Monochrom: Economic Recession Wisdom from Sock Puppets.

Today on BBtv, Austrian art collective monochrom return with a new episode of their subversive puppet show: “Kiki and Bubu and the Good Plan.” Our socked crusaders explore the connections between Michael Bay, the military-entertainment complex, Web 2.0 business cocktail parties, and the impending collapse of the American economy.

* BBtv: Monochrom’s “Kiki, Bubu, and the Self”
* Nazi Petting Zoo
* Fisch Interview
* Orwell’s 1984 deconstructed by puppets
* Monochrom’s Marxist sock puppets
* Monochrom: MyFaceSpace, the musical
* Monochrom: Campfire at Will

* Monochrom: Falco Stairs
* Monochrom: Bar code artist Scott Blake / Falco stencil memorial
* Human USB Hack / Very Simple Motor
* Mark’s Curie Engine / Monochrom’s love song for Lessig

Update: monochrom’s own “director’s cut” of today’s episode is here.

About Xeni Jardin

Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: xeni@boingboing.net.
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34 Responses to Monochrom: Economic Recession Wisdom from Sock Puppets.

  1. Spinobobot says:

    I’m for a command economy run by artificial intelligence. Sure, planned economies run by human beings have failed miserably. But an artificial greater-than-human intelligence might do a better job, plus there’s a chance that it wouldn’t have the same kinds of biases that humans do. (Making its code open source, for instance, could prevent its programmers from seeking to unduly privilege themselves and their friends.)

    Maybe robots taking us over wouldn’t be such a bad thing… C’mon, I doubt it could be any worse than this neo-liberal globalized capitalism BS… (I mean, if they killed all of us, at least that would be fair!)

    But if we can’t get robots, sock puppets are probably the next best thing.

  2. jjapes says:

    All socks are equal, but some socks are more equal than others.

  3. SKR says:

    Excuse the Wall o’ Text

    FREE markets are efficient. The problem is that most people view efficiency through the lens of intent and results. For instance if the goal is to provide the most people with inexpensive cars, the quickest most direct way to do that is for the government to make inexpensive cars and give them away. In that respect, competition within a market that eventually leads to lower prices would seem inefficient. The problem is that the first solution assumes that the goal is valid, that all people want inexpensive cars, that all people need inexpensive cars, and that the government knows the best way to make inexpensive cars. The idea of perfect knowledge in a command economy has been empirically disproved time and time again. What happens is that you get some efficient successes that are completely wiped out by spectacular failures which more than offset any efficiency gained through a direct command approach. However, in an evolutionary system, network, market, or whatever you want to call it, incremental change will take time. Small failures will be wiped aside and small successes will continue to compound allowing the greatest possible benefits with the smallest risk of damages over all. Sure, capitalism is not a perfect economic system. There are inefficiencies, but the inefficiencies that do exist get whittled down in a functioning market and minimized. This doesn’t happen in a command economy. Command economies have historically displayed magnification of inefficiency.

    With regards to linking economics and ethics, the most radical theorists, in my estimation, were Mises and Rand. How is it ethical to restrict market freedom, as long as fraud and violence are not involved?

    Zikzak: Markets are claimed in the video to be inefficient with the implication that a command economy would be more efficient because it would get rid of all that silly competition. I am merely suggesting that we look at some OLD empirical evidence from those command economies that really tested the theory. They either failed completely, or reformed toward the free market precisely because there was so much waste. I don’t think I suggested that anyone go try to live in a socialist state. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. Your statement about market knowledge is spot on however greed is not the problem. As long as fraud and violence are guarded against, greed can be beneficial. It becomes a problem when people cast aside morals and wrong people in order to make money. Everyone has to act in their own individual self interest because they cannot make determinations about what is best for other people. Those other people need to make that choice. If they are free they can make that choice.

    It amazes me how authoritarian people can be, what ever happened to the love of freedom in the US?

  4. SKR says:

    Flynt, how does a free market make it harder to keep morality operating? Morality is a constraint in any system. Morality prevents people from making as much money as possible in any system. Is someone less likely to point a gun at another person and demand his or her money in a socialist system than a capitalist system? One of the most common initiators of crime is poverty. There has never been another economic system that has raised more people out of poverty, than capitalism. Is it more moral to take someone’s money when a government agent is holding that gun to their head, instead of doing it yourself? (If you don’t think the government uses guns to take your taxes, try not paying them.)
    The argument that capitalists are immoral always makes me shudder. It is rooted in the notion that profit is a zero-sum game. In other words, if I am making money, I must be taking it away from someone else. That is simply untrue. That other person is willingly giving me money for a good or service. Both parties come away happy. It is a win-win. Odds are they are paying me to do something they cannot do themselves, or that they do not have time to do themselves because their time is better spent making money doing what they do best. This is the foundation for the division of labor. Does this mean that the capitalist system is impervious to immoral behavior? No, but no system is. Socialists are generally more than willing to violate the individual’s rights for the public good. How is this moral? If I have a right to my body and the product of that body, what right does anyone have to take any of that away for someone else’s gain? That is immoral.

  5. Burz says:

    This appeals to our potential as rational actors.

    However the course that capitalism has taken for many decades now is to induce irrational desire for products and services that not only stokes the economic engine, but fosters personal identification with the supplying brands. Out of this, societal “order” is created as people habituated to (rewarded by) irrationality can be led around by their by their wants and fears.

    Maintaining this irrational fealty to overconsumption is an increasingly ferocious level of corporate propaganda (advertisement) that eventually seeps into everything and every thought like a mirror of Orwell’s doublespeak. Indeed the kneejerk hostility that non-market movements encounter when they coin new terms is rarely if ever expressed at the orders-of-magnitude-greater language manipulation by private corporations.People have been conditioned to protect the “innocent” corporate doublespeak from any language that doesn’t jibe with the world of corn syrup-infused, gadgets-fashions-and-SUVs reward mechanisms they experience.

    As for the reference to “open source” projects, that’s treading on thin ice. With the exception of Firefox (and just maybe OpenOffice) the FOSS movement has been unable to produce things that the general population find accessible and useful; its greatest achievements have been in tools for programmers and system admins. A new economic system based on the FOSS model would be a system where economists successfully address the needs/tastes of only themselves and of other economists.

  6. SKR says:

    Spinobobot, is this neo-liberal globalized capitalism BS a free market? If so how is the free market unfair? Is it because it demands that people actually earn their way as opposed to using government to force others who have earned their money to give it to you instead because you NEED it? Oh yeah, that sounds fair.

    • Antinous says:

      SKR,

      I’m fairly certain that I know who you are. At any rate, you’re dominating the conversation on your “first” stab at BB comments. And you’re doing it with only marginal civility.

  7. KipEsquire says:

    Where’s OLPM?!?

  8. SKR says:

    OMG, what a load of BS. Markets are inefficient? Would Superman please fly around the Earth, go back in time, and tell that to the poor Soviet comrades standing in a day long line waiting for bread. I am stunned that anyone could misunderstand economics this badly.

  9. glorifiedbroomexpert says:

    #30, the way I understand it is, in the simplest terms, the government is a collection of elites who have authority over other people.

    If you’re planning the economy, are you not imposing some sort of arbitrary limitations on what people can and cannot do? Hi Joe, I’m afraid your application to become an animator has been denied – the Novak report released last year show there are already enough people in this industry and emits more than its fair share of greenhouse gas emissions. Please make another choice. One with a smaller climate footprint.

    Okay, let’s say for now you have the perfect planned economy. Do you suppose everyone in the country would believe it’s in his/her interest? How do you get people to comply and co-operate if they would rather not?

    You need some level of liberty taken away to keep those people to the plan. That coercion has to be administered by a state-sanctioned elite, ie. the government.

    Or, if you say, “let the individual be able to opt out.” then the a plan is rendered unnecessary. Why do you need a plan for making economic decisions for people if they are able to make them themselves? I wonder how you can enact any economic plan without imposing on an individual’s right to decide for themselves.

  10. glorifiedbroomexpert says:

    #31, how does a corporation like American Apparel fit into your perspective?

  11. Spinobobot says:

    …is this neo-liberal globalized capitalism BS a free market? If so how is the free market unfair?

    My initial comment was meant to be somewhat humorous, so I didn’t really elaborate on this point.

    “Free market” is a term of art. If you want to call the current economic order a “free market”, then be my guest. But what you call it has very little to do with how fair it is. I recognize that I’m not going to be able to convince people like SKR on this point, but let me say a little about my opposition to this so-called “free market”.

    Let’s start with corporate welfare, a grossly unfair set of practices. Since at least the second World War, a lot of crucial R&D in the US has been funded and conducted by the government. Organizations like ARPA/DARPA (the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency) put money into high risk projects with dual use possibilities (military and civilian). Despite this public funding, the eventual profits that accrue from selling civilian uses are privatized, i.e., kept in the hands of corporate entities. That’s but one example.

    I hate corporations, generally speaking, and think we should use the power of the state (at least ostensibly democratic) to keep them in check. The primary reason for my dislike and distrust is that they are extremely powerful artificial persons that have their own distinct sets of interests, only incidentally related to the interests of human beings.

    Imagine what corporations will be like, say, a hundred years from now (if they’re still around). I imagine at least a few of them will be entirely robotic. This is just the logical endpoint of the replacement of human workers by machines. Indeed, if AI ever does reach superhuman levels (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t eventually), it would be a waste of money to employ humans at all.

    Hans Moravec, the brilliant roboticist who, as far as I know, was the first to make this observation, uses the analogy of rising floodwater. A lot of unskilled manual labor (the low-lying land) is already completely automated, and as the water rises, all blue-collar workers may eventually drown. To think that the same won’t happen to professionals, managers, executives, and so forth, eventually to all of humanity, would require believing that there is something special about the biological stuff that makes up our brains that would prevent this from being replicated in silicon or whatever composes computers of the future. It’s a question of when, not if.

    If human beings last that long, we’ll see that corporations have outlasted their usefulness to us. They’ll be dependent on us in a weird way (as consumers), but really they will just appear to us to be superhuman psychopaths, doing whatever they can get away with to maximize profit (their sole objective). Personally, I already think of corporations as superhuman psychopaths, because that’s essentially what they are (even though human beings currently make up a substantial part of them). Any system which seeks to let them have free reign is, from a human perspective, practically suicidal.

    If this sounds too far-fetched, then my default suggestion would be to read someone like Chomsky. His work is always extremely well-documented, so if you don’t believe something he says you can always check with his sources. He provides plenty of reasons to be suspicious of the free market, based purely on its history.

  12. Captain Squiffy says:

    It is important to recognize that markets_are_inefficient. “Inefficiency” in a narrow economic understanding means that plenty of resources are expended to produce a good or service. The outcome of that inefficiency is supposed to be a product that consumers want at the lowest price that can be sold by a firm for the highest possible price with the lowest expenditure of economic resources. In other words, markets shake out what folks will buy. It is supposed to be a natural process, although it never is for a lot of reasons.

    I like them sock puppets. It is practically the work of an insurrectionist to link economics and ethics.

    Full sails and a following wind,

    Cap’n Squiffy

  13. SKR says:

    Burz, who are you to determine which of my desires are irrational? I think somebody reads Adbusters too often. :P

    The market has always preyed on peoples fears and desires. Why else would someone have purchased an amulet of protection 1000 years ago other than fear. The problem with fearmongering isn’t that it occurs but people buy into it. This may have something to do with a societal move away from reason and other Enlightenment values.
    Then again maybe people aren’t all that irrational after all. We are starting to see that people don’t have an irrational fealty to overconsumption. What the Adbusters crowd called overconsumption, the rest of America called consumption. It wasn’t over anything because they still had access to credit. Their homes were increasing in equity and they could finance a lifestyle that way. This was caused because of the Fed making credit cheap and plentiful. Now we have seen a credit contraction and what has been the result? Americans are not spending money like water. Hmmm. They are starting to behave rationally. Maybe they always were, the people who thought they were irrational just didn’t have all the requisite information. Funny how that usually seems to be the case.

  14. grenz says:

    Hey folks, Johannes of monochrom here.
    Good to see Kiki and Bubu are up and running.

    You can find the (slightly longer) director’s uncut on the Kiki and Bubu page:
    http://www.monochrom.at/kiki-and-bubu/

    Cheers!

  15. zikzak says:

    #1: Pointing out that the free market is an inefficient economic system is not the same as claiming that it is the /least/ efficient of any possible economic system.

    Your argument is comparable to those who, whenever human rights abuses in the US are criticized, respond “What, would you rather live in China?”.

    The free market is not the apex of all human progress and potential, and acknowledging that doesn’t make one a Soviet fanboy.

  16. themindfantastic says:

    Who would think that simple sock puppets could be so seditious I love it!

  17. kirkjerk says:

    Reminds me of that pro-Hemp (or communist, or something) guy at Harvard Square w/ the Uncle Sam lip flapping puppet board.

    On the one hand it’s hard to be much smarter than a market, ’cause the market is trying all kinds of things at once and potentially better rewards good thinking. On the other hand, when I just think about how much money is spent on, say, car advertisements… seems like there’s a big tragedy of the commons there that benefits advertising and related industries and makes cars more expensive for everyone else…

  18. glorifiedbroomexpert says:

    What if I think all the resources required making this video were a waste? That you are wrong in every way? Or you could have helped many starving kids in Ethiopia instead?

    It doesn’t matter. You and your team decided to commit your own resources, time and effort into producing this video. You are free to use what you own the way you want it to be used.

    On the other hand, how would it be possible for me to promote ideas about alternate systems under a planned economy? Would I have to seek funds from an official, would I be subject to a limitation on how much time I can spend spreading it, just so I wouldn’t be “wasting” resources? Who the hell decides what’s a waste of time and what’s not anyway?

    What’s more likely, a milllion people utilizing/wasting their own resources, or an elite utilizing/wasting a million’s resources?

    And keep in mind any leap forward in human progress came from brilliant individuals – Edison, Newton, Einstein, Socrates, Columbus, Franklin, etc. – never ever from a government directive.

  19. grenz says:

    #9 Well, check out the uncut version on the Kiki and Bubu page and you will meet your old friend, the OLPM…

  20. Flynterlude says:

    SKR, I’m not quite sure what they ARE proposing, but they seem to be against a command economy and the truly woeful bureaucratic collectivism that entails. I’d have to see more discussion on what exactly they suggest before I make any real judgment.

    As it stands I find the market to be the worst system except for all the others. I think the point in the video about people being treated the same as wool is a good way to put it, and adds a wrinkle free-marketers need to consider. Free markets work well as long as fraud and violence is kept to a minium, right? But the way the market works makes it harder to keep ‘morality’ operating, because the raw profit-maximizing impulse treats morality as a constraint or inefficiency keeping the individual agent from making as much money as possible.
    Without a groundwork of basic morals and consumer behavior instilled in the citizenry by school, church, advertising, etc, things don’t work as well as they ought to. Thus, a ‘free’ market only works as long as there is a correspondingly high degree of social control.

    Also, I think a planned economy would probably not include the production of stupidly complicated watches, as tragic as that prospect might seem to some boingers.

  21. permafrost says:

    #6 / That’s pretty much what they talk about in the film…

    Yay Kiki and Bubu!

  22. noen says:

    There is not and never has been any such thing as a free market. To imagine such a thing we would need to put an end to subsidizing industries, an end to inflated executive salaries unrelated to performance, an end to limited liability protection and a likely return to strict torts for corporate misconduct, and an end to foreign military interventions to prop up private interests. Capitalists can’t afford capitalism. They do not want capitalism for themselves, only for you. They are able to get special deals, rights and privileges from the government. Why are we in Iraq? We are there at the behest of the oil companies. It certainly hasn’t served our best interest. Did they pay for that public service?

    At it’s best the system we have now is corporate socialism but it’s probably more like a kleptocracy (rule by thieves).

  23. zikzak says:

    #6: You say it’s hard to be smarter than “a market”, but is it the market that’s smart, or the people participating in it? It’s the people, of course. So really what you’re saying is that it’s harder for you or I to be smarter than a huge collection of people which includes some who are prodigies and geniuses. I can never outsmart the car industry, because somewhere out there is someone who’s smarter than me about cars, and she’s participating in the same market.

    Maybe a more accurate statement is that it’s hard to be smarter than a network. The free market uses a network, but networks aren’t inextricably linked to the free market. We can create networks which are smarter than each one of us without using individualistic greed as the sole organizing principle.

    Take the internet. No, really, take it!

  24. avidd says:

    I think the most tragic trait of a market economy is that most of the work we do is redundant or counter productive. Think of all the people working on the same problems. Think of all the incompatible standards, proprietary systems, and planned obsolescence. Think of the people who’s job it is to support all the people who don’t have time to cook their own meals or fix their own plumbing because their busywork job takes all their time. We could be as prosperous with a 16 hour work week while using less resources.

  25. grenz says:

    I love Americans who complain about governments.

  26. zikzak says:

    Planned economies fail not because they are planned, but because of the way in which they are planned.

    So far, the structures we use to make governmental decisions have been woefully inadequate. Large populations have generally relied on either an autocrat or an assembly of elites who have been elected by the masses to make decisions for us.

    The idea that such systems can make good, efficient decisions about anything, let alone complex economics, is laughable. Therefore, for a long time the only even remotely workable solution for economic decision-making has been to “let the market sort it out”.

    And it’s kind-of, sort-of worked. But there have been a lot of horrible side-effects. So far, we’ve believed that these side effects are unfortunate but inevitable, since the free market is the only possible way to make economic decisions.

    However, we’re approaching a point in civilization where new and powerful forms of decision-making are emerging. Information technology is starting to hint at ways we can make decisions in an organized, democratic way without relying on a bunch of elites to do it on our behalf. We’re realizing that technology can create systems of decision making that are direct, agile, nuanced, and extremely convenient to participate in.

    When we compare the potential of these new “hyper-democratic” systems to the free market, it’s hard not to see the market as an antiquated and brutal notion.

  27. The Bus says:

    The thing is, most of the complaints I hear about capitalism and a free market economy don’t have anything to do with capitalism whatsoever. I’ll agree with what Noen (#21) said but change it slightly: many of those in power (be it in government, business, or otherwise) don’t want capitalism. They want capitalism for others, but they want to be protected by tariffs, favorable legislation, etc.

    Quoting Wikipedia, “By definition, in a free market environment buyers and sellers do not coerce or mislead each other nor are they coerced by a third party.” And that’s how free markets work, in theory: once there’s misinformation, the whole thing collapses. The only way to keep markets free is to keep information free (as in speech) and widely available. In the most recent example of the failure of the “free” market, the US housing bubble, there are heaps of misinformation among all parties involved.

    I’m a big fan of capitalism and to paraphrase an acquaintance, capitalism and global trade is the single biggest poverty-squashing movement the world has ever seen. That, of course, does not mean it is ideal in its current form (far from it).

    Governments, if they need to be involved in the free market, need to prevent companies from exploiting the commons. Burz (#25) pointed out that money becomes the only source of value. Adbusters, a magazine I mostly read to get a Devil’s Advocate point of view, also mentions that GDP is an inexact measure of the prosperity of a country.

    However, this is something that we need to look at as a society. To entrust any government to do this would very simply not work.

    Spinobot’s (#18) idea for an AI-commanded economy is interesting. After all, a significant amount of current stock trading is done entirely by software. I’d bet dollars to donuts that it’s not open source though.

  28. certron says:

    While maybe I haven’t caught it, but it doesn’t seem like there are very many comments that suggest capitalism is OK for some things and socialism is OK for some other things, and maybe some other system for certain other things. Anarcho-syndicalism? Who knows?

    The way I see it, there are essentially 3 push-pull struggles going on with capitalism.

    1.Consumers want choices between products so they can get the best value for their money. Meanwhile, the companies are trying to drive each other out of business (or buy each other) so they can control the market and push prices as high as possible. The problem is that there only needs to be a tiny bit of price fixing or collusion and the market is no longer free. The consumer loses.

    2. The words ‘free market capitalism’ are repeated so often as to turn it into a mantra, when in practice, companies often make deals with indigenous monopoly organizations such as governments and their associated military and simultaneously lock in profits while impoverishing their ‘customers’. Privatization of previously nationalized water sources is a good example of this.

    3. Companies and capital can move across borders with ease, creating or destroying jobs as it seeks to maximize profits. People can’t waltz across borders quite so easily and expect to remain unmolested. This is where governments take the side of the businesses against that of people. This isn’t just across national borders. Plenty of states and towns have various tax and other incentives to encourage investment, often amounting to a giveaway at the expense of the citizens. (There, I finally said citizens instead of consumers. Happy? These things tend to happen regardless of who gets to run for office or who gets voted in.)

    One way to think about it is that capitalism serves the interest of capital. A capitalist system tends to consume anything in sight in order to turn it into a profitable good, and to make the price of that good as high as possible. I’m not saying this is wrong, but morality doesn’t tend to come into play when there are dollar signs whizzing around. The government doesn’t often seem very keen on regulating these activities, either.

    This doesn’t mean that government doesn’t have an infinite capacity to screw things up, but it seems that more often, government takes the money, and then gives the benefit away for free to private interests.

    I assume I’m at least making some sense here, it is late at the end of a long day. It was long because I needed to trade my labor for money in order to trade money for needs and wants. My needs and wants are competing for my available dollars, so I try to make sure the market in my mind finds an equitable allocation.

    Hi, Johannes! I hope you keep on surfin’!

  29. shadesfox says:

    Another argument for a planned economy? Hmm… I suppose it could work, if only we could find someone who could make plans that survive contact with reality.

  30. grenz says:

    #29 Do we ever mention a government? And why do you think an alternate system (e.g. planned economy) has to be government driven?

  31. Flynterlude says:

    I was perhaps a bit harsh when I implied that “capitalists are immoral.” A more nuanced position is that the freer a market is, the more we have to rely on social norms to keep people from behaving badly. The 1950s and 60s in the US are a good example of this, geopolitics aside, but they were in part a product of attitudes formed during the depression and WWII.

    As for the issue of “is this neo-liberal globalized capitalism BS a free market?” the question probably isn’t as rhetorical as you might imagine. There’s quite a bit of rule-setting by governments (and influence on that rule-setting by rent seekers), not to mention the longstanding problem of ‘small narrow interest group vs large apathetic group’ highlighted when we look at issues like farm subsidies.

  32. permafrost says:

    #11 Reality is a strange thing to talk about … Almost cynical.

  33. Burz says:

    Noen has a point: Like communists, the freemarket extremists are always whining that a true realization of their ideology has never been attempted.

    So we are left with looking at degrees of market freedom and market regulation. I say it is the versions which hew toward the extremes that lead to tyranny, having a “communal” or “private” label affixed, and I hold our current Unites States as a prime example of the privatized tyranny. This class of rich shareholders and executives stand squarely in the way of social and ecological progress, and are now holding us ransom for taxpayer bailouts lest they all divest and make everything ground to a halt.

    On “freedom”: Why is it some of the most de-regulated power markets in the USA are the least likely to pay individuals back for excess electricity they generated from residential solar and wind equipment? Answer: Large private interests rule, and are not interested in giving up any control of their market.

    This country could flagellate itself to death while chanting mantras of the “free market” while the rest of the world leaves us in the dust.

    “Flynt, how does a free market make it harder to keep morality operating?”
    Because it dispenses with any notion or measurement of value other than money saved or exchanged by individuals and corporations. Communities, ecosystems, families, nothing has standing other than their potential monetary contribution to GDP and the coffers of major corporate shareholders. As long as the resources (or spoils) can be summoned, it entices people to drive more, redecorate more, rebuild more, fly more, collect and consume more — increasing always anything that will make people feel more powerful, inflate their egos, and make them physically and emotionally more detached from each other.

    Useful as it can be, money is just the wrong abstraction, the wrong unit of measure for a great many processes and things. And because it can’t accurately value much of what its being used for, your love of money results in tremendous waste in terms of everything from toxic environmental damage to the millions of people in this country who are now treated like human refuse in our madly expanding, ‘free market’ prison industry.

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