Popular Netflix series Squid Games is a dystopian survival drama about unfortunate people trapped in debt who enter a series of six survival games. The losers die while the single winner takes away 46.5 billion (US$38 million) South Korean won. One US dollar is equal to about 1,200 Korean Won.
|Anupam Tripathi as Ali Abdul in Squid Games
One of the characters in the series is an exploited Pakistani migrant worker named Ali Abdul who just wants to send money home to help his family in Pakistan. Ali's role is played by Indian actor Anupam Tripathi. Tripathi has previously played other foreign characters in the genre often referred to as K-drama. Squid Games has achieved top ratings around the world in spite of its very violent content. It is the top-rated show among Netflix subscribers in Pakistan.
|Household Debt as Percentage of GDP. Source: IMF
Squid Game is a powerful indictment of capitalism as practiced in many countries, including South Korea. It has brought to light high levels of inequality and household debt in South Korea. The total household debt of $1.5 trillion is about the size of its entire GDP, among the highest in the world. By comparison, formal household debt in Pakistan is just 4% of its GDP, according to the IMF. It can be explained by the fact that the availability of mortgage financing, car loans and credit cards is very limited in Pakistan.
|Sources of Household Debt in Pakistan. Source: SDPI
Only 14.6% of household debt is owed to banks, and the rest to informal sources like family and friends. Researchers Sajid Amin Javed, Wajid Ali and Ifra Baig at SDPI (Sustainable Development Policy Institute) have analyzed four rounds of the HIES segment of the Pakistan Social and Living Standard Measurement (PSLM) and data from the PPHS (covering the 2005 to 2016 period), and found that 20% of households in Pakistan are indebted.
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