This story was supported by the Draft report on economic difficulties, a non-profit journalism.
Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Squid game.
Now the most seen show in the Netflix story, Squid game – a South Korean series that reached number 1 in 90 countries – shows the fate of 456 players who take part in a unique and dangerous competition. Forced to play half a dozen rounds of domestic children’s games such as marbles and tug of war, the winner will receive billions of dollars in cash; the 455 losers risk instant death.
The acting and pictures in Squid game are phenomenal, but the financial status of the characters also helps explain why the show struck a chord. Personal debt is a serious problem in South Korea, and the narrative also resonates deeply in the United States, where nearly 75% of Americans die with an average debt of $ 62,000.
The players in Squid game come from many walks of life, but they are all desperate to repay their creditors and escape the moral shame of debt. When players first ask why they were chosen, a goalie Explain that they are all “living on the brink of financial ruin”, “hunted down by [their] creditor ”because of debts they cannot afford to pay.
The parallels between Squid game and the hyper-capitalist, debt-fueled economy of countries like South Korea and the United States could not be more blatant. The Korean-language horror drama is pretty self-explanatory in its symbolic imagery, including white billionaire “VIPs” with crass financial and moral inducements and masked infantrymen adjacent to police who work to keep creditors’ own crimes confidential. For an American public whose public goods, such as health care, housing, and education, are all individually debt-financed and privatized, a rigged game in which debtors compete for financial freedom is striking near home. them.
Total US Household Debt Today almost $ 15 trillion – and that’s exactly what we can count on. Many forms of working poor debt, such as payday loans, prison debt, and utilities, are not even counted by the Federal Reserve. Paying off college loans has become America’s business Squid game, with usurious interest rates designed to ensure that virtually all players lose – and that the poorest are the most severely punished. A fault can mean a to guarantee for arrest, losing your driver’s license, or have social security checks garnished. The same story can be told for payday loans, medical debt, criminal legal debt, and credit card debt. Even municipal debt is choking our cities, who are overwhelmed by more than 160 billion dollars only in annual interest payments to wealthy Wall Street investors.
Economic issues can draw players into the game, but predatory recruiting tactics should not be ignored. The Squid game recruiter who persuades protagonist Seong Gi-hun to join the games is akin to the for-profit colleges who prey on veterans or single black mothers for signing up for fraudulent programs, or hawkers of subprime mortgages who helped eviscerate Wealth of the black family in the 2008 crash.
On the show, it is only when the debtors play the first game – Red Light, Green Light – that they find out what is really at stake. When more than half of the players are shockingly eliminated and horribly murdered , a consequence no one saw coming, the remaining players come together and collectively demand an abrupt end to the games, allowing everyone to return home alive. Essentially, they are unionizing, leveraging their collective power to disrupt incentives to continue gambling.
As an organizer with the Collective debt, the nation’s largest debtors’ union, this brief moment on the show illustrates just how strong our union can be. As unions bargain collectively for better wages or working conditions, the Debt Collective believes unionized debtors can achieve full-scale debt cancellation and change the way we finance public goods.
We put our theory to the test in 2015 when we staged the first student loan strike in history, the Corinthian 15, followed by Biden Jubilee 100 earlier this year. To date, we have won billions of student loan cancellations for people who have been scammed by for-profit colleges and put the demand for massive student debt elimination on the political map. As the Squid game participants, we went on a debt strike and refused to pay.
When the Squid game competitors return later to play the game, their power to bargain collectively as debtors remains. The Debt Collective wants to inspire the kind of leverage we should be threatening today – what we call economic disobedience.
Take, for example, student loans: Forty-five million debtors grapple with nearly $ 2 trillion in student debt, spending years repaying the government only to find that their balance inevitably exceeds the original principal as time passes and interest accumulates. Next February, two years after a moratorium suspended payments and interest on all federal student loans, President Biden is expected to reactivate monthly payments, despite the widespread economic precariousness that has been made worse by the pandemic.
Imagine if a majority of us decided not to pay? Would a combination of strategic default, monthly payments of $ 0, and a collective demand for cancellation of all student debt help us achieve full cancellation? This is a question that deserves to be asked. After all, if the pandemic has revealed anything, it’s that the federal government can function very well without our student loan repayments. These payments have been suspended since March 2020 and the sky has not fallen.
But the demand for Debt Collective is greater than the abolition of all student debt, because the same crisis would start again a semester later; for starters, we believe all universities should be tuition free. As co-founder of Debt Collective, Hannah Appel wrote, “The potential of debtor unions … is not only to refuse and renegotiate illegitimate debts”, but also to “open up issues that the financial age seems to have closed.” In other words, a call for student debt repayment must coincide with a demand to radically reshape our economy and create real restorative public goods, like the tuition-free university and Health insurance for all.
This is also one of the takeaways from Squid game. At the end of the series, Seong shows that he understands this concept and rushes to prevent another victim from the Squid gamepredatory recruiter. He understands that winning the Squid game is not all if the game continues to be played – a sense of solidarity that resonates with members of the Debt Collective who are fighting to write off the debts of others after theirs may have been cut.
Sometimes we need fiction to help us see reality in all of its absurdity, terror, and possibilities. What real life games are we forced to play? Put medical bills on a credit card or get into debt to repay the rent for the pandemic? In our version, the losers really can to die. But a growing debtors union can begin to answer these questions and harness an untapped source of power. For a moment, the debtors in Squid game unionized and embraced the collective power of their financial obligations. We have to do the same.
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Originally appeared on Vogue teens