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Wednesday, 03 May 2023 02:30

The Ascent of Money Documentary - All Episodes


“The Ascent of Money” is a documentary series that explores the history and evolution of money, finance, and economics. Produced in 2008 by Channel 4 in the UK and PBS in the US, and based on the book of the same name by Niall Ferguson, this six-part series takes the viewer on a journey through time, examining the various financial systems and innovations that have shaped human history. Each episode, such as “Dreams of Avarice”, “Human Bondage”, “Blowing Bubbles”, “Risky Business”, “Safe as Houses”, and “Chimerica”, focuses on a different aspect of finance and economics, providing a historical overview of the topic and using interviews, archival footage, and dramatic reenactments to bring the stories to life. Through this series, viewers can gain unique insights into the economic and political factors that drove these developments, and the lessons that can be learned from them.


  Titles In This Series:

  • The Ascent of Money Episode 1: Dreams of Avarice.
  • The Ascent of Money Episode 2: Human Bondage.
    The Ascent of Money Episode 3: Blowing Bubbles.
    The Ascent of Money Episode 4: Risky Business.
    The Ascent of Money Episode 5: Safe As Houses.
    The Ascent of Money Episode 6: Chimerica.


The Ascent of Money Episode 1: Dreams of Avarice.


The first episode of "The Ascent of Money" series explores the origins of money and the development of banking systems. Hosted by Niall Ferguson, the episode begins with an overview of primitive forms of currency, such as shells and beads, used by ancient civilizations for bartering and trade. Ferguson then discusses the evolution of money, from coins and paper currency to digital currency and cryptocurrencies.

The episode then moves on to explore the development of banking systems, starting with the first banks established in ancient Babylon and continuing through the medieval period in Europe. Ferguson describes how the Medici family in Italy established a banking dynasty in the 14th century, creating the concept of credit and modern banking as we know it today.

Ferguson then examines the role of banks in the development of global trade, highlighting the growth of the Dutch banking system and the establishment of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in the 17th century. The episode also explores the development of the bond market and the use of government bonds to finance wars and other state activities.

Throughout the episode, Ferguson provides insights into the economic and political factors that drove these developments, highlighting the role of competition, innovation, and regulation in shaping the financial systems we have today. He also examines the risks and pitfalls of these systems, including the potential for fraud and the dangers of financial bubbles.

Overall, the first episode of "The Ascent of Money" provides a fascinating introduction to the history of money and banking, offering insights into the origins of our modern financial systems and the challenges they continue to face.


  Video Key Points:

  • The speaker is discussing the importance of sleep for overall health and well-being.
  • The speaker notes that while most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night, individual sleep needs can vary.
  • The speaker discusses the negative impacts of insufficient sleep, such as decreased cognitive function, increased risk of accidents, and impaired immune function.
  • The speaker also notes that sleep quality is important, not just quantity, and provides some tips for improving sleep quality, such as establishing a regular sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • The speaker emphasizes that good sleep is not just a luxury, but a necessity for optimal health and encourages listeners to prioritize their sleep.
  • Dr. Goodall's fascination with animals began at an early age, and she was particularly drawn to primates.
  • She traveled to Tanzania in her early twenties to study chimpanzees, and her research revolutionized our understanding of these animals.
  • Dr. Goodall observed that chimpanzees have complex social structures, use tools, and have distinct personalities, challenging the prevailing view of animals as unthinking automatons.
  • Her work with chimpanzees also brought her face-to-face with the destruction of their habitats and the threat of extinction they face.
  • Dr. Goodall became an activist for environmental and animal welfare causes and founded the Jane Goodall Institute to support conservation efforts.
  • She believes that we all have a responsibility to protect the planet and that every individual can make a difference.
  • Dr. Goodall encourages people to think about the impact of their actions and make changes in their daily lives to reduce their environmental footprint.
  • She also highlights the importance of educating young people about environmental issues and empowering them to take action.
  • Dr. Goodall remains optimistic about the future of the planet, but stresses the urgent need for action to address the challenges we face.
  • The video talks about a variety of businesses that cater to people who are broke in sub-prime America, including tax advisors, shops that lend money on car equity, places that give advances on paychecks, and pawn shops.
  • The bankruptcy capital of America is Memphis, Tennessee, where people file for bankruptcy rather than meeting their obligations.
  • Bankruptcy has become an inalienable right in America, with individuals being able to file for either Chapter 7 (liquidation) or Chapter 13 (voluntary personal reorganization).
  • The theory is that American law exists to encourage entrepreneurship, and bankruptcy is seen as a way to facilitate the creation of new businesses.
  • Many of America's greatest successes failed in their early years, and today's bankrupt might be tomorrow's billionaire.


The Ascent of Money Episode 2: Human Bondage.


The episode begins by examining the ancient concept of debt and the role it played in early societies. Debt was often linked to religious beliefs, with debts to the gods seen as a sacred obligation. This belief in debt as a moral obligation continued through the Middle Ages.

The rise of capitalism in the 17th and 18th centuries led to a new era of lending and borrowing. Merchants and entrepreneurs needed capital to start businesses and expand trade, and banks began to play a larger role in providing this capital.

One of the most significant innovations in the history of finance was the creation of government bonds. Governments could borrow money by issuing bonds, which promised to repay the investor with interest. This allowed governments to fund wars and infrastructure projects, and it also provided a safe investment option for individuals.

The episode then looks at the development of the American mortgage industry, which allowed ordinary people to own their own homes. This was made possible by the creation of mortgage-backed securities, which allowed banks to bundle together mortgages and sell them to investors.

The episode also examines the role of debt in causing economic crises. The Great Depression of the 1930s was caused in part by excessive lending and speculation, while the 2008 financial crisis was caused by risky mortgage lending and the creation of complex financial instruments.

Finally, the episode looks at the impact of debt on individuals and societies. Debt can provide opportunities for growth and prosperity, but it can also lead to enslavement and poverty. The episode argues that it is important to find a balance between borrowing and saving, and to avoid excessive debt that can lead to economic and social instability.

Overall, "Human Bondage" is an insightful look at the history and impact of lending and borrowing, and how it has shaped the world we live in today.


  Video Key Points:

  • The real power in today's world lies with an elite group of men who control the world's bond market.
  • Governments sell bonds to make up the difference between their spending and revenue, and investors can sell those bonds on a bond market without the government having to give them cash back.
  • The bond market was created during the Italian Renaissance to fund wars through the sale of bonds.
  • Bonds have funded wars, created financial dynasties, and brought once-wealthy nations like Argentina to their knees.
  • The bond market is directly linked to individual wealth through pensions, and a collapse of the bond market would have far-reaching consequences.
  • Bill Gross, the boss of PIMCO, manages a portfolio of bonds worth $700 billion and is widely regarded as the king of the bond market.
  • The decisions made by the men who control the bond market have far-reaching consequences and shape our world today.
  • In 1815, Nathan Rothschild made a huge profit of approximately £600 million today by buying British government bonds before the news of British victory at Waterloo, and selling them a year later when the bond prices had risen by 40%.
  • The Rothschilds were successful bond traders and fund managers who carefully tended to their vast portfolio of government bonds, and their success brought them power and wealth.
  • Anti-Semitic prejudice grew against the Rothschilds due to their success, and the belief that they could permit or prohibit wars for their own financial gain.
  • By the mid-19th century, the Rothschilds stood to lose more than gain from conflict, as they had a large portfolio of their own government bonds and war increased the risk of debtor states failing to meet their commitments, which would hit the price of existing bonds.
  • The Rothschilds helped decide the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars by putting their financial weight behind Britain, and they chose to sit on the sidelines during the American Civil War, which made them the arbiters of war.
  • The decisive factor in the South's ultimate defeat in the American Civil War was financial, and the real turning point came in 1862 when Captain David Farragut seized New Orleans, which was the principal outlet for the South.
  • When Bill Gross buys or sells bonds, it affects more than just financial markets and government policy.
  • Inflation undermines the value of being paid a fixed rate of interest on a bond.
  • At the first whiff of higher inflation, bond prices fall, and in some cases, keep falling.
  • The example of Argentina shows how bad things can get when the inflationary genie escapes from the bottle.
  • In February 1989, inflation in Argentina had already reached 10% per month.
  • Banks were ordered to close as the government tried to lower interest rates and stop the currency's exchange rate from collapsing.
  • In just a month, the austral fell 140% against the dollar.
  • The government tried to finance its deficit by selling bonds to the public, but investors were hardly likely to buy bonds with the prospect that their real value would be wiped out by inflation.
  • In April, furious customers overturned shopping trolleys after one supermarket announced over the loudspeaker that prices were being raised by 30% immediately.
  • Government bond prices plunged as fears rose that the Central Bank's reserves were running out.
  • With no foreign loans and no one willing to buy bonds, the government resorted to getting the Central Bank to print more money.
  • The faster the printing presses rolled, the less the money was worth.
  • In May, the price of coffee went up by 50% in a week.
  • By June 1989, inflation in Argentina had reached a monthly rate of 100%, an annual rate of roughly 12,000%.


The Ascent of Money Episode 3: Blowing Bubbles.


Episode 3 of “The Ascent of Money" focuses on the history of financial bubbles and how they have shaped the world economy. The episode begins by exploring the world's first financial bubble - the Dutch tulip mania of the 17th century, where the value of tulip bulbs soared to incredible heights before collapsing.

Presenter Niall Ferguson explains that bubbles occur when investors become overly optimistic about an asset's future value and engage in speculative buying, driving up the price. The market then becomes saturated, and prices plummet, often leading to economic crises and financial crashes.

Ferguson examines other significant financial bubbles throughout history, including the Mississippi Company bubble of 1720, the South Sea Bubble of the same year, and the Wall Street crash of 1929. He explains how these bubbles arose and their long-lasting economic and social effects.

The episode also discusses how the growth of financial markets in the 20th century has led to the rise of new types of bubbles, such as the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000s. The housing bubble is explored in-depth, with interviews with homeowners, investors, and industry insiders.

Ferguson argues that the root cause of financial bubbles is often the same: the failure of regulators to adequately oversee the market and prevent reckless speculation. He notes that this is particularly true in the case of the housing bubble, where banks issued subprime mortgages to individuals who could not afford them, leading to the eventual collapse of the housing market.

The episode concludes by exploring the current state of the global economy and the potential for future financial bubbles. Ferguson notes that while some reforms have been made since the 2008 financial crisis, much work remains to be done to prevent the recurrence of similar events in the future.

Overall, “Blowing Bubbles” provides an insightful look into the history of financial bubbles and their impact on the global economy. It argues that while bubbles may seem like a natural part of capitalism, they ultimately have a destructive effect on the market and society at large.


  Video Key Points:

  • The power and influence of multinational corporations is evident in the construction of a $1.5 billion gas pipeline from Bolivia to Brazil.
  • The rise of joint stock limited liability companies fueled industrialization and allowed investors to pool their resources and spread their risks.
  • The stock market is crucial in determining a company's future success and growth.
  • Stock market bubbles have caused financial turmoil, such as Enron's corporate fraud, and humans find it difficult to learn from history.
  • John Law, a convicted murderer and flawed financial genius, caused the first true boom and bust in asset prices and indirectly caused the French Revolution.
  • Amsterdam was the world capital of financial innovation in the 1690s, and the Dutch created the first national lottery, central bank, and joint stock company.
  • Despite the dangers of stock market bubbles, they continue to occur, and shady practices in the stock market continue to cause financial crises. However, the joint stock company and stock market have transformed our lives and fueled industrialization.
  • The video is about John Law, a Scottish financier who gained power in France in the 18th century.
  • Law was appointed as the Controller-General of French Finances, giving him control over various aspects of the economy.
  • Law was able to amass a great deal of wealth and power, owning multiple estates, plantations in Louisiana, and a hundred million livres of shares in the Mississippi Company.
  • Law created a Ponzi scheme by selling new shares to pay promised returns to earlier investors.
  • This created a mania known as the Mississippi Bubble, but the scheme was unsustainable and eventually collapsed.
  • Law's economic success was based on confidence, but it was ultimately a confidence trick.
  • The video highlights the dangers of financial bubbles and Ponzi schemes, showing how they can lead to economic collapse and ruin.
  • The importance of financial regulation and oversight to prevent these types of schemes from taking hold is also emphasized.
  • There have been seven financial crashes in the past century despite optimism.
  • Enron was named the "Most Innovative Company" by Fortune Magazine for six consecutive years.
  • Enron pioneered many of the dubious business practices that continue to plague the world today.
  • Enron started as a small-time gas company in Nebraska but eventually became the fifth-largest company in the United States.
  • The chairman, Ken Lay, aimed to revolutionize the global energy business by creating an energy bank that would act as the intermediary between suppliers and consumers.
  • Lay's connections in high places enabled Enron to acquire the largest natural gas pipeline network in the world in Argentina.
  • Enron traded not only in energy but in virtually all the ancient elements of earth, water, fire, and air, even trading in internet bandwidth.
  • In the final year of Enron's existence, it paid its top 140 executives an average of $5.3 million each.
  • The company's managers were generously incentivized with share options, and luxury car sales skyrocketed.
  • Even though Lay espoused the highest moral standards for his company, the Enron system was nothing more than an elaborate fraud, similar to the Mississippi Bubble 280 years before.


The Ascent of Money Episode 4: Risky Business.


In this episode, the focus is on the history of risk and the ways in which it has driven financial progress and innovation.

The episode begins by exploring the ancient origins of risk-taking, including the practice of maritime trade in ancient times. The program then moves on to discuss the emergence of insurance, which played a key role in enabling businesses to take on more risk. The episode shows how the creation of insurance markets in Europe in the 17th century helped to facilitate the growth of international trade and commerce.

The program then discusses the emergence of the stock market in the 18th century, which allowed businesses to raise capital from a wide range of investors. The episode explores the ways in which stock markets have enabled companies to grow and innovate, but also the risks associated with stock market speculation.

The program then moves on to discuss the history of financial bubbles, beginning with the infamous South Sea Bubble of 1720. The episode shows how bubbles have often been driven by irrational exuberance and greed, and how they have led to devastating financial crises throughout history.

The episode then turns to the subject of derivatives, complex financial instruments that allow investors to bet on the future value of assets. The program explains how derivatives can be used to manage risk, but also how they can create new risks and lead to financial instability.

Finally, the episode ends by discussing the financial crisis of 2008, which was caused in part by the widespread use of derivatives and other complex financial instruments. The program shows how the crisis led to a loss of trust in the financial system and a renewed focus on risk management.

Overall, “Risky Business” explores the ways in which risk-taking has driven financial innovation throughout history, but also the dangers and pitfalls associated with excessive risk-taking. The program highlights the importance of effective risk management and the need to balance the potential rewards of risk-taking with the potential costs.


  Video Key Points:

  • Saving for a rainy day is a basic financial impulse due to the unpredictable nature of the future and the risks it poses.
  • There is a conflict between wanting financial security and dealing with the unpredictability of the future.
  • The British pay the largest proportion of their income on insurance globally despite living in one of the safest countries on Earth.
  • Overcoming risk has been a constant theme in the history of money, from the invention of life insurance to the rise and fall of the welfare state, to the explosive growth of hedge funds and their billionaire owners.
  • Hurricane Katrina caused death and destruction in New Orleans in August 2005, leading to many losing their lives and homes.
  • Private insurance has limitations when dealing with large-scale natural disasters, as seen with Hurricane Katrina.
  • Lawyer Richard F Scruggs took on hundreds of homeowners whose houses were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina to show the limits of private insurance when it comes to a big crisis.
  • In 1923, a massive earthquake devastated Tokyo and made private insurance policies practically worthless.
  • The idea emerged that the state should take care of risk, which was to be state protection allied with imperial ambition.
  • The Japanese set up a welfare state to promote warfare, which would ensure a fitter populace and a steady supply of able-bodied recruits to the Emperor's armed forces, thus delivering him an empire.
  • The Japanese welfare state covered them against all the vagaries and vicissitudes of the modern world, and if they couldn't afford education or find work, were too ill to work or retired, or finally died, the state would pay.
  • The welfare state eliminated risk and achieved security for all, making Japan the welfare superpower.
  • The post-war welfare state had a fatal flaw, which caused predictions of Japan's ultimate triumph to fail to come true.
  • The welfare state removed the incentives necessary for a capitalist economy to function - the carrot of serious money for those who strive, and the stick of hardship for those who are idle.
  • Low growth and high inflation characterized the welfare state in Britain and throughout the western world, leading to stagflation.
  • To reintroduce people with a sharp shock to the unpredictable monster they thought they had escaped from, the welfare state has been dismantled in many countries over the past 25 years.
  • This trend has been influenced by one man and his pupils who thought they knew the answer.
  • Not everyone in Chile can participate in the pension system, leaving a substantial chunk of the population without pension coverage.
  • The poor in Chile may have to make do with a meager government handout in their old age, but even they have benefited from Chile's rapidly growing economy.
  • The pension reform in Chile has been a critical element in the improvement of the country's economic performance.
  • The growth rate in Chile increased by a factor of nearly 20 in the 15 years following the implementation of the pension reform.
  • The poverty rate in Chile has decreased to 15%, compared to 40% in the rest of Latin America.
  • Japan's welfare state was too successful and is now threatening to bankrupt the nation due to an ever-rising population of retirees.
  • Hedge funds can be a smart way of buying protection against future shocks, and the key to managing risk lies in a mixture of mathematical precision and brilliant intuition.


The Ascent of Money Episode 5: Safe As Houses.


In the fifth episode of The Ascent of Money documentary series, titled “Safe As Houses”, historian and author Niall Ferguson explores the evolution of the housing market and its impact on the economy.

Ferguson begins the episode by looking at the origins of the modern concept of homeownership, tracing it back to the early 20th century when owning a home was seen as a way for working-class families to achieve the American Dream. He then examines the role that government policies, such as the creation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, played in encouraging home ownership and the growth of the housing market.

Ferguson then turns his attention to the housing bubble that formed in the early 2000s, fueled by low interest rates, lax lending standards, and a speculative fervor that led to a surge in housing prices. He examines the various financial instruments that were created to package and sell mortgages as investments, such as mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).

The episode delves into the consequences of the housing bubble, including the subprime mortgage crisis and the collapse of major financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers. Ferguson argues that the housing market and the financial sector became too interconnected, with banks and other financial institutions taking on too much risk in the pursuit of profits.

Ferguson concludes the episode by examining the impact of the housing crisis on individuals and families, particularly those who lost their homes or suffered other financial hardships. He also considers the broader lessons that can be learned from the housing crisis, including the need for better regulation and the dangers of excessive risk-taking in the pursuit of profit.


  Video Key Points:

  • Monopoly was invented in 1903 to expose the social system's unfairness where a small number of landlords took advantage of the majority of tenants.
  • Charles Darrow patented a new version of the game based on the streets of Atlantic City, introducing little houses and hotels. However, Monopoly suggests that owning property is a wise decision, contrary to the inventor's intentions.
  • Property ownership is the foundation of a unique economic and political experiment, the property-owning democracy, which has become a model for some.
  • Property ownership was once reserved for the aristocratic elite who passed estates from father to son, along with titles and political privileges. However, in Britain, 40 million of the 60 million acres of land are still owned by only 189,000 families.
  • The decline of the British aristocracy was partly due to finance, as they borrowed more than their property was worth.
  • The first modern property crash was arguably the greatest private residence built in England in the 18th century, Stowe House in Buckinghamshire, owned by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. The Duke was unable to earn enough money to pay back his loans, and his properties had to be sold.
  • Property ownership alone does not guarantee financial success, as history has shown us.
  • Redlining was the practice of giving whole neighborhoods a negative credit rating, which meant that people from these neighborhoods had to pay significantly higher interest rates than those in predominantly white parts of town.
  • This divide was the hidden financial dimension of the Civil Rights struggle, and blacks were excluded from the new property-owning society.
  • The Detroit riots in 1967 were a result of economic discrimination, and excluding ethnic minorities from the property-owning democracy was a fast track to trouble.
  • Margaret Thatcher learned the lesson of the property-owning democracy and made it a keystone of 1980s Conservatism by selling off council housing at bargain-basement prices.
  • The British and American policy of encouraging people to take out mortgages and then cranking up interest rates led in the late '80s to one of the most spectacular booms and busts in the property market's history.
  • In March 1984, American government regulators received a copy of a video showing mile after mile of half-built houses and condominiums along Interstate 30, just outside Dallas in Texas, which exposed one of the biggest financial scandals of all time.
  • Memphis has become Foreclosure City, with approximately one in four households receiving a notice threatening them with foreclosure.
  • The subprime mortgage market that began to turn sour in the early summer of 2007 spread shockwaves through all the world's financial markets.
  • Property markets are prone to booms and busts, but there could be another way of looking at property - as a means of unlocking new wealth by providing collateral for aspiring entrepreneurs.
  • Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto saw shabby residences in developing countries all over the world as representing trillions of dollars of unrealized wealth.
  • The problem is that the people who live in these homes and shanty towns around the world don't have secure legal title to their homes, which means they can't use it as collateral.
  • The video discusses the idea of a property-owning democracy and whether we should export our model to the rest of the world.
  • Property ownership could be the answer to the problems of the world's poorest countries.
  • The video talks about Argentina, where economic underachievement has been a way of life for a century, and discusses slums on the outskirts of Buenos Aires as an example of the potential for property ownership to unlock new wealth.


The Ascent of Money Episode 6: Chimerica.


The sixth and final episode of The Ascent of Money is titled “Chimerica”, and it explores the relationship between the United States and China in the global economy.

The episode begins with the story of how China went from being an isolationist country to becoming a global economic superpower, starting with the reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s. It discusses how China's economic growth has been driven by exports, particularly to the United States, and how this has led to a massive accumulation of US dollars by China.

The documentary explores how the relationship between the United States and China has become so intertwined that the two countries are now like "Siamese twins," with China lending money to the United States to finance its debt and the United States providing a market for China's exports.

The episode also delves into the challenges and risks of this relationship, such as the potential for a currency war between the two nations and the danger of a collapse in the US dollar, which could have disastrous consequences for both countries and the global economy as a whole.

Ultimately, the documentary argues that the relationship between the United States and China is one of the most important issues facing the world today and that it will require cooperation and compromise on both sides to ensure a stable and prosperous future for both nations.


  Video Key Points:

  • In 2006, the world's total economic output was worth around $47 trillion, but the total value of stock and bond markets was roughly $119 trillion, and the amount outstanding of derivatives was $473 trillion.
  • The world was interconnected through 24/7 dealing rooms and international investment banks, making finance a major player in globalization.
  • Financial globalization is vulnerable to financial shocks and political forces beyond the control of bankers, and globalization has its downside.
  • The ascent of money has often been punctuated by big and painful crises, and a new phenomenon called "Chimerica" has emerged, where American borrowers rely on Chinese savers.
  • Investing in emerging markets can make investors rich, but it can also lead to financial ruin, as it's hard for an investor in London or New York to see what a foreign government or company is up to.
  • Overseas investment is vulnerable to defaults by foreign borrowers, and the answer before 1914 was gunboat diplomacy, where the Royal Navy provided the firepower that underwrote the first age of globalization.
  • George Soros was successful with short selling, betting against losers rather than winners.
  • Soros made a billion dollars in one day by betting against the British pound in 1992.
  • Mathematical formulas have potential for double-digit returns in finance.
  • In a hypothetical world without human complications, stock market crashes would be rare.
  • Mathematicians Myron Scholes and Robert Merton developed a formula for pricing options accurately.
  • The formula, referred to as a "black box," revolutionized the financial industry.
  • Relying on mathematical formulas and quantitative models in finance can be powerful and accurate, but can also be flawed if they don't account for all relevant variables or if they are misused.
  • The speaker questions whether a financial crisis on a larger scale than the 2008 crisis could happen again without the possibility of being bailed out, and suggests that the answer lies in China.
  • Many people may not remember previous financial crises due to the booming markets between 2000 and 2007.
  • The speaker attributes this boom to China and its rapid growth, particularly in cities like Chongqing which is being developed as a financial capital.
  • Most Chinese investment has been financed by China's own savings rather than by foreigners, and foreign investment has mostly been in factories.
  • China has become a major banker to the United States by lending a large proportion of its current account surplus to the US, which has benefited from cheap exports from China.


Last modified on Wednesday, 03 May 2023 06:16
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