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Proposal: Economics

I am excited about the possibility of having an exchange on the study of economics, but I am concerned that many of the questions will become debates. The realm of economics is extremely susceptible to political partisanship. For example, if someone posts a question asking about the economic policies that ended the Great Depression, it has the potential to erupt into an argument over whether or not the New Deal worked. So, how do we prevent questions and answers from becoming a discussion on whether the Republicans, Democrats, or any other party is right?

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I can think of a few ways we can reduce the degree of squabbling to a minimum:

Favour quantitative questions over qualitative

Whilst a quantitative question can be bent towards partisan goals (lies, damned lies and statistics); qualitative questions are far more prone to this problem in both the question and subsequent answers. Qualitative questions are often more fun (a key survival requirement for a beta stack exchange) but need to be very well described as even an errant word or turn of phase can turn these types of questions in a political conflagration.

Trim anecdotes, partisan website excerpts and author commentary from question

If the question feels like a statement instead of a question, especially if the statement comes in the form of supplementary material not needed to ask the question - remove the content from the question. If that leaves nothing left; then the question can be closed as not actually asking anything.

Swiftly migrate any economic policy questions to the Politics stack exchange

A question about the current policy platform of a party, past or present, is a political question - as are questions asking if a given political act follows one economic model or another (communist, capitalist, etc). Migrate these to the Politics stack exchange, as that stack is already infested with partisan bickering.

An economics stack exchange should only be concerned with questions about understanding an economic school or how an past or future event would be interpreted by an economic school. Not those questions that just want a confirmation that an political act or a country exemplifies an economic school of thought, or a pop-culture caricature of such.

Make use of the duplicate question feature

If and when we can't avoid political questions, we can starve them of oxygen by only answering the question once and then routing all future duplicates. Participants that only want to ask or answer politically charged topics will run out of steam when they have no space to emote as the topic has been already been asked, answered and frozen before they arrived. Stringently clearing comments from duplicates will also mean the political trolls will exhaust themselves and their commentary within a few old questions we can periodically mop up.

Questions asking for value judgements must specify from what economic school(s)

Questions asking for value judgements will pop up in both blatant and subtle forms. Questions that haven't specified which economic school is to interpret the data and provide the value judgement, the moderators should prompt the OPs to provide (perhaps from a standard menu of common models/schools).

If OP has no preference or there is has been no reply, moderators should amend the question with "as interpreted by particular economic schools of thought". This serves to reduce political squabbling within each answer, as the value-judgements are contextualised and separated across multiple answers (to be voted by depth and data, not "coolest school")

Questions asking to compare the relative merits of economic schools are either answered only once on the site very well or never on the site

Unless a person is asking about the specific scientific or logical rigour of an economic school or model, which they almost never are, a question about relative merits is pointlessly orthogonal as it just resolves to axiomatic predicates of a political, sociological and emotive nature. So a thunder-dome cage-match is unhealthy and out of scope for an economics stack exchange. Either answer only once on the site and very well, or ruthlessly shoot down any questions asking for this type of comparative political ranking of economic models.

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Questions that can be answered differently, depending on the "school of thought" can be good questions, and perhaps we should encourage the OPs to indicate, whose "school of thought" answer they are mainly interested in.

Now, given the "school of thought", questions that are deemed as going to generate mainly "opinion based" answers are off-topic in SE in general, and it will be the duty of moderators to close them (and of the users to flag them for closing).

It is true that many "interesting issues" in Economics appear to still be deeply debated and that no grand consensus exists (again, even among economists that more or less adopt the same scientific paradigm). But this is misleading: most of these issues have to do with actual implemented economic policy, not with the Economics discipline. Another bunch of them has to do with the "realized version" of the theoretical concepts and institutions that Economics study.

To consider the trivial and eternal point of friction from the second category (always in the context of the same paradigm), the question

Are markets efficient?

is useless, will generate mainly opinion-based answers, and should be closed.
But the question

Under which conditions a market is efficient?

is a good question, because it will permit the answerers to provide these conditions as determined by the theoretical paradigm in the spotlight, which will be helpful both as a repository of theoretical knowledge, but also as a point on the web where someone interested might learn these conditions and judge for himself a) whether the paradigm suits him and b) whether an actual market he is interested in fulfills them, and to what extent.

But also, the question

Are there econometrics studies that examine whether actual markets are efficient, and what are some of the conclusions?

is a good question, because it will bring in answers that relate economic theory and actual economic performance, even if they will do it for some markets, in some country, over some period. Still, science builds evidence like that, gradually and slowly.

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I see two potential solutions for this problem:

1) Allow only very narrow (and technical) questions that have an exact answer: e.g. what is the estimated coefficient for price elasticity in the US soft drinks market? or what is the VAT rate in North Carolina?

2) Allow one "correct"/"accepted" answer per school of thought. e.g. what is the best way to distribute the fruits of labor? This question will have very different answers, coming from different economic schools of thought, but it may still be very interesting seeing these different answers compared next to each other. It is certainly something I would enjoy to read / see.

Answer number 2) is essentially an expansion on LateralFractal's answer #5.

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I agree with LateralFractal that we should be careful to ensure that a question that is really about politics or invites an ideological view should be redirected to the relevant SE and that blatantly partisan answers should be discouraged (and, in especially egregious cases, possibly suppressed). I do not, however, think that we should shrink from engaging with difficult policy debates to which economics has the potential to make a positive contribution.

If this project is to really help people to understand the nature of modern economics then we should not try too hard to hide or bury questions that invite such disagreement. Instead, we should encourage answer writers to be as transparent as possible about the intellectual foundations that underlie the answers that they provide, and about the existence of competing views or evidence. This approach can be seen to work well elsewhere in the SE network. For example, no two economists disagree so strongly as do proponents of the two leading text editors, emacs and vim. Nevertheless, the LaTeX SE has a perfectly constructive question with a post on the strengths of each. Each question supports multiple answers and 'the market' will decide their relative merits.

In practice, many of the disagreements or debates within the conomics profession stem from the fact that many questions or phenomena have been addressed by multiple models, each with different starting assumptions. Answers that make clear how these assumptions shape the models' predictions would be a major improvement over alternative sources of economic wisdom such as TV talking heads, who usually state the conclusions of their preferred model without discussing the underlying assumptions.

In the end, when all perspectives are exposed to the light of day, I think you might be surprised by just how much economists do agree. It is when economic logic is hidden or distorted to serve a particular political end that apparent disagreements most readily emerge.

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This is a pretty good question. When you consider that the freshwater and saltwater schools are both massively established within not only politics and policy but also within academia, it would be easy for otherwise bright people to get caught up in quibbles over economic analysis.

My recommendation: keep the topics restricted to positive statements and arguments, i.e., statements that could be tested using statistical analysis. Any time one wants to make a normative statement, he or she should tag the post with a tag like "saltwater" or "freshwater," or else, the thread should be considered off-topic.

That would at least offer the acknowledgement that the subsequent posts in that thread are opinion-based.

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