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.


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