Real estate crisis in South Korea, by Nicolas Rocca (Le Monde diplomatique


Inflation, corruption and growing inequality

South Koreans go to the polls in March. The big problems are domestic – rising housing costs, household debt and poor life chances for young people.

Out of reach: high-rise apartments in Seoul, April 2021

Kyodo News · Getty

The A former factory worker’s efforts to escape his creditors are a classic subject for books and films. You become a cartoon in the South Korean film parasite or more recently in the Netflix series Squid Game , in which hundreds of heavily indebted people risk their lives playing deadly versions of children’s games in hopes of winning a huge cash prize. Some see divisions in a deeply unequal society; others condemn unfettered capitalism or depict the violence that underlies South Korea’s Confucian values. But everyone agrees on one thing: household debt has reached alarming proportions and is often associated with an exponential increase in housing costs.

The household debt-to-disposable income ratio has steadily increased since the Korean economy boomed in the 1960s and 1970s. When Squid GameDirector Hwang Dong-hyuk started working on the series in 2008, it was “only” 138.5%; In 2020 it was over 200%. In other words, households now owe twice as much as they can spend. Outgoing President Moon Jae-in’s policies have paid little attention to this shocking fact.

Wealth and precariousness coexist in South Korea. Between skyscrapers and luxury boutiques there are small family restaurants and “Yakult Ladies”, which deliver the probiotic yoghurt drink directly to the customer – symbolic of a country in which almost a quarter of the population is self-employed. Two years of the pandemic have worsened household debt, with lockdown measures causing family-run karaoke bars, pubs and restaurants to fail. “In less than two years, the area around the university has become a ghost town,” said Kim Harris Hyun-soo, a sociologist at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul. “All shops are closed.” A harsh reality that many districts of the capital share.

Full article: 2 039 Words.

(1) Bong Joon Ho, Parasite, 2019, Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

(2) hwang dong hyuk, squid game, 2021

(3) “Household Debt”, OECD, Paris, 2020.

(4) “Self-employment rate”, OECD, 2020.

(6) “Government Debt”, OECD, 2021.

(7) Analysis of House Price Increases During Moon Jae-in’s Presidency” (in Korean), Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ), Seoul, June 23, 2021.

(8th) “Candidate Yoon Seok-youl promises change of government”, the dong a ilbo, Seoul, December 7, 2021.


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