Good Reads: A European bailout plan explained, and yoga lawsuits

Today's papers help make sense of the incomprehensible European debt crisis, and what European governments plan to do about it.

One of the biggest problems with the economic crisis that has beset the developed world over the past few years is that you have to be an expert to understand it, though you only have to have a pulse to feel its effects.

If the house next door catches fire, we all know enough to call the fire department. Some of us will stand on the opposite side of the street and give unasked-for advice on where to point the fire hose. But when the entire financial systems of countries like Greece and Italy and Ireland simply stop functioning – and when stronger European countries like Germany and France start scurrying around pointing fingers –  there is no smoke, no flames, no fire department, and no obvious solution. All we see are people in distress, displaced from their homes, kicked out of jobs, struggling to survive. Protesters can sit outside the New York Stock Exchange for hours and days, but it isn’t always clear what should be done to fix a problem that is seems too complex to be understood.

That, however, is why we have newspapers. While most of us go about our business, newspapers can send one or a dozen people, day after day, to study a subject, pester people with questions, wait around for answers, and write a story simple enough for those of us with a pulse to understand.

In the hands of a skilled and compassionate reporter, like The Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola, certain parts of the economic crisis can be explained in ways that a range of possible solutions become more clear. In today’s Post, Mr. Faiola writes about how a few of Europe’s stronger economies are coming up with a plan to rescue the common currency called the euro from complete collapse.

The euro, which links up strong economies like France and Germany with weaker economies like Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, has been falling in value as it becomes clearer that certain eurozone member governments (side eye at Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy) have been spending more than they take in in tax revenues. Now, according to the Post’s Faiola, France and Germany plan to set up new rules that would force such nations to “forfeit full independence over national budgets and potentially give their neighbors the right to slap penalties on big spenders.”

Cutting spending in the future certainly seems like an excellent idea. The house is well and truly engulfed in flames. Perhaps we should stop throwing gasoline onto it. But as Megan McArdle points out, the next step (turning on the fire hose and putting out the flames) isn’t as easy as it may sound. Some European economies are so deeply in debt that there simply isn’t enough money in the world to bail them out, she writes.

Ms. McArdle explains her points in plain English, and she uses graphic charts to help the mind absorb how large the problem is. And I have to admit, it’s hard to see how to bail out a country like Luxembourg whose bank debt is 2,461 percent larger than the size of its gross domestic product.

Here in the US, which had a bank debt that was 82 percent of its GDP a year ago, the business world remains unconvinced that the overall economy is strong enough that they can start hiring people again and increasing production. The caution is understandable, but it means there will be no fast turnaround for the US economy, and no end to 9 percent unemployment rates.

In past economic troubles, people would be laid off, but they would be rehired, and often be rehired into better positions than they had before. That was the American Dream. But as The New York Times’ Motoko Rich writes today, the American Dream is nowadays experienced by a very select few. According to a study to be released today by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, “just 7 percent of those who lost jobs after the financial crisis have returned to or exceeded their previous financial position and maintained their lifestyles.”

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that’s not optimal.

Yoga time 

But after such news, it’s time for some yoga – or specifically a story of one yoga studio suing another yoga studio for “copyright infringement.” It seems that the Bikram Yoga Studio chain believes that the lower-priced Yoga for the People studio chain has stolen its formula and even the positive-energy dialogue spoken by yoga instructors and offered the same product for a lower price.

Nowhere in the world would this have been an issue but in America, of course, as the writer Suketu Mehta is quoted as saying in a New York Times piece by Meredith Hoffman. While in India, yoga instructors view the teaching of yoga positions as a religious duty, in the US, yoga instructors seek patents for every variant of “downward dog” or “warrior pose” that they can twist their bodies into.

The Times piece ends with this quote by Mr. Mehta:

“There is a line in the Hindu scriptures: ‘Let good knowledge come to us from all sides,’ ” Mr. Mehta wrote. “There is no follow-up that adds, ‘And let us pay royalties for it.’ ”  

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