Europeans can’t blog

by Jérémie Cohen-Setton, Martin Kessler and Shahin Vallée on 15th March 2012

As Bruegel is launching its blog, and what we hope will become an important European forum for discussion on international economics, we came up with a few observations.

It is striking to note that the online debate about European economic issues mostly takes place on American blogs. A couple of European blogs have contributed to change this landscape, but the European blogosphere remains behind the US in terms of quality and density of discussion.

As Ronny Patz noted in a recent post (hat tip to the European blogs aggregator bloggingportal), European blogs are still very much “unconnected”. That is, they use hyperlinks far less than their American counterparts or do it and in a way that doesn’t create two-way debate. In brief, Europe has bloggers, but no blogosphere: it lacks a living ecosystem to exchange and debate. Of most leading European blogs, only 1 in 5 were linked to other online content. This is a pretty striking number but one that is somewhat consistent with the use that Europeans make of blogs (ie. just another media but not an interactive one).

As Ronny puts its:

Euroblogs quite often do not refer to discussions on other euroblogs. Linking to some newspaper article, even with a discussion section, does not create a two-way discussion (…) and linking to articles on your own blog is nice, but not really a sign of an interlinked blogosphere. What this means is that it is difficult to speak of a “euroblogosphere” in the narrow sense, because this implies some kind of level of interconnectedness. I don’t really see that in our sphere outside a narrow circle of people.

Ronny is right but there are certainly a few of reasons for that.

First, economic discussions in Europe remain for the most part national and simply do not take place online outside of a few exceptions. European economists are generally published in their national newspapers in their national languages. Although the language barrier could be overcome easily to bring these contributions to a wider audience, the technology used (i.e. newspapers) makes the kind of filtering job that Mark Thoma does for the US at Economist’s View harder in the European context.

The excellent daily news briefing by Eurointelligence does it to a certain extent, but its content is gated. Place du Luxembourg is a very good and active content pointer (like FT Alphaville can be) but lacks original production. As a result, the most successful European blogs are often those that are largely designed for a national audience. Some of them are written in their national language (see for example Coulisses de Bruxelles by Liberation journalist Jean Quatremer or Nada es Gratis), others are in English (see Olaf Storbeck for instance), but in both cases the public targeted is national rather than European. French economists for instance came early in the game with a flurry of blogs developed during the 2007 presidential election (Ecopublix, Gizmo, and Etienne Wasmer), but these efforts have quickly died and they all look asleep now. In Germany, a sizeable blogosphere has emerged, mainly conducted by economic columnists of the main newspaper (Handelsblat, Die Zeit, FAZ, FTD). But except a few exceptions like Kantoos who write posts in both German and English, this blogosphere remains mostly national and self-referencing.

Second,  there are probably also “cultural” reasons behind that phenomenon. Europeans don’t have “debate” classes in High School and they tend to have far less confrontational academic discussions (we have nothing as direct and antagonistic as the Cochrane/Hubbard vs. Krugman/DeLong for instance). European economists seem to prefer spreading knowledge rather than stirring debate. VoxEU, Telos, the column section at Eurointelligence, and the new OFCE blog all provide avenues to disseminate research and to express opinions, but are not, so to speak, blogs with arguments and disagreements.

This is unfortunate as it certainly reduces the overall quality of debate. As Paul Krugman puts it for the US

“we’ve seen some famous names run into firestorms of criticism – *justified* criticism – even as some “nobodies” become players. That’s a good thing! Famous economists have been saying foolish things forever; now they get called on it."

The recent episode surrounding the debate on bubbles and potential output where a Fed official directly responded to US bloggers was a striking illustration of the role that the American blogosphere has been playing on actual policy debates in the last few years. But while American “star economists” do not hesitate to battle in an arena where readers and critics do not necessarily match their credentials, European economists continue to view the econ blogosphere as a distraction from discussion with the very serious people.

Things are evolving though. The UK already has an impressive blogosphere that is tightly integrated with the American one. Jonathan Portes and Simon Wren-Lewis are no stranger to that fact. And although, it still appears in 2012 that Europeans can’t really blog, there are a few exceptions, of course Euroview at ECFR, Irish Economy or the veteran Fistful of euros but they remain the exception rather than the rule. We hope to contribute to change that.

NB: No offense to anyone. In fact, we don’t really mean that Europeans can’t blog. It’s a reference to this great 1990s basketball movie “White men can’t jump” with Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. At the end, the white man (Woody) can jump, really well actually…

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