BUENOS AIRES â€" A battle over prized parliamentary office space for Maximo Kirchner, son of former Argentine presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, has become a symbol of the defeated Kirchner forces' bid to hold on to the last remnants of power.
The younger Kirchner won a seat in the December general elections, but his leftist Victory Front party lost to a conservative majority in the election that now wants him out of the spacious office digs, Argentine daily Clarín reports. So to avoid the 38-year-old Kirchner being turfed out, allies in the legislature began sleeping in the office and blocking its entrance, in a "squatting" style action, Clarin reports. Not untypical of the Kirchnerist rank and file, and more so its leftist or youth wing the Cámpora, headed by the young Kirchner, who was once tipped as a possible successor in his own right to his presidential parents. Last fall's general election saw Cristina Kirchner's handpicked successor Daniel Scioli defeated by Mauricio Macri for the presidency.
A member of Maximo Kirchner's staff told Clarín, "we're working, we have things to do," when workers came to clear out the office and change the locks. Maximo Kirchner himself was cited as saying "nobody has usurped anything. They were doing up the office." Another daily La Nación, observed that the showdown was only the latest example of how the Kirchner clan had confused the state and its own personal properties.
Reports say the pro-Kirchner legislators had been occupying the entire third floor since 2007, and now, as their legislators have dropped from 120 to 95, it was only normal they should free up some space. On Monday, in an echo of similar moves in Venezuela, the presidential office ordered the portraits of the late president Néstor Kirchner and his friend, the late Hugo Chávez, removed from parliament to be sent to a museum.
Ironically, the current Maximo Kirchner showdown also recalls the difficulties that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had getting Chavez's daugther to move out of the presidential palace after her father's death in 2013.
Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.
SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.
The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.
It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.
Seoul housing prices top London and New York
In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.
According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.
Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.
One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.
According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.
Playing the stock market
At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.
A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."
In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.
42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s
Game of survival
In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.
But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.
This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.
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