Geopolitics

Anti-Wall Street Movement Ready To 'Occupy' Germany

Protests linked to America's “Occupy Wall Street” movement are scheduled to take place this weekend in several German cities. Are the bank-bashing demonstrations about to go global?

A protestor in New York City
A protestor in New York City

Worldcrunch *NEWSBITES

MUNICH -- For weeks in New York, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement has been protesting the power of the banks and social inequality. The movement has now gone European – in fact, global: on Saturday, Oct. 15, people in nearly 50 German cities and some 70 countries will gather to make their voices heard against the financial markets, "the system," and more.

On Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, groups like "Real Democracy Now," "Occupy," "We Are The 99%," "United for Global Change," and "Anonymous," are calling for Oct. 15 to be a day of world protest.

"We‘re part of an international democratic movement, it's a global thing," says Mike Nagler, a coordinator for "Attac Deutschland." "This concerns all of us. We all want more say. That's why we're giving people the chance to step up to the podium and speak -- so we can air different ways of doing things." Those "different ways' could include nationalizing all banks, stopping cuts to social benefits and more direct democracy, according to Nagler.

Another group protesting on Oct. 15 is "Occupy Frankfurt," which is affiliated with "Occupy Germany." At least 400 activists connected to the Frankfurt group and to "Attac Deutschland" are expected to march to the headquarters of the European Central Bank. Leftists, Greens and other political groups are also expected to join the protesters around the country.

But neither organizers nor authorities are venturing to say just how many people will show up. In Berlin, where protests are expected to be fairly substantial, the police say so far that 350 are expected at one demonstration, 1,000 at another. However, 12 protest groups are listed on Facebook under "Occupy Berlin."

As of Thursday, 100 people had registered to participate, and 2,500 had clicked "like." Protests are also expected in Hamburg and Munich. "We're not talking about mass demonstrations," says Nagler. "But we know for sure it won't be a flop."

Also unknown is if the demonstrations in Germany or elsewhere will turn into a sit-in protest action in the New York style. However, Frankfurt authorities say that one of the "Occupy Frankfurt" demonstrations is supposed to last "for an unspecified period of time" and that a handful of demonstrators intend to set up "two or three tents' across from the European Central Bank.

Read the full original article in German by Lydia Bentsche

Photo – NLNY

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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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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