Mike Map

View Mike Map in a larger map

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Wall Street here in SK

Some of you may have been wondering whether the OWS stuff has made its way over here. Indeed, it has. I haven't personally read any of the local coverage, but I've been spending a lot of time (i.e. even more than usual) with my Green Consumers Alliance pals, who are up to speed on this stuff. Apparently, somewhere near one thousand people gathered in Seoul last Saturday to show solidarity with the global movement and to air their grievances.

Here in Daegu, a whopping three people (including one of my GCA friends) went to the main park downtown to protest. I considered going, but I've heard that foreigners here can be deported for being present at protests, even peaceful ones. That and I had to clean my house in preparation for a party that evening. In any case, my friend and her friends sat on a blanket and repurposed a delivery box from "Crazy Chicken" to say "Capitalism Gone Frickin' Crazy" (liberally translated), then asked passers-by to write notes, which they collected in the box. They're still deciding what to do with the notes - send them to the government? To Samsung?

I happened to be at the GCA for lunch when a sociology professor from Kyungbook National University stopped by. We had a little chat and I showed her the following set of graphs from MotherJones, saying that they really clarify the meaning of a lot of the numbers that we hear about the top one percent and the bottom ninety and all that. I asked whether any graphics like this were circulating in Korea and she said definitely not, and that she would use them in upcoming classes and lectures. Lookit that, me teaching something to a professional sociologist.

It left me wondering, though, what the income distribution is like here. When a Korean lifts a sign saying "We are the 99%," how much does that say about how much they've been disenfranchised, or how much money has been redistributed regressively? Most Koreans I know are fairly cynical about politics; as I've mentioned before, I've never heard anyone say a good word about the president, nor do I hear much news or discussion about parties or hot issues or campaign stats. It seems like the foregone conclusion is that the rich and powerful will stay that way.

So, I was surprised to see this: a few Koreans at the Seoul protest holding signs that say, left to right, "take over neoliberalism" (not quite sure what that means) and "tax unearned speculation profits heavily," with a comment stating that Korea falls in the bottom third of countries in terms of family income distribution (lower is closer to equal), meaning the top 1% take home about 10% of the income. The number for the States is more like 20 or 30, depending on which metrics you use. I suppose the number seems realistic, considering how few homeless people, ghettos, and slums you see.

Another interesting stat from that page is that the unemployment rate is only 3.2%. That one I have a hard time believing - or rather, the stat is clearly calculated with a funny formula. I say this because, here, university students often put off graduation until they've secured a job. Many people will study for a year or two, then take a year off to go learn English in Australia and another year off to study for the standardized test they'll have to take to enter their field (be it medicine, education, the civil service, etc), and then return to school only once they've passed the test and even lined up an employer a year down the road. There's such a stigma to graduating without having a job already waiting for you that a lot of seniors, if they haven't found a company to hire them, will drop classes during what would have been their final semester and stick around for another. I assume that the official stats count such individuals as students, and not as people who want work but can't get it.

No particular conclusions or thrust to this post...just a bit of stuff on my mind. It occurs to me that maybe I ought to leave my money in the banks here rather than in the US though.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I enjoyed the charts link.