Proposal: Economics

Should we allow normative questions on the site or will they be too prone to political debate?

  • 1
    I would find this easier to discuss with examples. This is a border area, and we should try to figure out where the border is. I'm not sure that either bright line rule (always allowed or never allowed) will work. Never seems more workable, but I'd like to see examples of what you think should be allowed. Maybe I'll agree.
    – Brythan
    Nov 3, 2014 at 0:46
  • I am with Brythan: there is a huge spectrum of normative issues and I worry that a blanket ban would be counterproductive. The rational for a welfare state, and the consumer-focus of competition (antitrust) policy are two areas where normative economics weighs heavily on practice, and people might quite rightly wish to understand how and why. But the wording and focus of questions is important "What are the possible economic justifications for the welfare state?"-- good question; "Is the welfare state a good thing?" -- bad. Maybe you can add some examples to your question for us to discuss?
    – Ubiquitous
    Nov 3, 2014 at 11:17

2 Answers 2


Well questions of normative economics are often of most interest to visitors; but it's a matter of quality and context: Does the question demand a desired answer? Do the answers reply without using recursive normative statements of their own? Do the value judgements backslide into politics or philosophy?

Too many normative questions and we'll drive out the subject matter experts; too few and the beta will stagnant on points of order and procedure.

If we do allow and enforce them, we have to allow and enforce them equally across all ideological biases - otherwise some members will get driven out by others and at the end of private beta you end up with moderators of an inherent ideological bias that cripple the public beta.

The key concept in my mind for a good normative question is respect.

Does the question respect the audience? Respect posting etiquette? Respect ideological diversity? Respect the scientific method? Does it avoid talking about politics and religion at the dinner table?

Bad normative questions ooze disrespect and don't improve with prompting from other people.


The science takes no stand on this, so I would tend to disallow them. This is not philosophy.

Referring to the comment regarding Gini

Economics as a science takes normative values as given. For example, papers in optimal taxation need some kind of normative standpoint. They will typically take Utilitarian-welfare measures with Pareto-weights just for the sake of the argument. These are assumed as given, you will not see a discussion about the optimal welfare weight.

The reason is not that Economists are all utilitarians, it is mainly that this is an accepted stand to take (we need to take some stand, so just care about everyone according to some weight). You will typically not see discussions about different welfare measures, unless it is some kind of a robustness check of the original results.


Gini is used as one measure of inequality. That being sad, scientific papers do not take a stand on whether inequality is good or bad. They may, however, infer whether it is good for growth (there is a huge strand of theoretical and empirical papers that tries to infer about this relationship) or similar measures.

Piketty has restarted the old debate about Inequality. But even he with his French background did not dispute whether inequality is good or bad per se. Instead, he argued that extreme values of inequality will lead to social unrest and turmoils and hence paths that will lead to such extreme inequality being suboptimal.

  • But isn't economics, as a social science, accept normative values such as other social sciences do? I mean, economics already has normative ideas that are relevant in economic discussion (e.g. gini coefficient as being used as a tool to discourage economic policies that increase income inequality).
    – rosenjcb
    Nov 2, 2014 at 20:15
  • 1
    We accept normative values but take them as given, we do not debate them. I hope my edit clarifies.
    – FooBar
    Nov 4, 2014 at 21:49

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