fair share of errors. With less income, the penalties are much less. The extreme penalty of incarceration is also much less as the government isn’t going to lock up someone for misfiling $1,000 in taxes.

EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE

It’s important to understand that everybody’s definition of Going Galt is different since everybody makes a different amount and derives a different level of return from the government. My definition so happens to be making $200,000 or less to protest government waste and not pay more than $40,000 a year in Federal income taxes. If I had 10 kids who benefitted from public school and always hung out at the public library for several hours everyday, and were eligible for the $1,000 per year per kid child tax credit, I wouldn’t mind pay more than $40,000 in Federal taxes.

Another good definition of Going Galt is matching your income exactly to the amount of itemized deductions you have to pay no taxes. For example, if you have $50,000 in mortgage interest and property taxes, just make $50,000 a year and use your savings to make up the difference tof und your lifestyle.

GOING GALT IS JUST ONE WAY OF LOOKING AT RETIREMENT

Many have suggested I retire abroad to more socialistic countries like Canada, Australia, France, Norway, Belgium or much of Europe. After all, healthcare, housing, and unemployment benefits are so much greater than here in the US. Australia offers the highest inheritance at $501,000 too. It’s a good idea in theory. However, I love America and after paying seven figures in Federal taxes alone, I would like to enjoy some of the benefits!

It’s the same idea with engineering your layoff after so many years of working for a corporate. After 11 years of dedicating my working life to my company, I sure as heck wasn’t going to quit with nothing!

I didn’t retire at the age of 35 to protest the government. I retired early so I can relax and focus on the things I truly want to do. I want to travel to more rugged places before my knees go out. I’d like to play more tennis tournaments for the same reason. I want to spend more time with my parents. There’s just so much one can do during the working day that we forget because we are working so much!

After overcoming the initial shock of not having to report to anyone, I’ve become much less stressed. I no longer grind my teeth or have tennis elbow. People who are persistently late don’t bother me anymore. I’m now always smelling the roses and just hanging out with friends because I’ve got an abundant more time.

What about no longer contributing as much to society you ask? Well, if the side affect of Going Galt is starving the Government and preventing him from harming more people, then wonderful! The Beast has been overeating for way too long. Every month, over a ~175,000 unique readers are learning about real estate, taxes, career advice, budgeting tips, investments, and general wealth building on Financial Samurai.  I say that’s contributing a lot, because knowledge equals wealth, power, and happiness!

Recommended Actions For Protecting Your Wealth From The Government

* Manage Your Finances In One Place: Get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 28 different accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to track my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts, how my net worth is progressing, and whether my spending is within budget. It’s all about protecting our assets from the hands of greedy government. Personal Capital takes less than a minute to sign up.

* Check Your Credit Score: Everybody needs to check their credit score once every six months given the risk of identity theft and the fact that 30% of credit scores have errors. For over a year, I thought I had a 790ish credit score and was fine, until my mortgage refinance bank on day 80 of my refinance told me they could not go through due to a $8 late payment by my tenants from two years ago! My credit score was hit by 110 points to 680 and I could not get the lowest rate! I had to spend an extra 10 days fixing my score by contacting the utility company to write a “Clear Credit Letter” to get the bank to follow through. Check your credit score for free at GoFreeCredit.com and protect yourself.

Regards,

Sam

Photo: Grim Reaper as John Galt, SD. 2012.

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    I never read the book so I can’t truly say whether it is going galt or not as I don’t have the background to do so. As far as what is too much in federal income taxes there is no right answer! I personally think 25 percent is the Max anyone should have to pay but for most their effective (not marginal) tax rate is less than that. If you drive on roads you benefit from tax dollars.

    • Minroad says

      “If you drive on roads you benefit from tax dollars.” I never liked that argument. The government spends less than 2% of its budget on infrastructure, and most people don’t object to that anyways. It is the 55%+ on welfare/”safety net” programs that rightly deserves the most criticism.

  2. Virginia says

    Hmmmm. I had never heard the term “going Galt” before but my husband is a libertarian so this would probably interest him.

    I guess I am a little bit weird. I don’t feel particularly bad about paying taxes. Of course the government isn’t completely efficient but I get to benefit from some of their programs. The thought of people trying to abuse the welfare system makes me mad but when my grandmother had Alzheimer’s and spent all of her money on nursing homes, the government eventually stepped in a provided care for her. I think the good outweighs the bad.

  3. says

    Hi Sam!
    I never heard of this term either, and as far as paying taxes it’s hard to gauge on what amount in personal taxes should be paid at what income level. I’m okay with paying taxes on the income I earn (maybe because I don’t know any better). The issue I have with the tax system in today’s age is that there’s virtually no middle class – super rich defer or find ways to not pay taxes, and the lower class gets hammered so that the rich can benefit. Mit Romney is a prime example – Donald is another.

    In Canada I do support paying taxes, after all I have access to pretty decent health care, roads, and many other aspects on a municipal, provincial, and national level.

    • says

      Now you know!

      The question is, at what point do you not support paying a certain amount of taxes?

      This is the exercise I’m shooting everyone to conduct.

      My ideal max is $40,000 a year in Federal Taxes. Of course I will pay whatever it is that I owe, but that is the level in my current state.

    • says

      I had never heard of going “galt” before either. I think that the bad definitely outweighs the good. It’s clear and obvious that the government can’t even balance the budget. Why would I desire them to step in more if they can’t responsibly handle the money they are taking out of my taxes? It’s hard because I do believe in freedom, but I don’t believe in enabling. I think that this country has gotten very good at that. I say: less government, more personal freedom and less taxes.

  4. says

    One of my early bosses was a big Ayn Rand fan, particularly her Atlas Shrugged book. He introduced me to John Galt. He was also an early (during the 70s) buyer of gold as it ran up to $800 an once and then dropped. I wonder, if he sold? Early retirement is the best thing I ever did because it changed my outlook on life. I was no longer working for money!

  5. says

    I have never heard of the term. It’s great that you are enjoying your retirement. I’m a lot less stressed out too and I’m feeling much better overall. I didn’t mind paying tax when I was making more money, but making less money is not too bad either. At least now I can take advantage of all tax credit that come with a kid.
    I think paying more tax for a higher quality of life is fine. I wouldn’t mind paying more if we have public healthcare for example.

  6. Paul says

    This is the first I’ve heard of the term “Going Galt”. In the book, Galt started his own secret utopian society, so reducing your taxable income seems like a far cry from what Galt did and frankly, I don’t see how one could expect it to make any change in how the government operates. I don’t mind paying reasonable tax rates for services provided by our government. My effective federal tax rate is about 17% and I feel that I get my money’s worth. The government doesn’t always spend money the way I think it should, but I am one of 150 million registered voters and we’re all in this together.

    • says

      You feel fine b/c you have a 17% effective tax rate.

      As I wrote in my post, a $200,000 income is about a 18% effective federal tax rate. I feel fine there as well. Paying more than $40,000 a year in Federal Taxes makes me start to NOT feel as fine b/c I don’t think I consume anywhere near $40,000 a year. Maybe more like $20,000 with another $20,000 as charity to the gov’t to redistribute.

      How do you know I haven’t started a secret utopian society? If you knew about it, it wouldn’t be a secret!

      • Paul says

        So you think that you should only pay in taxes the amount that you claim in services from government? I feel a moral and religious obligation to help others so I donate about 8% after taxes to charity and I am not opposed to the safety nets in our society, although they could be managed better. I also think there are many intangibles that we get from living in the US that are very difficult to account for, like the low crime rate and political stability that we experience compared to other countries with less stable tax systems. And to some degree, I agree with Obama that if you started a business, someone helped you get there by building roads, financing overhead, or…in your case…creating the web and keeping it neutral. So, I think that the rich pull more benefits from society than you can really plug into a calculator. For these reasons, I would rather see a flatter, yet still progressive, tax code where everyone except those at the bottom pay in the 15%-25% range. If I made $10M/yr, I would have no problem with paying $2M in taxes per year. Or getting rid of corporate and income taxes and instituting a federal sales tax, like many economists recommend, sounds reasonable to me.

        • says

          No I don’t. I estimate I “claim” roughly $20,000 a year in services from the government, but I’m happy to pay $40,000 to the government to use the extra $20,000 to redistribute.

          If you made $10 million a year, you would pay roughly $5 million in taxes if it is W2 income. Not sure where you got the $2 million in taxes. Perhaps, it is a subliminal message that you agree with my 20% Federal Income tax level.

          How much in taxes did you pay in 2011? Do you think donating $15,000 in charity is enough by your standards? How much did you donate?

        • Paul says

          I couldn’t reply to your reply for some reason. The $2M came from the flatter tax system that I described in my post. I paid about $25k in taxes in 2011 and I have no idea how much I claim in services from the government. I’m focused on meeting my financial goals with my current income and I don’t worry about taxes since I feel fairly taxed.

          • says

            OK, Paul, so are you judging me for only wanting to pay $40,000 in Federal Taxes when you paid $25K? I paid WAY more than $40,000 in federal taxes in 2011, so I would to know why you think I’m not paying enough. Thx.

            Start a new comment below as replies are only 3 deep.

      • Paul says

        I’m not judging you, or even trying to change your mind. You asked how much is too much for one person and I was just trying to understand your idea of justified taxation. If you feel that give twice as much in taxes as you receive is adequate, that’s a valid opinion. I personally think that its fair if everyone pays roughly the same percentage on their income. But we can argue all day about what’s fair or justified. So in answer to your question “How much in federal taxes is too much for one person to pay?” Instead of going with a number, I’m going to go with 30% of their AGI.

    • Minroad says

      I paid over 50K in federal taxes last year. If you were to add up what I actually consumed(defense 20% of federal budget, courts <1%, infrastructure <2%, etc) my usage would come to 10-15K at the most. The rest was forcibly redistributed. This does irritate me, but even more so when I'm told I don't pay my fair share.

      • says

        That’s the thing. $50K is about 10K more than the ideal amount per person imo. At least you’re making over $200,000k. I just wish people wouldn’t CONDEMN you for making your income, when the people condemning you are probably paying WAY LESS in taxes! I really hate hypocrisy, which is why one of the solutions is to Go Galt and join em!

        At least you should get a thank you note from them or the government right?

      • Crazyworld says

        I would say you are not kind of person charged with not paying their fair share. Its the folks who pay barely anything due to the various loopholes. It does happen, ( I am an accountant).
        I agree things could be efficient, but if getting elected now requires the amount of money it does, the loopholes and waste are not going anywhere, are they? Whoever is paying the large $$ to campaigns is not doing it just out of the goodness of their hearts. We fixate a lot on the welfare programs. But really how much waste is there in defence? Do we actually need a defence budget larger than 13 countries combined? Lots of questions, no easy answers.

        • says

          I hope I’ve paid my fair share as someone who paid six figures in income taxes last year. I just wish the government would be more responsive and stop wasting my money.

          I want to go from paying $200,000 in taxes to $40,000 in taxes or less to better align input output.

          Defense is a tricky one. I have a feeling we take it for granted in the sense that once we don’t have as good of a defense, there is a small chance we could get pummeled and WWIII begins.

  7. says

    Next step: move to Colorado? Or wait for Peter Thiel to complete his island?

    I hear you on the taxes – the most highly taxed (well, at least least deductions) demographic is the single renter. That demographic probably also uses the least communal resources – a pretty rough situation when you consider they should probably be taxed the least due to their situation. Good luck with those politics!

  8. says

    I personally don’t have a problem with the amount of federal taxes that I pay….BUT

    I work in a mortuary. I file federal burial benefits for veterans all the time. Today I got a phone call from the federal government about one that I filed for eight months ago….EIGHT MONTHS AGO. That’s how long it takes them to reply to me. The federal government is extremely inefficient!!!

  9. says

    Sam, in Atlas Shrugged, John Galt ‘went Galt’ because America was becoming more and more like Europe, i.e Socialist/statist. While American government is certainly growing rapidly towards this end you might find socialist governments actually bigger on this side (European) of the Atlantic – and this isn’t a competition where bigger is better. They’d love to have your hard earned money, and then some.

    • says

      As I wrote towards the end of my post about moving to Socialist Europe, it’s not a bad idea. Bad, given that I paid more than a million bucks in Federal taxes and love America, I sure would like to benefit from some of my contribution. Wouldn’t you?

      • says

        I’d rather keep my contributions in the first place, and for others to keep theirs. A big pot of contributions and you start to lose track of who contributed what, and you can’t get any back for yourself as there’s always somebody else who claims to be more in need. I simply advocate a much smaller government, as you do too.

  10. Chris says

    I’m a huge fan of Ayn Rand, so I’m glad you brought this up. I like to think that I pay more than my “fair share” in taxes the majority of the time. I don’t even pay that much to be honest, but I don’t use that much either. It’s not like I plan on ever getting medicare or SS. I drive on roads (but not bridges), defense, and I’m sure if my house ever caught fire I would call a fire fighter.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to find Galt’s Gulch and really start fresh.

    • says

      It would be nice. And here’s the deal, imagine if the government and a large swath of the public start ATTACKING you for not paying enough, even though you feel you are paying your fair share?

  11. Taylor says

    I just wanted to say for the record that I disagree with your thoughts on “Big Government” for reasons that are beyond the scope of your blog. I continue to enjoy your posts anyway. Keep up the good work!

  12. says

    Is that 19% the total burden or just the federal income tax? Someone making 40k pays about 30% in overall payroll deductions up here, more or less depending on province. It’s a little hard to stomach when you hear about this corruption, or that program which goes against your own interests.

    • says

      18-20% on 200K would be the effective tax rate on Federal only. You’ve then got to add another 8-10% for state taxes + social security and medicare tax which can total another ~12-13%. So, it’s right up there with the 30% in Canada, but you guys have cheap health care and what seems like a better social safety net.

  13. Simon Cunningham says

    Taylor :
    I just wanted to say for the record that I disagree with your thoughts on “Big Government” for reasons that are beyond the scope of your blog. I continue to enjoy your posts anyway. Keep up the good work!
    [Reply]

    Ditto.

  14. Mike Hunt says

    I believe than any thing more than $50k per person is too much. Why that number? Because I believe that is the per capita level of national debt.

    I wrote a check of about that much to the US Government in 2010. The maddening thing is that the debt just continued to rise by the ‘normal’ 10% per year figure.

    Maybe it’s time to pull a Severin? I already paid my fair share…

    -Mike

    • says

      Hmm, good stat. So perhaps we all are mandated to pay $50K one year to get rid of the national debt once and for all, and then force the gov’t to spend within their means or else die?

      • Mike Hunt says

        Yes it would be like that, then the gov’t will take the proceeds and then stimulus / military spend it all and we’d be back to where we are today.

        Accountability anyone…?

  15. says

    Dear Financial Samurai, great essay. I think most business and households in the USA have “gone Galt” due to bad ObamaNomics. Businesses are waiting for simplicity, certainty, and lower taxes. I became so upset over horrendous ObamaCare and bad ObamaNomics that I rewrote the short novella Anthem by Ayn Rand into Anthem against Obama, a full length novel. It was just published.
    DISCLAIMER: My adaptation is an original derivative work that is not authorized by, sponsored by, associated with, affiliated with, or approved by Ayn Rand (deceased), the Estate of Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand’s heirs or successors, or the Ayn Rand Institute. Anthem against Obama is intended for sale and distribution only in the United States of America, and any sale or distribution outside of the United States may be a violation in certain other countries of the copyright owned by the present copyright holder of Ayn Rand’s original novella entitled Anthem. Shipping or distributing this book, in any form, outside of the USA may result in your being sued.

  16. says

    I have never heard of “Going galt” before. Likewise, I do not have anything against paying taxes. After all, if we do not pay our taxes, where will the government get the funds for their programs and services? There may be politicians and government employees who abuse their power . Let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt.

    • says

      It all depends on much in taxes do you pay now to not have anything against paying taxes. I’m a big proponent for everybody pitching in to help our country.

      So the question is, how much do you feel is too much for you?

    • says

      30%… I don’t know, maybe.

      I’ve read study after study that shows a 20% effective tax rate is the ideal rate b/c it’s low enough to PREVENT people from cheating, and high enough to collect the most amount of revenue.

  17. says

    I’ve heard about this book but never read it. However, exactly two weeks ago I had a discussion about this book and what “I am John Galt” means. My point in a somewhat heated discussion was that people tend to forget that Rand presents her philosophy of objectivism and ethical egoism. I am, personally, not a big fan of ethical egoism theory when it comes to our society. We are not living in dystopia. :)

  18. says

    I’m pretty ok with my taxation. Dividend taxes, capital gains taxes, and the top income tax brackets are among the lowest they’ve ever been in recent history. 401(k) plans shelter some additional wealth from taxes too.

    It’s the details that I don’t like. The tax code is far more complex than it has to be, has too many loopholes, exceptions, special interests, and so on. Business taxation is high, income taxation is moderate, and consumption taxation is low, which I think is backwards of what it should be.

    I’m not really a fan of how the money is spent. Way too much money on war, and social security locks away capital to generate low returns. I’d rather have a better government than a bigger government.

  19. Untemplater says

    Sounds like quite a heavy book to get through but I am intrugued as I don’t know much about it. I watched a few videos about the similarities to the book and our current government even though the book was written many decades ago.

    I’d love it if public transportation was free as that’s the program I benefit from the most but alas I still have to pay full fare along with all my taxes. I benefited from public schools for most of my education but sadly if I have kids I’ll probably have to put them in private school bc the system where I am is pretty bad.

  20. gold666 says

    What we need is a head tax, the only truly fair tax. The federal budget is around 4 trillion right? So we just need to collect around 25K per adult American, right? If some people don’t like paying their 25K, we could cut back on the budget a bit. If people like Sam want to pay 40K to cover someone else’s share, more power to them! But 25K per person seems fair. If anyone chooses to not earn enough money to afford the 25K then we could revoke their citizenship. Patriots pay their head tax!!

  21. says

    Progressive taxing is the most anti-capitalistic idea. Remember that until early 1900s, Americans were not taxed at all. But, politicians found a way to do so during the war years, and ever since abused it to tax more. I don’t know how can you feel good to pay a big chunk just in the federal taxes, not to mention much more in state plus sales tax. If you are making less than 200K, how do you feel good that someone making 200K(by working hard and risking life savings by investing in a business) is getting taxed more? Most politicians, including our President, has never owned a business. I know how hard it is to worry about making payroll every few weeks.

  22. Lone Gunman says

    I read Atlas Shrugged in high school and became a Libertarian a couple years later. I actually just stepped down from a higher paying, higher stress, IT management position for a lower paying, non management IT position at a different company. I refinanced my house with a bunch of savings I had and now my payment is much lower.

    I make less money, have less stress, and about 1/3 of the work load. But I actually LIVE more and have maintained my current lifestyle. I have 7 children and a very nice 5 bedroom home on acerage out in the country. I write off all federal income taxes every year down to $0.

    I don’t mind paying taxes, and I pay a good amount of state property taxes along with school mill rates and whatnot.

    But I DON’T want to pay taxes to a Federal government that wastes our resouces (both economic and human) on nation building, and egregious welfare handouts for those who do nothing to contribute to the improving of our society.

    I told all my workers at my last job I was pulling a John Galt…

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