squid game

Poverty and debt create Brazil’s real-life Squid Game

Unless you’ve spent the last month on holiday in Mars, you will have either watched or heard about Korean drama series Squid Game, the most-watched original series in the history of Netflix. But, if for some reason you are unaware of the latest streaming hit, never fear — for many, living in today’s Brazil has its similarities.

Cutting back the veneer of children’s playground games and sadistic deaths, Squid Game tells the story of desperately indebted citizens willing to do anything for money — including putting their own lives at risk.

Roughly 71 percent of Brazilian families are in debt, the largest rate ever recorded by the National Commerce, Goods, Services, and Tourism Confederation. To understand how the country got into this mess, it is worth looking at key economic indicators: 14 million are unemployed, interest rates are on the rise, and 12-month inflation hit double digits this month.

Just seven years after Brazil was triumphantly removed from the United Nations’ Hunger Map, there are now over 20 million people in the country who go for over 24 hours without eating. Poverty has tripled in less than a year, from 9.5 million people in August 2020 to 27 million in February. And sky-high food, fuel, and electricity prices are pushing more and more people toward the bread line.

This makes it practically impossible for a large number of families to balance their books. The middle and lower classes — which together make up the overwhelming majority of the population — are struggling.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is nervous that these deteriorating economic conditions will affect his chances of re-election. And that fear is justified, with former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva dominating all polls at the current moment.

The president is scrambling to set up a wealth transfer solution to rescue his approval ratings. The so-called Auxílio Brasil scheme is framed as a way to expand the world-renowned Bolsa Família program, set up during the Lula government. With the new scheme, Brazil’s poorest families would receive monthly stipends of BRL 400 (USD 70.77), but even these government handouts may not be enough for families to make ends meet. For example, a single domestic cooking gas cylinder, used to fuel the vast majority of household stoves, would cost almost one-third of the Auxílio Brasil payments.

So, it is no exaggeration to say that if Brazil had its own version of the Squid Game, you can be certain that many citizens would be willing to sign up.

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