Solidarity and the Welfare State

Thursday, August 23, AD 2012

An interesting look at Paul Ryan by Father Barron based upon the twin poles of Catholic social teaching:  subsidiarity and solidarity.  It is easy to see how the welfare state, consolidating ever more power in the central government, is destructive of subsidiarity.  What is often overlooked however, is how destructive the welfare state tends to be also of solidarity.

1.  A welfare state by its nature needs government employees, and lots of them.  We are seeing in our time how the interests of these employees and the populations they purportedly serve often clash.  Think, for example, teachers unions and school choice.

2.  A welfare state, once it reaches a large enough size, becomes a crushing burden on the economy.  Paradoxically, the welfare state which is meant to alleviate poverty, ends by increasing it.

3.  As governmental power and scope grows through a welfare state, elections tend to become much more important to ever larger segments of the population, as society increasingly divides between those who receive benefits and those who pay the taxes to provide the benefits.

4.  By increasing dependence upon government, the welfare state lessens the initiative among a great many people to not only improve their own lot through their efforts, but also the lot of their families.

5.  Welfare states tend to become substitute husbands for low-income women and substitute fathers for the children born to single low-income women.  The impact upon illegitimacy rates is as obvious as it is destructive of the family, the basic building block of solidarity in any society.

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15 Responses to Solidarity and the Welfare State

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  • It is remarkable how rapidly the main social functions of the family have been transferred to the state. Until 1745, here in Scotland, north of Stirling, justice, production and consumption, education, health were almost entirely the responsibility of the family, especially the extended family, the sept or clan. In the Lowlands, the burghs were, effectively, petty republics, governed by the incorporations or guilds and, in the countryside, the laird and his barony court and the minister and elders in the kirk-session, were the effective government. A very good example of subsidiarity and solidarity working together.

  • Nicely done. I would just add a few thoughts.

    The danger for us as critics, I believe, is to so dislike the welfare state that we disconnect from the principle of solidarity altogether. While I am extremely reluctant to count government mandated redistributionism as any kind of charity and question its virtues in many ways, I do think in solidarity we must recognize our “sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone”. So your question as to what replaces the welfare state must be fully answered, I think, before it can be replaced.


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  • Here’s a charitable man.

    From Bay Times which just fact-checked it.

    “In July 1996, the 14-year-old daughter of Robert Gay, a partner at Bain Capital, had disappeared,” the story reads. “She had attended a rave party in New York City and gotten high on ecstasy. Three days later, her distraught father had no idea where she was. Romney took immediate action. He closed down the entire firm and asked all 30 partners and employees to fly to New York to help find Gay’s daughter. Romney set up a command center at the LaGuardia Marriott and hired a private detective firm to assist with the search. He established a toll-free number for tips, coordinating the effort with the NYPD, and went through his Rolodex and called everyone Bain did business with in New York and asked them to help find his friend’s missing daughter. Romney’s accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper put up posters on street poles, while cashiers at a pharmacy owned by Bain put fliers in the bag of every shopper. Romney and the other Bain employees scoured every part of New York and talked with everyone they could – prostitutes, drug addicts – anyone.

    “That day, their hunt made the evening news, which featured photos of the girl and the Bain employees searching for her. As a result, a teenage boy phoned in, asked if there was a reward, and then hung up abruptly. The NYPD traced the call to a home in New Jersey, where they found the girl in the basement, shivering and experiencing withdrawal symptoms from a massive ecstasy dose. Doctors later said the girl might not have survived another day. Romney’s former partner credits Mitt Romney with saving his daughter’s life, saying, ‘It was the most amazing thing, and I’ll never forget this to the day I die.’”

    That is my Romney reverse detraction for today.

  • You are giving Romney too much credit, T. Shaw. It was of little consequence for Romney to make this easy gesture. First, he is rich so it doesn’t count. Second, the closure of his firm was hardly a sacrifice since the government that built it no doubt continued to run it. Finally, the real hero was government in the form of the NYPD, which plainly would have found the girl eventually.

  • 1. A welfare state by its nature needs government employees, and lots of them. We are seeing in our time how the interests of these employees and the populations they purportedly serve often clash. Think, for example, teachers unions and school choice.

    The public housing authority, the child protective apparat, the ‘family services apparat’, state asylums and sanitoriums, and the public schools require a great deal of manpower. Insurance, voucher, and cash transfer programs, not so much.

    2. A welfare state, once it reaches a large enough size, becomes a crushing burden on the economy. Paradoxically, the welfare state which is meant to alleviate poverty, ends by increasing it.

    More precisely, increases economic sclerosis. France has a particularly serious case.

    3. As governmental power and scope grows through a welfare state, elections tend to become much more important to ever larger segments of the population, as society increasingly divides between those who receive benefits and those who pay the taxes to provide the benefits.

    Yes, but what often divides these two classes is a position in the life-cycle. I suspect you would find occupational factors, cultural factors, and social-psychological factors more important in influencing voting behavior.

    4. By increasing dependence upon government, the welfare state lessens the initiative among a great many people to not only improve their own lot through their efforts, but also the lot of their families.

    True, but a great deal of the problem is not common provision per se but poorly structured incentives incorporated into the existing programs.

    5. Welfare states tend to become substitute husbands for low-income women and substitute fathers for the children born to single low-income women. The impact upon illegitimacy rates is as obvious as it is destructive of the family, the basic building block of solidarity in any society.

    True of AFDC and like problems. The thing is, AFDC turned out to have a permissive influence on this sort of behavior. It was not much of a motor of it and the reduction in the size of welfare rolls has not been accompanied by improvements in family maintenance.

    6. Welfare benefits tend to foster a sense of entitlement and an unwillingness to tolerate any diminution of such benefits for the common good, even when a country is careening toward bankruptcy.

    There is a good deal of truth to that with regard to benefits for the elderly. The trouble is, the elderly are the least able to adjust to changes in economic circumstances. You do not really see much in the way of mobilization of the non-elderly poor. The resistance you’re seeing comes from the delivery apparat and from the brokering politicians.

    7. Welfare states tend to involve ever-increasing domination of society by those who write the rules that govern the welfare state and administer it. Rather than societies governed by debate and compromise, government diktat becomes the order of the day.

    Aaron Wildavsky would have disagreed with you. He said the hallmark of contemporary political society was bureaucracy without authority.

    It increasingly seems Congress is incapable of accomplishing anything at all.

    8. Welfare states, because of their scope and power, inevitably threaten basic human freedoms. The HHS mandate, devised by President Obama for a cheap political advantage this election year, is a prime example.

    More precisely, they are one vector among many that acts to diminish independence of mind and self-confident discretion on the part of both the man in the street and local politicians.

    9. Welfare states dull the desire of people to engage in charitable activities, and take ever greater sums from the populations they exist upon, depleting the funds available for charity.

    This is true to a point, but often welfare bureaucracies and private charity are addressing somewhat different sets of problems. One is not a substitute for the other.

    10. Solidarity is possible only in societies which view their people as adults, capable of working together for the common good. Welfare states tend to view populations as clients who must be led into paths that the controllers of the welfare states deem desirable.


    One of the great questions of this century will be what comes after the welfare states, which are manifestly dying. The beginning of an answer would be to consider what contributes in a society to true solidarity and what does not.

  • MP: Thanks.

    St. Melanie (my wife) thinks I had a bad day. On the contrary, it was a good day. I didn’t get shot when, within a minute of when I was and a hundred yards of me, 10 were less lucky. You don’t hear the one that hits you.

    Even better, I learned that it’s a blessing to vote for the 100% pro-abortion incumbent prez and VP candidates because Romney’s so-called Catholic running mate is objectively evil: he’s only 98% pro-life.

  • Sending up a prayer for your deliverance T.Shaw and for those who were not so fortunate.

  • Thank you, Mac.

    Recalls that we do not know the hour or day.

    The Blessed Virgin Mary and my sainted mother in Heaven, obviously, have prayed and interceded for me these many years.

    Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it know that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly to you O virgin of Virgins, my Mother. To You I come. Before You I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate despise not my petitions but in Your Mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

  • It is reasonable to oppose Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc. because they are used by those who embrace socialistic government control of the economy.

    Social Security (retirement) has been a systematic looting of alleged “retirement benefits” by the federal government. There is no respect for private property and the level at which the secular leaning government that is involved is too high, and prone to corruption. Retention by the individual of ownership of the funds, if we are to require a set aside of funds would be allowing the individual retain his money for himself and his family for their benefit and for their use in the society, including supporting and helping the poor.

    Other programs, such as unemployment, food stamps, disability, etc. as currently used are designed not to help the recipients, but to enslave in a cynic manner for retention of power. In addition, as we see in the current administration, whether it be the “freedom to worship,” denial of Catholic agencies to provide adoption services (to this children not murdered by abortion), denial of Catholic agencies to assist victims of the international slave trade because they won’t provide or promote intrinsic evils and the HHS mandates, the exercise of the state of solidarity by the provision of unemployment, food stamps, disability, etc. is designed, implicitly, to marginalize the role of Faith in the society. The Church, and other believers, need to say that the so-called “welfare” state has failed and that even if the faith-communities provisions of unemployment, food stamps, disability, etc. is lacking, it is much better in the long run for both the physical and spiritual needs of those members of the Body of Christ that are in need. Unfortunately this is an all or nothing proposition because the once the politicians get a nose under the tent, they are an 800 lb. bully. In the area of solidarity services, you cannot be a little pregnant with State. (Additionally, it is likely that the absence of the Leviathan, would allow for greater marketplace rewards that could be used to either employ others or help the truly needy.)

    The absence of government in the provision of these services, in this digital age, would be a blessing because it would require those members of the Church, who support the coercive solidarity of the state to stand and be counted and support the Church (and its schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) and not the State. Supporting the Church (and its schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) is not a matter of charitable deductions; it is a central obligation of the Faithful to support the mission of the Church (and its schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) and not for the benefit of a tax return.

    Given the history of failures of the socialist-based policies of the so-called Progressives through the New Deal, the Great Society to the present, I think the most cogent moral position is that for a country the size and complexity of ours that the coercive solidarity of the state has been a failure and should be rejected and abandoned.

    A closing note, by way of a simple and simplistic example of the failure of the coercive solidarity of the state; the “Head Start” program has since its inception cost the taxpayers of the USA approximately $160 billion dollars (or 1% of the current national debt) and it has never demonstrated any measurable long-term beneficial effect on the society or to those to which is was directed, yet the socialist left refuses to accept this and demands more money to “make it work.” The principal here is power and its retention, and not the provision of any benefit to which is was directed and that is why this, and so much else of the coercive solidarity is in conflict with the Church’s teaching of subsidiarity.

    N.B. The portion of the national debt relating Head Start is for one failed program, imagine if all of the failed programs were eliminated and what the national debt would be? What amount of private capital and income could in the society and from which faithful Catholics could, in the true and faithful spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity could be directed, effectively by Church (and its schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) to those needy and less fortunate in our society.

    Pray for me as I pray for you.

  • There is another reason to oppose many (most? all?) government “social welfare” programs (and many other things as well, like art endowments, etc) If Oskari Juurikkala is correct in his analysis of Social Security and fertility rates, then Social Security is one of the last things the Church and other pro-lifers want to have around. (Making Kids Worthless, found at

    I have also read that public education is also correlated with fewer children (and homeschooling correlated with having more), but I don’t have much information on that. That information came to me from “There’s No Place Like Work” by Brian Robertson.

  • Yesterday a young woman who had had a minor accident came into the office some two months after the accident, claiming that she needed disability as she had lost her job and still had pain from the accident. Her exam was normal. A refusal to give her disability provoked a hostile sarcastic remark. Last week a male and female “significant other” couple wanted disability for her severe muscle pain. Her exam was normal. Refusal to give disability was followed by the couple’s disapointed exit with the female partner abandoning her slouched painful gait in favor of a brisk walk. A man paid by the state to administer insulin to his somewhat developmentally delayed wife failed to do so and still recieved payments. His excuse? “we were moving to a new apartment”. I could go on and on. What will become of our nation when the receptees of largesse from the state outnumber taxpayers? Sol Olinski knows.

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Pope Benedict Warns Against Marxist Liberation Theology

Monday, December 7, AD 2009

17 Responses to Pope Benedict Warns Against Marxist Liberation Theology

  • Leftist Catholics rightly identify Christ as the savior of human beings, body and soul alike. What they fail to understand is the consequences of Original Sin for the body, and the limitations on human life imposed by sin and finitude. They wrongly think that if everyone on Earth was a Saint, there would be no more suffering. Leftist Catholics think that there are no limits to human progress, which is to say they are very modern.

  • Some Leftist Catholics remind me of the Zealots who thought to bring about the Kingdom of God through the sword. A communist dictatorship though is a funny sort of Kingdom of God.

  • Such words for the “Catholic Left.” Then what is wrong with the “Catholic Right,” I wonder? Or does the “Right” comprise of the Catholics who “get it?”

  • Selective interpretation of the social teaching of the Church… which ultimately stems from liberalism as Leo XIII and Pius XI understood it.

  • In regard to the Catholic Right Eric, I can’t think of a comparable attempt by Catholic conservatives to trojan horse a body of doctrine completely inimical to Catholicism into the Church as has been the ongoing effort of some Catholics on the Left to baptize Marx. The nearest parallel I can think of predates the French Revolution with the unfortunate throne and altar doctrine of many clerics, although at least they could make the argument that the states they sought to wed the Church with were not anti-Catholic. In the case of Marxism, its overwhelming anti-Christian praxis should have innoculated Catholics from it without the necessity of papal intervention, but such was not the case.

  • Tito,

    No. 🙂

  • I think there’s a pretty strong throne and altar doctrine on the Catholic Right today, at least in the U.S., where the throne takes the form of military power.

    A case could also be made for a “‘Shut up, your Excellencies,’ he explained” doctrine, which denigrates the role of the bishops, individually and especially collectively, in developing social policies.

  • I read the Pope’s document carefully.

    Now I’m perplexed:

    1. Exactly what is objectionable in what he said?

    2. Has the Pope not condemned, in this very document, the arms buildup and the disgrace of military solutions? He only appears as a right winger if you’re looking from the vantage point of an extreme left wing ideologue.

    Maybe a few here ought to put down their Che Guevara coffee mugs read it again. The Holy Father is spot on.

    It is simply a fact of history that collectivist movements have enslaved the very people they promised to liberate.

    I am frankly a little more than concerned at the prideful inability of many leftists to acknowledge this fact of history, nay, the desire to whitewash this disgrace from history.

  • Who here is attacking the Pope?

  • MI,

    They participated and got deeply involved with Marxist governments. Dissidents such as Jesuit “Father” Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua who was involved with the Communist government then.

  • I’m always amused when people, especially conservatives who decry the tactic in others, appoint themselves the experts of All Things Liberal.

    I don’t think that Acts 4:32 is a bad things for which to strive. Certainly better than cuddling up to Pinochet or Cheney.

  • I’d rather cuddle up to Cheney than Karl Marx or Joseph Stalin any day of the week.

  • The early Christians quickly abandoned common ownership as completely unworkable Todd. Outside of monasteries and convents it has only been revived by Christians for short periods, usually with dire results. The Pilgrims tried it, and almost starved to death. William Bradford, the governor of the colony relates what happened next:

    “All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

    The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”

  • Michael I.,

    Donald will delete it at his leisure.

    For the time being I’m just amusing myself by reading your comments, thanks!

One Response to Virtue Isn't Quick and Easy

  • Very interesting.

    The Amish seem to be a nice prototype of a level of subsidiarity that we Catholics continue to debate and theorize about.

    Something that many Catholic economists should study further on.

Some Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Thursday, February 26, AD 2009

A decrease in solidarity means people have fewer resources to turn to in time of crisis.

With a decrease in solidarity, a man either makes it on his own or fails on his own.

If a man is struggling to make it on his own, a child becomes an unwelcome hindrance.  A child is an economic drain, and if a man has no other resources, a child might destroy his chances of success.

Thus it should come as no surprise that programs to provide economic aid to poor soon-to-be-parents would decrease abortion rates to some extent.

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6 Responses to Some Pseudo-Random Thoughts

  • Ryan,

    excellent! Not so sure it’s random.

  • I know of one anti-abortion program in the spirit of solidarity: Maggie’s Place in Phoenix. (

  • Matt,

    Thus the “pseudo”. I thought about saying “with exponential-time security”, but I don’t think anyone would have understood the reference. Mainly, it was a comment about how fragmented the ideas were, since I couldn’t really find a good way to express everything.

  • Zena,

    How ironic that you mentioned that!

    The girl I was courting back then was one of the original founders of that program, Maggies’ Place. I helped rustle up many beds and other items for the start up. Even did a little cleaning.

  • Abortion- the ultimate reaction to a Let The Good Times Roll Culture. Keep in mind it’s your pal G.E. who sees a major national backlash to it some time in the next 18 to 24 months. Speeded up by the economic plunge followed by Porkapalooza. No matter how much taxpayers’ scratch is funneled into the abomination that is Planned Parenthood. Just as the fall of the House of Madoff began a chain reaction of other Ponzi schemes’ collapses. Although I have pity for one such hustler- the Hon. R. Alan Stanford. Reports last week indicated his company may have been laundering cash for a major Mexican drug cartel. We hope he prays novenas of thanksgiving that the Feds snagged him in Virginia last week. Not found on a West Texas road, sections of him scattered hither and yon.

  • Don’t forget, Madame Pelosi tipped her hand to us a couple of weeks ago. The democrat party of death believes that preventing births is a valid response to the economic crisis, as it saves money for education, health and food. If they get their way we will contracept and abort the next generation into oblivion… who will pay for the baby boomers retirement then???

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Monday, February 23, AD 2009

One of the great principles that tends to be ignored in our debates about economics, social justice, and governmental involvement in the lives of the people is solidarity.  We argue about how involved the government should be in our lives, what kinds of safety nets it should provide, and to what extent it should mandate and appropriate in order to provide for the most needy of society.  We argue about how well certain economic theories–capitalism, Keynesian economics, socialism, etc.–work in providing justice, or even providing just shelter and food.  We argue about subsidiarity, and how it should be practiced, and while that touches on solidarity, it doesn’t fully overlap.

One of the arguments about governmental involvement is how the aid provided is cold and distant.  By the time  the welfare check is spat out of the massive, convulsing, bureaucratic mess that is the government, any principle of charity has been rendered flat.  The recipient is a name on the list, judged worthy to receive a handout based upon an entry in a database.  At first this seems like an argument of aesthetics.  If a man receives a welfare check from the government rather than from friends in the community or local charities, he still receives the money he needs to survive.  Yet there is a deeper problem here than merely looking at from whom the money comes, or how much charity exists in the entity delivering assistance.  The continual reliance on the federal government to solve our problems aids in the breakdown of solidarity.

Is it any wonder that we have become so polarized, so factious, so estranged?

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5 Responses to Am I My Brother's Keeper?

  • Great post and I agree with much of it.

    Let me offer this thought though. Often because of the political emotion of the topics there is perhaps a tenedency to think things were better in the good ole days before the big ole Federal Govt came on the scene.

    This is of course is not exactly true. There are still a few people in my state that are alive that were kids in the days of Huey and Earl Long. I am at times floored by the real poverty and devastation so many people were facing. Were there good times ?yes but there are reasons while Huey and Earl were so loved with their massive govt assistance to the poor. For that matter there is a reason in the deep South and the nation FDR was viewed as a patron Saint by many common people for decades.

    So there were real serious flaws

    That being said I think you are on to something. THis country just economic wise is different than it was in 1800. However for many of the problems we face a heatlhy dose of Federalism can still be applied.

    THe communial bonds that you talk about must be reestablished. However you are right it is no easy task. Especially in a world where big families are looked at with scorn

  • Well, I’m not try to assert that the past times were the good ol’ days. Rather, I wanted to paint a picture of how we got to the current dilemma, which I think wasn’t much of a problem (or at least not as much of a problem) in the earlier decades of the 20th century (though I think the 1880’s to the turn of the century some some similar problems). Indeed, past days carried their own problems, their own great struggles. I believe that problems with solidarity have risen and fallen over the centuries, and that currently we’re seeing a drastic collapse of solidarity in our nation.

  • I completely agree. I have seen so many people refuse necessary help because of pride. I try to make people understand that it’s ok to need help sometimes and it’s necessary that we be willing to give that help. Best wishes.

    – Schev

  • I sense a strong impulse toward solidarity in much of the current valuation of non-judgmentalism and inclusivitiy above all else. This is the Freshman Dorm Mentality: Let’s erase our points of difference in the hope that we can all get along. Maybe we end up “getting along” just fine, but ultimately these are superficial bonds — we have many acquaintances but few lifelong friends. Though we still long for it, what we have isn’t solidarity or community, but something much weaker. Erase enough of our differences and all that we have in common is our DNA.

    Even as we try to erase our differences, more behaviors seem to rise to the level of moral categorical imperative. If I have a barbecue in my backyard, will my vegan neighbor ostracize me? I have to worry at every turn not only that I’m being impractical, but that I’m being *immoral.* How can we have solidarity when so few of us share a common view of the summum bonum?

    Maybe that’s the rub: we have a staggering lack of imagination when it comes to our ideas about the common good and what human flourishing means. There is no sense of shared telos that we can all turn to and demonstrate how this action flows to that good. This state of affairs probably follows from many of the historical/social trends that Ryan described. We’ve become atomistic individuals, making choices that are unassailable simply because they’re our own. It’s true that there was no “golden age” or good ol’ days when everyone agreed on everything; but at a minimum there wasn’t a sanctification of all paths no matter how outlandish. It seems for real solidarity and community to exist, there have to be at least a few axioms about ultimate reality and the ends of human striving shared among all persons.

  • I completely agree, Ryan 🙂