Europeans can’t blog?!

Well, the guys at Bruegel’s new blog know how to blog, that is for sure: make an eye-catching claim and try to outrage the blogosphere. But they are right, unfortunately, Europeans can’t blog. For those who are new to the topic, the inofficial introduction to the whole discussion was written by Ronny Patz.

Jérémie, Martin and Shahin basically give four reasons that are somewhat interconnected. First, the discussions of economics (and politics) take place in “printed” (this includes simple non-interactive publishing on the web) form more often than on the web. Second, there is no aggregator like Mark Thoma. Third, the language barrier does make a European discussion more difficult, and finally the culture of open discourse is underdeveloped in Europe.

Especially the last aspect is problematic because it is hardest to change but arguably the most important. As they phrase it,

European economists seem to prefer spreading knowledge rather than stirring debate.

I’d add that this is not limited to economists, but the diagnosis is correct. Part of it is rooted in a desire to teach unenlightened people “the truth”, a nasty European habit on all sides of the political spectrum. Writing essays or op-eds is the natural way to do that. The other part, however, is based on scepticism towards new forms of communication. Engaging with an audience on something as lowly as blogs requires two things: to overcome the sense of status that Europeans unfortunately possess much more than people (of a much higher status!) in the US; and to learn how to write and reply in blogs in a foreign language and for an international audience.

It is changing slowly, however. No other than Hans Werner Sinn, Germany’s most visible economist, took part in a discussion in the comment section of Herdentrieb, the economics blog of the weekly DIE ZEIT. You may think that this is not a big deal, but it certainly is a step in a new and welcome direction.

I think the main obstacle is that we don’t have blogging giants like Paul Krugman or Tyler Cowen. When you have a nucleus of bloggers with outstanding credentials, the rest will follow. If this nucleus is open to debate even the tiniest of bloggers, that is. Unfortunately, I don’t see many who could be up for the job. In my view, and given Germany’s increasing importance in Europe, Hans Werner Sinn would be an excellent candidate. Not sure he wants to become the Krugman of Europe, though.

As for the aggregator role, I think Bruegel is off to a good start, thanks for that! With a few improvements on the design, Bruegel’s blog could be the catalyst to a new development.

PS: Ryan Avent also comments. And while you are at it: do read the excellent Christmas piece in The Economist on how Martin Luther used new forms of communication during his time.


  1. Jonas Dovern schreibt:

    You say HWS’s contribution to Herdentrieb was “certainly [...] a step in a new and welcome direction”.

    I’d say it was a MAJOR step. Espacially given the fact that he took part in the following discussion on his post by adding several comments.

    Of course, the next major step would be regular blogging of a German, Germany-based top economist. But HWS’s step shouldn’t be underestimated. And although I know that you didn’t mean it, I feel that your formulation is too weak to honor this step.

    • kantoos schreibt:

      The funny thing is, Jonas, I had exactly your wording in the post at first. But then it occured to me: should we make such a big deeal out of it? Doesn’t the fact that everyone was so amazed about HWS’s participation show how far we still have to go? I decided to phrase it this way to show that it was a necessary and long overdue step.

  2. Jonas Dovern schreibt:

    Well, that’s funny indeed.

    But things should be clear for any reader by now: It was a major step. But: Only the first in a necessary sequence of major steps – some of which have to be “more major” than what we’ve seen at Herdentrieb. ;-)

  3. lalala schreibt:

    HWS is a self-absorbed and populist hack. So that would make him perfect for playing Krugman. However he lacks Krugman’s academic record and his nobel prize, additionally he is badly-informed on many topics he writes about (which Krugman is not). He also lacks the absolute intellectual integrity, curiosity and vast knowledge of Tyler Cowen. So I’m not sure wether he would contribute anything other than his political agenda to the European Blogosphere.

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ lalala

      First of all, I don’t tolerate insults of any sort against anyone here. That is the first and last warning. Second, HWS is a controversial commenter on economic issues, and he certainly has enough credentials to be the Krugman of Europe (Krugman rarely writes about trade where he got his Nobel). I think he would be a good candidate.

    • lalala schreibt:

      Well, even though I don’t have a very high opinion of Sinn, I didn’t mean to insult.

    • kantoos schreibt:


      Ok, no worries. The discussion on the web is usually pretty harsh, I know, but not on this blog.

  4. jopa schreibt:

    @ kantoos:

    As per my impression (maybe I’m wrong) the public debate in the US (at least on economic issues) is less divided than it is in Europe. When talking economics over here, you will quickly be opposed by someone from the “post-keynesian” scene (pretty non-existent over there) and will end up discussing very basic issues, which a) takes a lot of time and energy and b) doesn’t help the debate either, because when you even don’t agree on such basic things, any discussion on more sophisticated topics won’t work, too. In my experience, there is much more common agreement in the US on certain basic issues, so you don’t have to go over and over this again and again. So blogging doesn’t work in Europe because discussion doesn’t work here – successful blogging is about discussion.

    • kantoos schreibt:

      @ jopa

      As much as it pains me to say this, but there is some truth to that.

    • Detlef schreibt:

      I have to disagree.

      First of all, I (I´m a German) discovered blogs (mostly USA and UK) around 2003. The blogs starting to become “influential” at that time were political blogs. Economic blogs – if my memory is correct – followed later on when the blogosphere was already establieshed.

      Why was there a perceived need for blogs?
      George W. Bush (2000 election), Tony Blair, Iraq war.
      Both English speaking countries (giving blogs a huge “home” market) and both using the first-past-the post electoral system. The USA, essentially a 2-party system with huge obstacles for any new party. In the UK, you can get almost 60% of parliamentary seats with just 36% of the votes (2005 elections). And in both countries the major oppostion parties mainly supported the government back then in 2003.
      Simply put, if you were opposed to government policies you weren´t represented.
      - If you are against the Iraq war, you´re objectively pro Saddam Hussein?
      - Cheese eating surrender monkeys?
      - Freedom fries?
      Blogs were the places where you could connect with like-minded people.And if a blog became large enough (readers and commenters), it could maybe start to influence a politician / party.

      Now compare that with Germany.
      In the last 30+ years we´ve seen the emergence of the “Green party” in the early 1980s. Then after re-unification the PDS/ “Left party”. And right now the “Pirate party” is “complicating” elections.
      I suspect, living in a “frozen” political system encourages blogging as a way to influence politics.

      Coming to economic blogs now.
      As I said, my impression is that they followed the emergence of political blogs.

      But saying that the “the public debate in the US (at least on economic issues) is less divided than it is in Europe” seems questionable?
      The public debate concerning politics in the USA is a lot more divided than in Europe. And a lot more insane and vicious in my opinion.
      Tea party? Birthers? Universal health insurance is socialist?
      And economics? Freshwater against salt-water comes to mind.
      (Tax cuts raise taxes? De-regulation will create jobs? Stimulus programs crowd out private investment?)

      There was also at least one study 1-2 years ago. Showing that the blogosphere in the USA has separated. Blogs supporting Democrats were more likely to link to other blogs supporting Democrats. Same with Republican supporting blogs. I suspect a bit of that also happened to economic blogs.That might explain a bit of the perceived civility. If you don´t link to the “opposition” or discuss things with them, you´ll have less fights.

      Mind you, language and cultural differences certainly play a role too in the faster development of English-speaking (political and economic) blogs. And some of the US economic blogs are excellent.
      I just don´t subscribe to the idea that the public debate in the USA is less divided than in Europe.

    • jopa schreibt:

      @ Detlev:

      I was mainly referring to economic issues, sorry if this was not fully clear. Of course there is a certain opinion gap between Democrats and Republicans, especially before elections – our host already had to learn this, sadly.

      What I was actually trying to say was that all discussions as mentioned above (taxes, health care, you name it) are moving on the basis of a somewhat generally accepted scientific basis, so that you can actually *discuss* such issues -

      while in Europe (afaik) you never get that close to a reasonable discussion, because you’re already deeply divided on the basics (“Yes, *real* investment requires *real* savings beforehand!” – example from this blog, don’t know if it’s a good one), which mostly prevents any further exchange on the actual issues.

      To a certain degree, this is truly a perception thing and of course will not be true always and everywhere, but it’s my real impression – in any case we do not have to agree on it, do we?

  5. @kantoos
    We now have a follow-up to our first blog post “europeans can’t blog”.
    I wanted to thank you for your kind response to our first blog post. Also, I wanted to know more about what you had in mind when you said “With a few improvements on the design, Bruegel’s blog could be the catalyst to a new development” (I’m talking about the first half of your sentence :-)
    Jeremie for the Bruegel blog

  6. Eric B. schreibt:

    Merkwürdige Debatte. Ein Blick nach UK oder Frankreich beweist, dass Europäer durchaus bloggen können. Deutsche Journalisten übrigens auch (ich zähle mich dazu). Das Problem ist doch, dass es keine gemeinsame sprache und keine europäische Öffentlichkeit gibt. Das ist auch das Handicap für die EU und die EU-Blogger (zu denen ich mich ebenfalls zähle). Und dann kommt noch hinzu, dass EU- und europaweite Themen meist nur aus einer nationalen Brille gesehen werden. Für Ökonomen sollte das natürlich alles kein unüberwindliches Problem ein – obwohl ich Sinn auch eher in die deutsche Ecke stellen würde und bezweifele, dass er auch Franzosen oder Griechen überzeugt…


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  2. [...] Europeans can´t blog?! (, englisch) Europäer können nicht bloggen – das ist die These des Blogs [...]

  3. [...] There has been another round of discussion about the European blogosphere and how it compares with the US scene as well as national blogospheres in different European countries. The debate was kicked-off by Ronny Patz at the new EUROPP@LSE Blog and was picked up by Bruegel’s new blog and Kontoos Economics. [...]

  4. [...] Kantoos Economics agrees with this judgement and believes that the European blogosphere needs a “nucleus of bloggers with outstanding credentials” like Paul Krugman in the United States. Henning Meyer from Social Europe Journal argues that one of [...]

  5. [...] Kantoos Economics agrees with this judgement and believes that the European blogosphere needs a “nucleus of bloggers with outstanding credentials” like Paul Krugman in the United States. Henning Meyer from Social Europe Journal argues that one of [...]

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  7. [...] it’s a nightmare to follow what is being said by European economists. Take two big names (since Kantoos argued that the main problem was the lack of them on the European blogosphere): Thomas [...]

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