Europe's $1 trillion tax gap

  1. WeWrite-down
  2. No deal Brexit is not a hedge fund conspiracy
  3. Europe’s digital infrastructure issue
  4. Let’s give a helping hand to Andrew Yang
  5. Anatomy of a malware scam
  6. ARK Invest’s Tesla model gathers dust
  7. A delirious defence of Uber
  8. WeLiquid: Adam Neumann pockets $700m
  9. Yesterday, in efficient markets
  10. The warm fuzzy feeling of indirectly owning Tencent
  11. The best of Morgan Stanley's Adam Jonas
  12. Apple/Tesla: M&A and heartbreak
  13. Did Beyonce make $300m from Uber's IPO?
  14. Bitcoin is the 10-year Treasury of our time
  15. High resolution music is a solution looking for a problem
  16. Amazon is furious about this negative review
  17. Missing: $500bn of American savings
  18. Blockchain for Brexit: a wonderfully terrible idea
  19. The Bank of Hodlers [sic] (sigh)
  20. Behind the curtain at China Ding Yi Feng
  21. An answer to Mark Cuban's question
  22. Crumbs! It's CRYPTO: the movie!
  23. National Beverage Corp loses its fizz, and its mind
  24. Amazon won't spin-off Amazon Web Services
  25. Mensch! Dan McCrum is innocent, ok?
  26. Why online propaganda mobs are an investment red flag
  27. Davos has produced an amazing new guide on precisely how not to think about risk
  28. When the public relations industry does PR for itself
  29. Who wants to be crippled by student debt?
  30. The bitcoin price is wrong
  31. The warm fuzzy feeling of Goldman debt
  32. “Cryptoassets” are crashing again. Is it time to start calling them cryptoliabilities instead?
  33. Puff the tragic cryptowagon smokes out the Mumsnet demographic
  34. Don't write off the public sector
  35. Initiative Q: an elementary pyramid scheme with grandiose ideas [Update]
  36. Moral investments aren't outperforming
  37. No one is killing it in crypto (not even Woz)
  38. Too smooth: the red flag at Patisserie Valerie which was missed
  39. No, the housing crisis will not be solved by building more homes
  40. Sorry Civil, 'crypto-economics' and 'constitutions' won't save journalism
  41. 'Short-termism' isn't a thing, say Fed economists
  42. Coinbase wants to be “too big to fail”, lol
  43. Regulation and innovation don't have to be enemies
  44. Retailers get so lonely around the holidays
  45. Folli Follie: $1bn of fake sales, and what to learn from the debacle
  46. The new green evangelism
  47. Tilray, how low can it go?
  48. The ICO behind the tragic Everest stunt is now “airdropping” tokens from rockets
  49. Beware the Hindenburg Omen?
  50. The broken conversation about financial regulation
  51. The improbably profitable, loss-making Blue Prism
  52. The EM rout is not made in America
  53. Wages and growth and honestly we just give up
  54. Britain's first blockchain-enabled co-working space isn't blockchain-enabled
  55. There is a FIRE that never goes out
  56. The WeWork Garden of Eden
  57. IQE: lumpy 'Apple' sauce at the pricey Cardiff chip shop
  58. There's only so much a central bank can do alone
  59. Eight questions every first-time buyer should ask
  60. MiFID II: not all doom and gloom
  61. Tesla: getting to Q3 profitability
  62. Turkey contagion fears are overblown [Update]
  63. The chance of an inflation shock may be higher than you think
  64. Sorry Tim, the humanity is not being drained out of music
  65. Digital crop circles
  66. What could go wrong here?
  67. Sirius Minerals: money for a hole in the ground
  68. The Bank of England has a strange idea of what QE achieved
  69. One for the ladies...
  70. 'Of course, many ridiculous papers appeared'
  71. Is a change goin' to come?
  72. The capacity's not there yet (and probably never will be)
  73. Musk and Tesla are not inseparable
  74. Libraries, from Carnegie to Bezos
  75. Crypto & government: from anarchy to amity in the USA
  76. 'I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I cannot sanction this Series B round'
  77. RBC, through the FANG barrier
  78. Self-help to buy
  79. CFA: Chartered crypto analysts -- updated
  80. The Netflix dilemma -- updated
  81. Fujitsu's new blockchain offering: really cheap or really expensive?
  82. Nothing But the Shirt on Your Back
  83. Universities of Britain: cosying up to crypto is a bad look
  84. How to make a living in the cult of meritocracy
  85. Spotify: Drake-oil salesmen
  86. Oh, the digital humanity
  87. Sports are not markets, predictions ain't investment
  88. Spot the difference, Steinhoff edition
  89. Larry Robbins, a cautionary tale
  90. The node to serfdom
  91. Carney is down with the crypto kids
  92. Samsonite: inventory, excess baggage, and unresolved questions
  93. It might be a long wait for “the equivalent alternative to ICOs”
  94. Don't blame it on the sunshine
  95. In corporate America, brands develop you
  96. One in ten dollars of US housing were anonymous
  97. Should AT&T worry more about its debt?
  98. Who cares if Elon is incinerating capital?
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  100. Tokens all the way down
  101. Eight-dimensional chess with Elon Musk
  102. A lopsided trade is a good trade, Italian inflation edition
  103. How to buy Italian fire insurance
  104. Atlas bugged
  105. Inflating inflation
  106. Crypto's most devout believers are suffering a crisis of faith
  107. Plus500: past performance is no guide to the future
  108. Noble rot in a shrinking Harbour
  109. In defence of ticket touts
  110. Please don't tell individual investors to buy leveraged loans
  111. RIB Software: the unicorn rainy-day fund
  112. Retail is not dead
  113. Did Soros really give Tesla a “vote of confidence”?
  114. At a crypto conference in New York, it feels like 2017 all over again
  115. Egregious expectations - Intelsat edition
  116. Bitcoin cash is expanding into the void
  117. Stop getting The Flintstones wrong
  118. Bond investors do not care if Argentina is solvent in 100 years
  119. Ubiquiti Networks: of cash and borrowed time
  120. “We're very disappointed in you, Spotify”
  121. 'Sex redistribution' and the means of reproduction
  122. Tesla probably needs to raise capital this year
  123. No entitlement crisis in America
  124. Free cash flow to whom?
  125. Hey crypto bros! Journalism ≠ advertising
  126. Human capital and the jobs guarantee
  127. This is a tech bubble, when's the crash?
  128. The magic of adjustments: ebitla-dee-da
  129. FUD, inglorious FUD
  130. A complex analysis reaches same conclusion as simple one: hedge funds suck
  131. The jobs guarantee and human-capital “nationalisation”
  132. These hedge fund numbers can't be right
  133. The Vomiting Camel has escaped from Bitcoin zoo
  134. Lies, damn lies, and charticles
  135. The world doesn't need more Elon Musks
  136. No, Facebook should not become a nonprofit
  137. Sell all crypto and abandon all blockchain
  138. Immutable ledgers meet European data protection
  139. Amazon is not a bubble
  140. Japan's economic miracle
  141. Have you ever meta crypto joke you didn't like?
  142. Delaware should change its rules to let the light in
  143. Who needs the labels anyway?
  144. Baby Boomers want your family to finance a larger share of their retirement
  145. No, America would not benefit from authoritarian central planning
  146. No one needs to buy Tesla
  147. How to win a debate in the cult of meritocracy
  148. Steinhoff International and the case of Pepkor Global Sourcing
  149. Sorry Jack, Bitcoin will not become the global currency
  150. The “academic’s cryptocurrency” is an elegant waste of time
  151. Cigarettes are the vice America needs
  152. Well that’s one reason to buy yen…
  153. Musicians, don't just blame the labels for your lack of dough
  154. Giving stock away to staff doesn't absolve share buybacks
  155. A penny for Macpherson’s thoughts on the nominal anchor
  156. Monopoly and its discontents
  157. A State of Mind
  158. America is not the least protectionist country in the world
  159. This is nuts, when does Netflix crash?
  160. No Bloomberg, the world's richest people did not lose $114bn...
  161. Someone is wrong on the internet, government employee pensions and passive investing edition
  162. Someone is wrong on the internet, possibly fragile
  163. Someone is wrong on the internet, consumer financial regulation edition
  164. Someone is wrong on the internet: tontine tokens [Update]
  165. Someone is wrong on the internet, road economics edition
  166. Someone is wrong on the internet, wages and the stock market edition

The only remotely memorable moment from this year's Davos was when Dutch historian Rutger Bregman did this (click here to watch the video):

Bregman told the conference:

I hear people talking the language of participation, and justice, and equality and transparency, but almost no one raises the real issue, of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share. I mean, it feels like I'm at a firefighters' conference and no one's allowed to speak about water....

This is not rocket science. We can talk for a very long time about all these stupid philanthropy schemes, we can invite Bono once more but come on, we've got to be talking about taxes! Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit, in my opinion.

Bregman is, of course, absolutely right. Less time should be spent lauding the rich for their various"philanthropic" projects, and more on scrutinising their tax-dodging -- both on an individual level and a corporate one.

But he may not be correct in focusing only on tax avoidance, nor just on the ultra-wealthy. A new report suggests the scale of tax avoidance in Europe is dwarfed by that of tax evasion. And that's happening not just among the rich (although it is definitely happening among them -- see, for example, the record fine on UBS for facilitating it), but right across the income spectrum, in what's known as the "shadow economy".

First of all, it's important to get the definitions right -- tax avoidance and tax evasion are often used interchangeably, but they are quite distinct and must therefore be tackled using quite different methods.

Tax avoidance is a decision by a taxpayer to minimise his or her tax burden by taking a course of action that goes against the spirit of what legislators had intended (which can obviously be subject to different interpretations). It can be both lawful and unlawful (in that it doesn't conform to recognised laws) but it's never illegal (ie, expressly forbidden by laws).

Tax evasion, on the other hand, is the deliberate, illegal non-disclosure of earnings. The motivation for that might of course be something other than tax evasion -- a drug-dealer might be more concerned about being locked up than having to hand over some of his/her earnings to the government -- but that doesn't matter: if you don't record the activity, you can't pay tax on it and that's therefore tax evasion. It also includes the claiming of allowances, expenses and other tax reliefs to which the taxpayer is not entitled to in law.

According to tax campaigner Richard Murphy's new report, the annual "tax gap" in Europe caused by this illegal tax evasion is between €750bn and €900bn ($850bn-$1tn). That compares with estimates of between €50bn and €190bn a year for corporate tax avoidance, according to previous European Parliament estimates cited by Murphy.

The report was commissioned by the centre-left Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament (which includes MEPs from Britain's Labour party and France's Socialist party), and only looks at the tax gap in Europe. But Murphy says the same trend can be seen all over the world -- the larger the shadow economy, the larger the gap is likely to be.

Murphy told us:

If you look at the whole tax gap, which is the total of tax unpaid which a government thinks should be paid, it’s obvious that tax evasion is by far the biggest problem.

That's quite shocking for people. I think even the Socialists and Democrat Group were quite shocked, in a way, by the outcome. They found it hard to believe that it’s actually evasion that’s the biggest issue. And yet it is, because it’s so commonplace. It’s paying your cleaner in cash. It adds up when you think that you also paid your builder in cash, and your child’s tutor.

It's not just the cleaners, the builders, the tutors and the drug-dealers who are involved. A study published in October by Berkeley professor Gabriel Zucman, along with Annette Alstadsæter and Niels Johannesen, found that the top 0.01 per cent of households in Scandinavia evaded about 25 per cent of their tax, compared with an average of 2.8 per cent for the rest of the population:

But neither is it just the wealthy who are the problem. Romania's shadow sector, for example, makes up around 29 per cent of the economy, based on the "Multiple Indicators Multiple Causes" (MIMIC) method used by Leandro Medina and Friedrich Schneider in their work for the IMF, which uses the consumption-to-income gap to calculate how much income is not being accounted for (by looking at, for example, electricity use and the amount of bread consumed in an economy). Even Britain's shadow economy, among the lowest in Europe, stands at around 10 per cent.

Here's Murphy, again:

I know there are tax justice campaigners who aren’t in the slightest bit comfortable with what I’m saying... But the figures for evasion are just too big to be attributable to the wealthy. They are split across the population as a whole.

Murphy doesn't provide numbers for individual tax avoidance by the ultra-wealthy, via offshore tax havens and other tax avoidance schemes, but he says those figures would be likely to be dwarfed by both those for tax evasion and avoidance at the corporate level.

Why, then, are we so fixated on all the Davos-attending philanthrobillionaires and not on Europe's huge shadow economy?

It's partly because it feels like if only a handful of individuals (or maybe, a World Economic Forum's worth) behaved differently, that could make a big difference. It's also because it bothers us that the rich are able to get away with it and that we're not. Murphy uses the example of Britain's MP expenses scandal from ten years ago as an analogy -- though the amounts of money involved were immaterial, the feeling was that if politicians were fiddling around, then why shouldn't everyone else.

Unlike the MPs' expenses scandals, however, the amounts of money that we're talking about among the tax-dodging elite are material and do in fact matter in the overall scheme of things. And by endorsing the kinds of philanthropic donations that allow them to boost their reputations, we're in effect allowing the ultra-wealthy to make decisions on how to spend money that would normally be in the hands of a democratically elected government.

But there’s also surely a kind of tolerance mentality among some of us towards parts of the shadow economy: if the people at the lower end of the income spectrum, such as cleaners, were to pay all their taxes, they wouldn't have enough to live on, goes the thinking.

Murphy, however, argues pretty convincingly that tax evasion actually leads to social inustice and greater inequality:

Tax law should be enforced and all should be required to pay what is owed by them. If that is not done actual inequality arises: those who pay their taxes are worse off than those who do not. Resentment builds amongst taxpayers and non-compliance increases. More worryingly still, honest business is undermined by dishonest business. This means that honest businesses are more likely to fail. As a result economic growth, financial stability, business investment, and employment prospects are all harmed. The cost of tax inequality is high, especially if it becomes endemic.

It's important to note that Murphy's stats aren't universally accepted. HMRC's estimates on the scale of tax evasion in the UK, for example, stand at around £5.3bn, whereas Murphy estimates that at more than £75bn (almost 15 times higher). But he says that's because they are taking entirely different approaches: while he takes a top-down approach, starting with GDP, HMRC use a bottom-up approach, making the calculations based on the tax returns that they've been given.

Alex Cobham, chief executive of Tax Justice Network, doesn’t think enough research has been done into the scale of tax evasion to draw any conclusions about whether or not it represents more money lost than tax avoidance -- a lot more work has been done on the latter. He also points out that some of the activity in the shadow economy is likely to be marginal (ie it might not place at all if it were to come out of the shadows).

Still, Cobham told us:

What these numbers say is that the potential scale of evasion is very large. And so even if you were to take 10 per cent of Richard’s numbers, that’s big enough that we should care a lot and do something. This is a big area about which we are probably consistently not doing enough. Part of that is getting more research and getting more confident about the numbers.

So to sum up, governments -- and all of us -- need to think about tax evasion more. There is often a false dichotomy in the way politicians think about how to reduce fiscal deficits: rather than weighing up hiking taxes versus slashing government spending, they also should be considering how to increase their tax bases by bringing them out of the shadow economy.

Possible counter-measures to evasion suggested by Murphy include forcing every company to declare their accounts and making their shareholders and directors personally liable for any missing tax; and asking banks to supply HMRC or the relevant domestic tax-collecting ministry with reports of all the companies they provide banking or accounting services for. These measures alone, reckons Murphy, would see about a third of the missing tax revenues recovered.


The good news, though, is that both tax evasion and corporate tax avoidance are actually already shrinking, according to Murphy:

The measures that are being taken to increase reporting are working. I believe that in 2012 there was a change in attitude. Large companies that until then had basically seen tax avoidance as being a risk-free, reputation-free, activity, suddenly began to to see — because of Google, Amazon and Starbucks sitting in front of Margaret Hodge — that this could land them in deep water...

We’re seeing companies that are actually talking to us and are saying: 'we’ll close down our overseas operations if that gives us a Fair Tax Mark, because this is too important for us now.' It’s a staggering thing to discover. Ten years ago the idea that someone would have said that to us was remote in the extreme. It's unbelievable.

As the famous philanthropist John Rockefeller once noted: “Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.”


Related links:
UBS hit with €4.5bn penalty in French tax evasion ruling - FT

  1. WeWrite-down
  2. No deal Brexit is not a hedge fund conspiracy
  3. Europe’s digital infrastructure issue
  4. Let’s give a helping hand to Andrew Yang
  5. Anatomy of a malware scam
  6. ARK Invest’s Tesla model gathers dust
  7. A delirious defence of Uber
  8. WeLiquid: Adam Neumann pockets $700m
  9. Yesterday, in efficient markets
  10. The warm fuzzy feeling of indirectly owning Tencent
  11. The best of Morgan Stanley's Adam Jonas
  12. Apple/Tesla: M&A and heartbreak
  13. Did Beyonce make $300m from Uber's IPO?
  14. Bitcoin is the 10-year Treasury of our time
  15. High resolution music is a solution looking for a problem
  16. Amazon is furious about this negative review
  17. Missing: $500bn of American savings
  18. Blockchain for Brexit: a wonderfully terrible idea
  19. The Bank of Hodlers [sic] (sigh)
  20. Behind the curtain at China Ding Yi Feng
  21. An answer to Mark Cuban's question
  22. Crumbs! It's CRYPTO: the movie!
  23. National Beverage Corp loses its fizz, and its mind
  24. Amazon won't spin-off Amazon Web Services
  25. Mensch! Dan McCrum is innocent, ok?
  26. Why online propaganda mobs are an investment red flag
  27. Davos has produced an amazing new guide on precisely how not to think about risk
  28. When the public relations industry does PR for itself
  29. Who wants to be crippled by student debt?
  30. The bitcoin price is wrong
  31. The warm fuzzy feeling of Goldman debt
  32. “Cryptoassets” are crashing again. Is it time to start calling them cryptoliabilities instead?
  33. Puff the tragic cryptowagon smokes out the Mumsnet demographic
  34. Don't write off the public sector
  35. Initiative Q: an elementary pyramid scheme with grandiose ideas [Update]
  36. Moral investments aren't outperforming
  37. No one is killing it in crypto (not even Woz)
  38. Too smooth: the red flag at Patisserie Valerie which was missed
  39. No, the housing crisis will not be solved by building more homes
  40. Sorry Civil, 'crypto-economics' and 'constitutions' won't save journalism
  41. 'Short-termism' isn't a thing, say Fed economists
  42. Coinbase wants to be “too big to fail”, lol
  43. Regulation and innovation don't have to be enemies
  44. Retailers get so lonely around the holidays
  45. Folli Follie: $1bn of fake sales, and what to learn from the debacle
  46. The new green evangelism
  47. Tilray, how low can it go?
  48. The ICO behind the tragic Everest stunt is now “airdropping” tokens from rockets
  49. Beware the Hindenburg Omen?
  50. The broken conversation about financial regulation
  51. The improbably profitable, loss-making Blue Prism
  52. The EM rout is not made in America
  53. Wages and growth and honestly we just give up
  54. Britain's first blockchain-enabled co-working space isn't blockchain-enabled
  55. There is a FIRE that never goes out
  56. The WeWork Garden of Eden
  57. IQE: lumpy 'Apple' sauce at the pricey Cardiff chip shop
  58. There's only so much a central bank can do alone
  59. Eight questions every first-time buyer should ask
  60. MiFID II: not all doom and gloom
  61. Tesla: getting to Q3 profitability
  62. Turkey contagion fears are overblown [Update]
  63. The chance of an inflation shock may be higher than you think
  64. Sorry Tim, the humanity is not being drained out of music
  65. Digital crop circles
  66. What could go wrong here?
  67. Sirius Minerals: money for a hole in the ground
  68. The Bank of England has a strange idea of what QE achieved
  69. One for the ladies...
  70. 'Of course, many ridiculous papers appeared'
  71. Is a change goin' to come?
  72. The capacity's not there yet (and probably never will be)
  73. Musk and Tesla are not inseparable
  74. Libraries, from Carnegie to Bezos
  75. Crypto & government: from anarchy to amity in the USA
  76. 'I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I cannot sanction this Series B round'
  77. RBC, through the FANG barrier
  78. Self-help to buy
  79. CFA: Chartered crypto analysts -- updated
  80. The Netflix dilemma -- updated
  81. Fujitsu's new blockchain offering: really cheap or really expensive?
  82. Nothing But the Shirt on Your Back
  83. Universities of Britain: cosying up to crypto is a bad look
  84. How to make a living in the cult of meritocracy
  85. Spotify: Drake-oil salesmen
  86. Oh, the digital humanity
  87. Sports are not markets, predictions ain't investment
  88. Spot the difference, Steinhoff edition
  89. Larry Robbins, a cautionary tale
  90. The node to serfdom
  91. Carney is down with the crypto kids
  92. Samsonite: inventory, excess baggage, and unresolved questions
  93. It might be a long wait for “the equivalent alternative to ICOs”
  94. Don't blame it on the sunshine
  95. In corporate America, brands develop you
  96. One in ten dollars of US housing were anonymous
  97. Should AT&T worry more about its debt?
  98. Who cares if Elon is incinerating capital?
  99. Let’s not try make 'crypto chicks' a thing
  100. Tokens all the way down
  101. Eight-dimensional chess with Elon Musk
  102. A lopsided trade is a good trade, Italian inflation edition
  103. How to buy Italian fire insurance
  104. Atlas bugged
  105. Inflating inflation
  106. Crypto's most devout believers are suffering a crisis of faith
  107. Plus500: past performance is no guide to the future
  108. Noble rot in a shrinking Harbour
  109. In defence of ticket touts
  110. Please don't tell individual investors to buy leveraged loans
  111. RIB Software: the unicorn rainy-day fund
  112. Retail is not dead
  113. Did Soros really give Tesla a “vote of confidence”?
  114. At a crypto conference in New York, it feels like 2017 all over again
  115. Egregious expectations - Intelsat edition
  116. Bitcoin cash is expanding into the void
  117. Stop getting The Flintstones wrong
  118. Bond investors do not care if Argentina is solvent in 100 years
  119. Ubiquiti Networks: of cash and borrowed time
  120. “We're very disappointed in you, Spotify”
  121. 'Sex redistribution' and the means of reproduction
  122. Tesla probably needs to raise capital this year
  123. No entitlement crisis in America
  124. Free cash flow to whom?
  125. Hey crypto bros! Journalism ≠ advertising
  126. Human capital and the jobs guarantee
  127. This is a tech bubble, when's the crash?
  128. The magic of adjustments: ebitla-dee-da
  129. FUD, inglorious FUD
  130. A complex analysis reaches same conclusion as simple one: hedge funds suck
  131. The jobs guarantee and human-capital “nationalisation”
  132. These hedge fund numbers can't be right
  133. The Vomiting Camel has escaped from Bitcoin zoo
  134. Lies, damn lies, and charticles
  135. The world doesn't need more Elon Musks
  136. No, Facebook should not become a nonprofit
  137. Sell all crypto and abandon all blockchain
  138. Immutable ledgers meet European data protection
  139. Amazon is not a bubble
  140. Japan's economic miracle
  141. Have you ever meta crypto joke you didn't like?
  142. Delaware should change its rules to let the light in
  143. Who needs the labels anyway?
  144. Baby Boomers want your family to finance a larger share of their retirement
  145. No, America would not benefit from authoritarian central planning
  146. No one needs to buy Tesla
  147. How to win a debate in the cult of meritocracy
  148. Steinhoff International and the case of Pepkor Global Sourcing
  149. Sorry Jack, Bitcoin will not become the global currency
  150. The “academic’s cryptocurrency” is an elegant waste of time
  151. Cigarettes are the vice America needs
  152. Well that’s one reason to buy yen…
  153. Musicians, don't just blame the labels for your lack of dough
  154. Giving stock away to staff doesn't absolve share buybacks
  155. A penny for Macpherson’s thoughts on the nominal anchor
  156. Monopoly and its discontents
  157. A State of Mind
  158. America is not the least protectionist country in the world
  159. This is nuts, when does Netflix crash?
  160. No Bloomberg, the world's richest people did not lose $114bn...
  161. Someone is wrong on the internet, government employee pensions and passive investing edition
  162. Someone is wrong on the internet, possibly fragile
  163. Someone is wrong on the internet, consumer financial regulation edition
  164. Someone is wrong on the internet: tontine tokens [Update]
  165. Someone is wrong on the internet, road economics edition
  166. Someone is wrong on the internet, wages and the stock market edition
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