STERN, SPIEGEL ONLINE (Germany), DIARIO CÓRDOBA (Spain), LA STAMPA (Italy), IZVESTIA/RIA NOVOSTI (Russia), CENTRAL NEWS (Japan), PEOPLE.COM (China), EPOCH TIMES (Chinese-language, U.S.)
From Chinese labs to German geology groups, the aftershocks are being felt across the global scientific community. Earlier this week, six seismologists and an official in the Italian city of L’Aquila were sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay a total of 9.1 million euros for not predicting an earthquake.
Scientists around the world have reacted with incomprehension, dismay and fury, warning that the verdict will have a dire effect on the protection of populations worldwide from future risks.
The president of Italy’s risk commission and several other members resigned in protest, reports La Stampa.
The scientists had been on a committee that did a risk assessment for the municipality of L’Aquila, in the central Italian region of Abruzzo. Now they are facing prison for not warning people that a devastating earthquake was bout to hit. L’Aquila, in a seismically active region of Italy, suffered a 6.3 on the Richter scale earthquake on April 6, 2009 that killed 309 and left 80,000 homeless, reported Stern.
Six days before the tremor, the seven men, who made up a risk committee, had reported that L’Aquila was not especially likely to experience an earthquake. A Spanish expert in earthquake-resistant construction, who knows several of those found guilty, told the Diario Córdoba that the scientists, some world-renowned, had all volunteered to serve on the committee. “Now no one will want to serve on these committees.”
“It was not expected that they would predict the earthquake, but they should have warned people about the danger,” says a lawyer for the eleven victims who sued, according to Stern.
“People died because of the scientists’ words,” said the government prosecutor.
But many say the blame is being assigned in the wrong places. “It is astonishing that they are trying scientists, yet do nothing against those who allowed these buildings to be built unsafely,” a Spanish seismologist told the Diario Córdoba.
Even before the verdict, 5000 Italian scientists presented an open letter to the government, protesting against the allegations. “What were they supposed to say?” asked a Columbia University geologist. “
The Epoch Times, a Chinese-language paper based in the U.S., and the Japanese Central News were among many voices comparing the scientists to Galileo, who was persecuted for his scientific beliefs. The verdict “throws us back to medieval times,” a Russian seismologist told Izvestia, according to the Ria Novosti news service.
“I am horrified,” Martin Meschede of the German Geological Society told Spiegel Online. “I will advise my colleagues to no longer provide risk assessments. What scientist will dare to talk about the danger of a volcanic eruption now?”
The Italian state agency for civil protection, denouncing the verdict, says that the first consequence of the decision will be “the paralysis of predictive and preventive action,” reports La Stampa.
“The legal system of any nation could be affected by this precedent,” writes the Chinese news website People.com.
Politicians have begun to react as well. “There is a danger that this will establish the idea that scientists are not allowed to be uncertain,” Italian Environment Minister Corrado Clini told La Stampa.
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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