He was the candidate she feared the most. Not only could he unify his own party, but he could siphon crucial votes from her conservative Catholic base. And now that François Fillon won yesterday's "right and center" primary ahead of next year's presidential election, the far-right French leader Marine Le Pen must shift her strategy.
The low-key Fillon, 62, who served as prime minister from 2007-2012 under Nicolas Sarkozy, outmaneuvered both Sarkozy and favorite Alain Juppé, by appealing to social conservatives and pious Catholics upset about France's new same-sex marriage law. But as an outspoken admirer of Margaret Thatcher, Fillon has also vowed to bring free-market economics to a country largely built on a state-centered economy supported by leaders of both left and right.
His plans to do away with the 35-hour week, including for state-employees, and slash half-a-million state sector jobs would be seen largely as a kind of "shock therapy" that Fillon's opponents, both inside and outside his party, have described as "brutal" and "unworkable."
Le Pen, already desperate to "de-demonize" her image, will use her protectionist and nationalist economic program to seduce the working-class and paint Fillon as the candidate of high finance and corporations.
The triumph of Fillon, paradoxically, might give a new purpose to a devastated Left, with the ruling Socialist party more eager to bash its opponents than talk about its own, dismal, record of the past five years of François Hollande. Unless, of course, the Left gets hijacked by its own free-market advocate, the young and ambitious Emmanuel Macron.
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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