WORLDCRUNCH

Columbus Statue In Mexico City Is Coming Back — Quietly

Target of vandalism and anti-colonial protests, the Christopher Columbus statue in the emblematic Plaza Colón (Columbus Place) lost its place to an indigenous woman statue. But now officials have voted to put it back up in a quiet and chic district called Polanco.

Columbus Statue In Mexico City Is Coming Back — Quietly

File: Monument to Christopher Columbus (Buenavista, Ciudad de México).jpg ...

Alidad Vassigh

MEXICO CITY — Christopher Columbus, the 15th century "discoverer" of the Americas, has recently been having a bad run in the Western Hemisphere, among the European conquerors getting a bitter anti-colonial reassessment of their supposed heroic role in history. In Mexico City, authorities recently decided not to restore the prominent Columbus statue to the spot it had occupied since the 19th century, after it was taken down for repairs in October 2020.

Now, Mexico's Council of Monuments, a state body, decided unanimously to move Columbus from the emblematic Plaza Colón (Columbus Place) along the city's most prestigious avenue, to a quieter, residential district called Polanco, the Heraldo de México daily reported.

The statue, which was made in Paris and had become the target of sometimes political graffiti and vandalism in the 1990s, became a touchstone as part of the worldwide Black Lives Matter last year. Now officials have sought to keep Columbus in a public space, but take away much of his spotlight: the spot in Parque América was chosen over 20 other possibilities, in part as this area has the capital's lowest vandalism figure — at least so far. Polanco is a wealthy residential zone that includes embassies, and it may be no coincidence here that it has a greater proportion of residents of Spanish or European origins.

For the Plaza Colón, the city wants instead a monument to commemorate native Mexican women, though that has proved as divisive as Columbus's removal. A sculpture initially chosen, named Tlali, is being shelved, as critics said it was the work of a white, male artist with a Spanish name, Pedro Reyes, and chosen without consultations. Reyes recently insisted the principal challenge in this project was in fact aesthetic, not political. That may be the hardest case of all to make.

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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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