Is Angela Merkel Really Still An East German At Heart?



BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a cold, power-hungry would-be dictator overseeing the insidious collapse of democracy, according to a new book causing a political stir in Germany.

Gertrud Höhler's book, Die Patin (which means "the Godmother" in English and retains all of its mafia connotations) paints a grim portrait of the Chancellor, who is accused of abandoning all political morals, poaching ideas from other parties, hurriedly pushing through legislation and using the euro zone crisis as a political scapegoat.

These are all part of a secret plan to impose an authoritarian regime, dubbed "System M," writes Höhler, one of Germany's leading public intellectuals and former advisor to Helmut Kohl.

Der Spiegel reports that Höhler, 71, insists there is no personal feud between the two women. Rather, the 295-page thesis is presented as a deeper socio-cultural understanding of post-reunification Germany: Merkel's upbringing in the single-party state of East Germany is the root of her cold pragmatism, and therefore she is unlike her Wessi counterparts.

According to Höhler, Merkel quickly learned to trust no one and never reveal her cards while growing up in the GDR.

Die Welt sees the book as a well-timed blow to Merkel's grip on power, with elections in Germany just one year away, as Höhler calls for the lower ranks of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU, Angela Merkel's party) to challenge the authority of "the she-wolf."

But Merkel may not have too much to worry about, and can take heart in being named the world's most powerful woman by Forbes last week.

"History has often showed us the strength of the forces that are unleashed by the yearning for freedom." - Angela Merkel

— Forbes (@Forbes) August 22, 2012

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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


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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