Geopolitics

After Summer Of Chaos, How Donald Trump Can Calm Our World

The past few months have left a feeling of an ever less stable future. But a clean defeat of the Republican in November is the quickest way to bring back some order to the world.

Blood, tears and Trump, summer of 2016
Blood, tears and Trump, summer of 2016
Dominique Moïsi

-Analysis-

PARIS â€" Reflecting on the events that shaped the summer of 2016 its easy to be overwhelmed by the many images evoking contradictory emotions. The smiles of triumphant athletes mixed in with the tears of parents of the victims of the Nice terror attack. And yet, one image prevails over all the others. It's the picture of a five-year-old Syrian boy pulled from the rubble of his home in the besieged city of Aleppo, after yet another bombing from Syrian forces (or were they Russian?).

His body is covered with dust, his face with blood. His gaze, which is fixed somewhere into the distance, conveys all the world's misery.

Like the women of Guernica who looked up at the skies and saw death coming in a wave of warplanes, this picture will come to symbolize the Syrian conflict and our shame in the face of the human, as well as geopolitical, tragedy.

As top UN official, Stephen O'Brien said , "this callous carnage that is Syria has long since moved from the cynical, to the sinful."

The Syrian tragedy will arguably go down in history as one of the greatest failures by the international community of the 21st century.

The shock and outcry triggered by the image of the boy has long since faded. Instead, French minds are occupied with other, apparently more peaceful, images. Beyond the bombs destroying lives in Syria, we’ve become fascinated by the sight of "covered" women at the beach.

"Cover this breast which I shall not behold," said Molière's Tartuffe. "Unveil this body which you shall not cover," say today's defenders of France's secularism (laïcité), at the risk of falling into the trap set by the disciples of a political Islam.

"I order you to be free," is the message touted by Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Nicolas Sarkozy, who both spoke out in favor of banning the "burkini”.

The dispute over the burkini is a perfect illustration, both tragic and ridiculous, of how we've lost our bearings in the face of chaos.

What the summer of 2016 has shown is how bad we’ve become at seeing the world’s bigger challenges. While some issues are sensationalised, many others go underreported. It’s a dangerous mix of ignorance and indifference.

There are countries, if not continents, that seem to be beyond the reach of our radar. How many articles and news reports from this summer on the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela? Thousands of starving refugees are leaving this oil-rich country, victims of their elite's corruption and their leaders' recklessness.

A former French prime minister who recently passed away, Michel Rocard, once famously said that we "cannot host all the misery of the world." Indeed, we don't even seem capable of even reporting it.

The developing nations of Africa have struggled to capture the media spotlight with news focusing on little more besides electoral messages aimed at spreading fear and the dual imperatives of security and development.

In contrast, everything directly or indirectly linked to ISIS receives widespread media coverage, which is legitimate, of course, but also potentially dangerous. ISIS thrives on media attention. Even as ISIS loses ground it continues to recruit men and seeks to balance its defeats with the imagination it shows in its choice of targets.

The summer of 2016 will also be remembered as the summer of Turkey and Russia. The two powers, nostalgic for their imperial past, are led by men of a similar temperament whose view of the world is shaped by cynicism and authoritarian ideology. While Ankara and Moscow are both indulging in a show of force, their actions are representative of a world in disarray.

"You may not like what I am, but you can't be without me," say Putin and Erdogan.

Amid the chaos of the world, the debates that followed the referendum in favor of Brexit occupy a special place. The British now realize the complexity of the process they've set in motion.

"Only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated," said French writer Lamartine. More prosaically, can Europe learn to live without Great Britain, and Great Britain without Europe?

The summer's only real good news came from the U.S. where Donald Trump engaged in political self-sabotage. The Republican candidate has fallen prey to his own abusive language and his taste for perpetual provocation.

After his senseless statements against the parents of an "American hero," a Muslim soldier who died fighting in Iraq, many Republican leaders wanted to distance themselves from the "losing machine" that is Donald Trump. He has neither the charisma and political instincts of Ronald Reagan, nor the cold and calculating intelligence of Richard Nixon.

If the latest polls are to be believed, it now seems increasingly unlikely that the world's biggest democratic power will become, as a result of its electoral choice, the world's laughing stock.

Can the defeat of populism in the United States generate an upswing of more moderate political forces that will next year stand for election across Europe? We're about to find out.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

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.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

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

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

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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