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.

39 comments

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I’d bet that a substantial portion of American econ/finance bloggers, not to mention in the sciences, are of Germanic descent. But for a certain Austrian corporal, Germany might have a thriving blogosphere today.

Posted by NM4 | Report as abusive

Felix, I mostly agree with your post, but still I have some doubts. Point 1, I am not sure it is completely egalitarian. I have been following many blogs for many months and I think it is still a relatively small group (inside the discussion, although there is a broader participation in the comments sections). On the other hand, I think it is still a division between bloggers from the “G-8 countries” (or may be 3 or 4) and the rest of the world…. Of course, one fundamental reason is language (and one of our objectives is to reach a broader segment of our population), but still this is something that happens all the time….

Finally, the problems you mention are not only with German bloggers… I been running my blog for some time and your remarks are even stroger for other countries, like Mexico. In any case, I think Blogs will be playing a stronger (broader) role in the future.

You write that, in the blogosphere, “opinions are judged on their own merit.” I would caution you to be a little less triumphalist about this. The fact that formal qualifications are much less important in the blogosphere — while true and good — doesn’t warrant the conclusion that ideas are judged mostly based on merit. As you yourself note, bloggers who are interesting, provocative, contrarian, especially good prose stylists, prolific, etc., tend to succeed, and none of these attributes is necessarily a product of intellectual merit.

This is a small point to a very interesting post. I just wanted to flag the issue, because as we get more and more of our news and analysis from blogs, it’s going to be important to keep the new biases of the new medium in mind, even as we celebrate the death of the old biases that went with the old media.

Posted by Christopher M | Report as abusive

Christopher, that’s a good point; I think I had in mind a broad definition of “merit” which would include, rather than exclude, the kind of attributes you mention. But yes, facility with the medium is certainly at least as much a driver of success as the possession of intrinsically excellent ideas.

Most Germans only have a vague concept of international economics despite the fact that everyone there claims to be an “expert” and “knows” what is going on. Regardless of a blogger’s title or qualifications, there are simply not enough people in Germany to really be interested in hearing the opinion of an “unknown” from outside the official media channel.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

I suspect that the cynical point the blogger is succesful in making in this blog is that reading blogs can be an utter and frustrating waste of one’s time.

Posted by A Mulder | Report as abusive

What a fluff piece of, umm, journalism. Talk about painting with a wide brush. I moderated a serious blog for 3-years, but finally gave up as too many readers were simply too rude and too aggressive. Not everyone who blogs takes the time to inform themselves before posting informed opinions. I suspect that you, Felix, really do not know a great deal about Germany or Germans judging by your generalizations.

Posted by MrBill, Eurasia | Report as abusive

Unlike many monolingual English speakers, many German speakers can also express themselves quite well in English as well. The blogosphere is much more conducive to writing quickly in English than carefully in German. Although, poor grammar detracts from any written post, in German it is particularly glaring.

Posted by MrBill, Eurasia | Report as abusive

MrBill, it is a little known fact that Felix is half German, speaks German, and has spent a lot of time in Germany.

Posted by M | Report as abusive

Surely a real journalist would regard this untapped market as a challenge, rather than an excuse for a bulleted list of gratuitously racist remarks?

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

felix – you hit the nail on the head with your comment about blog sphere domination by (tenured and well paid) economists – and this could probably be backed up with real numbers showing a relative abundance of U.S. economists, perhaps followed by the U.K. If U.S. blogsphere dominance may also have something to do with the fact that the MSM services which greatly leverage certain blogs’, and their writers’ global reach are based in the U.S. with Britain, again, coming up second.

Posted by mtm | Report as abusive

Felix, are you going for #5 above yourself? There are plenty of German financial blogs (hell, just Google Finanzblog or something), though there’s no easy way to get readership statistics or measure impact. This reads more like a satirical list of stereotypically German characteristics (all of which have a basis in truth but in fact are unfair generalizations) than a piece of journalism.

Posted by Jacob | Report as abusive

As a blogger from Germany I’d confirm a lot of what you’re saying, particularly about the first mover problem particularly with professors and other (mostly older) successful folks. Often they just don’t see the point, it seems, so there might be a generational problem. Other attempts to explain the slow development of the German blogosphere assume that Germany’s media system is so diverse that the blogosphere isn’t as crucial as in other countries.

Re:Germans don’t work without getting paid, you often hear that particularly from journalists in Germany. However, it doesn’t seem to be a general trend. Rishab Goshab, in one of his FLOSS studies, found Germany to have the second largest open source community (http://www.infonomics.nl/FLOSS/report/F LOSSFinal_2b.pdf).

That said, let’s hope the election year will lead to a spike in interest in blogging in Germany.

Full of prejudices, pretty sad how Germans how you perceive Germans in a generalized manner. What the hell IS a holiday?!

Greetings from a German freelancer and blogger who´s reeeeally crazy…

As someone who had trouble staying awake through occasional German company press conferences, I think there’s some truth in your characterizations. But I don’t think you’re right in pinning the problem on German culture and character as a whole.

Germany has long had a vibrant counter-culture, not afraid to express discontent with the hierarchy. Think of the strength of the Green party, and the rise of Joschka Fischer, for example. It’s just that the very nature of German capitalism has meant that the dissidents have largely scorned business and finance. They are engaged in the arts, the environmental movement, politics, possibly workers’ movements. So some of the best potential econobloggers aren’t interested in business or finance.

Hey Felix,
In my view  5 applies to Switzerland and Germany.
And in Europe it is the mainstream economic theory which prevails.
So there is not much scope for other ideas. Look at the ECB.
I have been trying for almost a year to lead my blog.
You know what, readers ask me to write English instead of German.
Best from Zurich
Cezmi Dispinar

The Germans I know don’t give a damn. They will tell me in private what they think but they could not care less about this anglo-saxon obsession to be known and have my tuppence worth !. After all who cares except we feel better once we have got it off our chest

Posted by mags | Report as abusive

This stereotypes in this post are so hilarious I’m not even going to bother responding to the individual, err, “points”, err, “raised”. If Felix does in fact speak German and has spent a lot of time in both Germany and the U.S., as implied in one of the other comments, he should know better, or get out more.

The question raised, however, is not entirely uninteresting. Judging by the blogs I read regularly, I’d say that German + UK blogs aren’t doing too badly compared to US blogs (when adjusted for population size) in terms of numbers of blogs, and certainly not in terms of quality. But that’s just my personal reading list of course – I’d certainly agree there are many more ‘econobloggers’ in the U.S. than in Germany or even Europe in general.

While we’re speculating, I’d like to add a point to the list though: maybe the reason there aren’t so many econobloggers is simply that economics and finance just aren’t as important and ubiquituous in everyday life as this is the case in the US (and to a lesser extent the UK)?

This might have to do with the fact that investing and saving (certainly for retirement, but also unemployment etc.) and personal financial affairs in general are done differently in Germany and many other countries; the social security networks are tighter, aspirations about e.g. home ownership are different (most people rent), and in general the impact of macro-economic issues on individual well-being is much different than in the U.S. (no tent cities in Germany yet, at least so far!). In general, the state will ensure a basic level of subsistence, no matter what. Savings and investment culture is also differently – low share ownership, for example, which might have to do with a different ‘risk culture’ (although ‘culture’ is a bit of a misnomer here really, the tax system doesn’t encourage/reward risk taking in the same way this is the case for the UK and the US, so it’s entirely rational behaviour really and not something in the genes).

Posted by Tim Mueller | Report as abusive

I interact privately and professionally with many German speakers from Germany, Switzerland and Austria with regards to finance and economics by exchanging opinions and linking to many blogs and financial articles. The hack is that we all speak English, so this is the most efficient way for all of us to communicate.

There are so many German speaking analysts, traders and salespeople working in the City of London, for example, that may not blog in the typical American way, but we take an active interest in capital markets. And with regards to this financial crisis we have been far ahead of the curve.

Sure we read a lot of blogs, but let us discern between quality economic blogs written by the likes of Brad Setser that have real substance, or even strong opinions like Roubini or Krugman (you can agree with his Keynes on steroids opinions or not), compared to light-weight OP-ED pieces such as this one written by Felix stereotyping all Germans.

When reading and linking to blogs quality is so much more important than quantity. And I would prefer my intended network be preferably smaller and more financially literate than going for the numbers. I would sooner be right and in the minority than wrong in good company.

Posted by MrBill, Eurasia | Report as abusive

Okay, here’s how a German perceives the issue: Of course there are some stereotypes behind Felix’ argument, but then again, there is a grain of truth in them. In particular, he is right that here in Germany, discussions on politics and economics are different than in the anglo-saxon world. You often seem to view debates as a sport, an intellectual exercise for its own sake. Some American econ bloggers use the blogosphere as an arena where they can test arguments, and if you have this approach, being wrong occasionally is not too terrible. Germans, in contrast, often do not debate arguments, but people. A debate is not about an argument, it’s about proving that an opponent is an idiot. And that is an intellectual environment that does not exactly encourage academic economists to start blogging.

In addition, the most of the German blogosphere is located left-of-centre. And while I have encountered quite a lot of left-wingers with whom you can have good, fun debates, you also encounter quite a risk of verbal abuse if you present opinions that economists would consider as common sense. Again, not exactly something that many academic economists want to expose themselves to.

Posted by publecon | Report as abusive

Germans like the big steps forward – small tiny ones where the impacts are not really visible (in the beginning) of the movement are not the favorite approach (in the masses).

Grass roots movements are not very common and -not to forget- have no tradition, as the innovative people have moved out decades and centuries ago.

Ralf: Grassroot movements are not very common in Germany? How about the APO in the 60s? The green party Buendnis90/Die Gruene emerged from a coalition of grassroot movements and even made it into the previous government, providing the foreign secretary (Joschka Fischer)! When nuclear waste is transported across the country in Castor containers, people turn up in the thousands to protest and sabotage these transports (facing five policemen for each protester, usually). When’s the last time you’ve seen anything you’d label a “grassroot movement” in the US? (flash mobs for fun don’t count)

Posted by Tim Mueller | Report as abusive

Funny this should be posted today. I was sitting outside last night brainstorming on how I might get my own professors to blog. I’ve seen several articles published on cultural and social issues pertaining to why the United States is so far ahead compared to Europe and France specifically when it comes to blogging – think you could explain the top 10 reasons for the lack of French econbloggers?

I’m not even sure to what extent French professors’ speech is monitored. They’re civil servants, after all.

Posted by Christophe | Report as abusive

Tim: you are right! Grass roots movement in the business context on the contrary is lacking any significance at all – to my knowledge. Could you proof me wrong? I would be happy.

I’ve always said that if Americans and Germans were both standing on point A trying to get to point B, the Germans would need a 400 step comprehensive plan to get there. If step #236 is not clear, the plan is no good. Americans need a 50 step plan, and if step #27 is not clear, we’ll improvise when we get there. If we both end up just short of our goal at point B, a German would say the plan failed. The American would say “pretty darned good, we’re closer to B than we were, and we’ll work on the rest of it next.”

How we perceive the problem and the way to solve it come from all that deep culture (America’s is short, yet still profound). Germany has a very long history of tribal chiefs, kings, emperors, bishops, and a Führer which all established a top-down authority model that does not lend itself to toying around with ideas that move from the bottom up. In my experience Germans have a tendency (yes, generalizations) to perceive their opinion as fact. It is especially still strongly evident in Eastern Germany, where the DDR kept alive that authoritarian stuff even longer: 1 + 1 = 2 and capitalism is bad; both delivered as facts. Why debate what you “know” is ganz korrekt.

Posted by Marilee | Report as abusive

Marilee, I just cannot accept your argument. Germany is the largest economy in Europe and was the world’s largest exporter. It is the Mittelstand that created this ‘wirtschaftswunder’ as well as world beating companies such as BASF that were pioneers in their respective fields. It is not that Germans are unable to innovate or experiment, but in fact bureaucratic red tape that now ties entrepreneurs up in knots. That is political interference in the economy.

RE: grassroots movements. Is it not said that as soon as three Germans get together they form a ‘Verein’? ; – )

Posted by MrBill, Eurasia | Report as abusive

Couldn’t the absence of German economics bloggers be explained by the fact that of necessity the debate has to be most lively in the two countries (USA/UK) most affected by the current crisis…certainly in the US the debate is more than about economics…it also about the future direction of American society itself (see e.g. Paul Krugman).

In addition, it is my observation (wrong?) that Americans will write the way they speak (as a result of which American writing tends to be quite long but easy to read)…this is not the case in “serious” Germany…this too may explain why Americans will make use of blogs much more frequently than Germans.

Posted by Hendrik | Report as abusive

Mr. Bill: That bureaucratic red tape is exactly the kind of top down control I’m talking about. It seems to me that Europeans – and especially Germans – like government more than do Americans (especially the still wilder sections….Wyoming comes to mind; the coasts seem to like government more), and that government interference regarding what kind of trash can a business has to have before it may open its doors is far less objectionable to Germans than it would be to Americans. Could Bill Gates have even launched Microsoft from his parents’ garage in Germany? Doesn’t governmental interference have much to do with economic outcomes?

Posted by Marilee | Report as abusive

The German econblogger space is just fine, writes Edward Harrison in his blogpost:

http://www.creditwritedowns.com/2009/04/ the-german-econblogger-space-is-just-fin e.html?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=F eedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=creditwritedown s&disqus_reply=8585100#comment-8585100

As I am part of this list, I have nothing more to add :-)

Interesting post, and interesting comments. As a German, I don’t buy the argument that Germany as a whole is more hierarchical than the US, but German universities definitely are. German academics tend to write in terrible jargon, so I agree with Hendriks point. Plus, they are all safely tenured and are not interested in a wider readership – being a popular author makes you suspect as an academic in Germany. Call someones book “populärwissenschaftlich” if you want to land a really painful insult. And blogs would fall into that category.

Posted by Staufer | Report as abusive

“Germany, by contrast, is fundamentally hierarchical.”

sorry mate — but have been to England lately? If Germany is fundamentally hierarchical, what is England? The class system is still fully in place here, just listen to the very distinct differences in the language of, say, teachers and cleaning staff. If hierarchy is a main obstacle, how come you think the scene in England could “take off” were people even give you weird looks if you have the wrong accent?

I am German and I’m currently working in the UK — from my personal experience, this society is much more hierarchical and less apt to change than Germany.

Staufer: No, not all German academics are safely tenured, only once they’ve reached the status of a regular professor.

By the way, I’m not sure how reason #1 and reason #8 compute. “(H)ighly respected professors and experts often find themselves ignored”, but at the same time “The US econoblogosphere is driven by tenured economics professors”?

Posted by Marc | Report as abusive

Sorry, but this analysis is rubbish. I am German, I write two Business Blogs – and blogroll roundabout 100 more. Perhaps it depends on what you understand by “econobloggers”.

a list full of stereotypes. well done…

Posted by me | Report as abusive

Mr. Salmon starts from a false premise: That everything in the world must be run like he likes it. He “proves” this by listing a number of racist stereotypes. And he of course attracts the typical supporters for his racist stereotypes.

If this is the type of econoblogging Mr. Salmon is missing in Germany, I’d rather have no blogs than his kind of blogs.

Posted by Karlo | Report as abusive

And next week, why some human can´t distinguish!

Posted by Moritz Feierabend | Report as abusive

generalising is a problem in principle because it leads to eventual stereotypes (which Germans are also known for :)
But since all human behaviour analysis is also generalising, I would say you are right. – with greetings from Germany.

Posted by Vici | Report as abusive

Very good article.

In my opinion, it is all a matter of market timing. It does not matter if it is gold, oil, or Microsoft, if you have access to good market timing signals, they will help you get in and out at a profit.

No guarantees in this business, but if they are right most of the time, you can still make $s.

There are may web sites providing them out there (search Google). Just find one that works and use it! Check out http://invetrics.com as an example.

Its Dow Jones timing signals are up 43% as of 23 June 2009 while the Dow is up just 29% off its March lows.

Following a market timing system works!

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Obviously anyone here writes her or his (or it\’s, if it is a child or a machine) comments in well-formed (american) english as possible (which is not my mother tongue). By that most people in the world are excluded from any dialogue around here (I can\’t find any vietnamese or arabic comment here for example). It seems to be that if someone wants to participate here, she or he has to get quite well in english or american first (I\’m not). The whole context seems to be just another try to discredit anything which isn\’t compatible to just another american way of life, (excuse me, I gave up the plan to visit some countries, anyway – I\’m not afraid).
And another thesis of my own: Germany is just (besides some insignificat neglectable particularities) another substructure of another one, so-called the world. So if you want to talk about hierarchies and qualifying (-restrictions) you could talk about the role of the US in global and historical context first – this would be more than just another piece of…. Poor old europe…. armes altes Eurasien.

Posted by Andreas Theissen | Report as abusive