10 reasons for the lack of German econobloggers

By Felix Salmon
April 19, 2009

One of the most exciting parts of moving to Reuters is the fact that we’re putting together what promises to be a very bloggy and truly international economics and finance website. The bloggy bit I’m enthusiastic about — but the international bit is actually quite a serious obstacle, because the finance and economics blogosphere simply hasn’t taken off overseas in the same way that it has in the US.

But at least we’re looking to hire mainly in London rather than in Frankfurt. While English econobloggers are far fewer than their US counterparts, at least the Brits tend to have a vague idea what a blog is; some of them are even positive about the idea. It’s not unthinkable that the UK will have a vibrant blogosphere in the future. In Germany, by contrast, I simply can’t imagine such a thing ever taking off.

Why not? Here are are ten possible reasons.

  1. The blogosphere is fundamentally egalitarian, to the point at which the young and even the completely anonymous can become A-listers. At the same time, highly respected professors and experts often find themselves ignored, perhaps because they hedge themselves too much or are simply too boring to pay attention to. Germany, by contrast, is fundamentally hierarchical.
  2. In Germany, qualifications matter, a lot. People spend decades amassing various qualifications, and when you have a certain qualification, you make sure everybody knows it. If you don’t have a piece of paper qualifying you to opine on a certain subject, then you have no grounds for inflicting you opinions on everybody else. Similarly, readers want to be reassured of a writer’s qualifications before paying attention to what that writer is saying. The blogosphere is the opposite: opinions are judged on their own merit, rather than on the basis of the qualifications of the person holding them.
  3. In the US, where the econoblogosphere is at its liveliest, we’ve now reached the point at which a majority of policymakers, at least on the economics side of things, are paying attention to what the blogosphere is saying. Take someone as self-assured and important as Larry Summers, the most important economist in the Obama administration. He’s a big reader of blogs, and not just those by big-name technocrats: he also reads blogs written by people who would never normally have any voice in the government. That kind of respect for the voice of the people is fundamentally American, and is not particularly German.
  4. The skills needed to be a great blogger are very different from the skills needed to be a great economist or banker. In career-minded Germany, at the margin one will tend to cultivate important professional skills rather than much less important blogging skills.
  5. In the blogosphere, it’s of paramount importance that you are wrong, at least occasionally: if you’re never wrong, you’re never interesting. It’s one of the biggest obstacles to entering the blogosphere in any country: people are scared of writing something which makes them seem stupid. That fear might be particularly strong in Germany, where public pronouncements tend to be carefully thought through. If you’re writing about something you don’t know a lot about, you’ll be afraid to have missed something obvious; if you’re writing about something you do know a lot about, then you have a lot of reputation to lose if you make a mistake.
  6. The German way of doing things tends to be methodical and systematic and comprehensive, while the bloggy way of doing things tends to be scattershot and ad hoc and hard to pin down.
  7. Bloggers tend to situate themselves on the outside looking in; they take pride in their outsider status, and often picture themselves as speaking truth to power. In Germany, declaring yourself to be an outsider in that way is not a route to respectability, and respectability is something that a very large number of Germans aspire to.
  8. The US econoblogosphere is driven by tenured economics professors, who love nothing more than to share ideas and debate with each other online. Germany doesn’t have nearly as many economics departments, and it certainly doesn’t have hotbeds of blogging like George Mason University, which can then spread to the rest of academia.
  9. Germans aren’t going to work without being paid to do so, and blogging seems suspiciously like work. Insofar as Americans do make money from blogging, it’s generally in an indirect way, through the extra fame and publicity that a blog brings. Since a German blog is very unlikely to bring extra fame or publicity, there’s not much reason to cultivate one.
  10. Germans take their vacations extremely seriously, and it’s hard to take a vacation from blogging.

Now all this said, I’ve actually met a significant number of Germans who are very enthusiastic about blogging and who think it would be great if a German blogosphere were to take off. Even they, however, aren’t likely to start blogging themselves unless and until a significant number of other bloggers emerge. So you have a first-mover problem which is very hard to overcome. Add that to the language issues — writing in English and writing in German both have their downsides — and my feeling is that the probability of an interesting econoblogosphere emerging in Germany is very close to zero.

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