It would be nice to have site for economics. However, I think that the scope of the site should be better defined.
As currently written the scope reads quite broadly. If the sites rules will be that anything goes I think it will creates an atmosphere that will not encourage experts using the site.
For example, if the scope is to include current events would that include things like questions about stock market? Stock market commentary questions would technically qualify as economics and would be a discussion of current events but any such questions often cannot be answered by anything else then opinions as the events unfold. Furthermore, while such questions might be very interesting to public most professional economists usually dislike providing stock market commentary and leave that to traders/financiers (nowadays the split between finance/trading and financial economics is becoming larger and larger).
Second the post emphasizes disagreements, which I think it is bit unfortunate. Of course, there are disagreements within economics, as in other science, but for last decades in economics most disagreements on policy and other issues stem from people having different moral/ethical philosophies not as much from disagreements on underlaying economic mechanisms.
I think that if the economics site is to be successful and attract experts and professional economists it should discourage questions/answers that are mainly ethical/moral in favor of more factual based discussion. Unfortunately far too often economics discussion on the internet devolves just into pure moralizing, politics or just 'throwing' around opinions.
As a result I think it should be strongly encouraged that discussions are fact and science based.
To be clear the above does not mean that we should stifle different opinions. For example, even though vast majority of Economics profession favors free trade (as shown by this poll of top academic economists), and because trade theories, models and empirics often show free trade is beneficial and if not first best, second best or at least preferred option due to political constraints (e.g. Krugman 1987) it is definitely possible to make some science fact based arguments in favor of protectionism.
However, should posts/policy discussion based on nationalistic opinions that are not rooted in economics be allowed because disagreements must be tolerated?
Or should the site allow 'theories' about Rothschild family trying to take over the world through fiat money system that has zero basis in fact or science because we need to acknowledge that there are epistemological limits to what can be objectively known?
I don't think so and if those will be allowed again it will just discourage/scare off experts away.
And yes I realize that the examples above are provocative, but even under generous reading of the description provided the above would be on topic. I think if the Economics Q&A site has any chance of being successful and attract economists who will then support the site there must be some litmus test applied to questions and answers.
Also, since the tone on internet is very hard to discern let me say that I am not trying to be harsh or overtly negative. Neither I am trying trying to advocate stifling open discourse. In fact as an economist I believe one should always be open not just to mainstream orthodoxy but also allow discussion of heterodox ideas. But there is fine line between being open-minded and encouraging sophistry. As the description is currently written it is in my opinion simply too permissive and puts too much emphasis on toleration of any disagreements. Unfortunately such permissiveness often leads discourse that while might be about economics is not rooted in it and tends to crowd out expert, fact and research based discourse (since as opposed to natural sciences like physics where people tend to be more self aware of the limits of their knowledge when it comes to economics the Dunning–Kruger effect is sadly widespread).
My proposed scope of an Economics site:
- Current events can be on topic but only to the degree they can be answered in objective fashion by models, (scientific) theories, research and facts.
question: what does trade theory says about Brexit? Would be on topic. One can provide grounded answer to such question.
question: why did stock market fall by 5% today? Would not be on topic. Even if there was some negative news that could have affected stock market how can we be sure that the fall was due to that information and not just random variation. To analyze variation in stock market prices in relation to some particular event one normally has to perform some sort of event study, or otherwise one can only opine about whether the event had any effect.
question: how does [enter some type of event] affect stock prices? Could be on topic since if it is not an unique and current event probably someone already did some rigorous research.
Personal finance and accounting should be off topic. Even though strictly speaking these things might qualify as economics I think it would be best to have separate site for them. My reasoning for this is that personal finance and accounting often generate personal questions that are of little interest to most economist experts. If these will be allowed I worry the site will be so drowned in these questions that it will become just a personal finance and accounting site.
When it comes to facts and sources, I agree there should be some epistemological humility on the side of moderators but I think there should be some minimum litmus test. For example, a question which starts with outlandish claim, for example all central banks are controlled by Rothschilds family should be closed.
I think the litmus test should be that the more outlandish claim the stricter should be the requirement for providing references to fact and sources (preferably of an academic sort).
- Economics is split into positive economics preoccupied with what is and normative economics that discusses what should be.
I think the site should have bias towards the positive economics. Positive economics questions can always be answered in objective manner. Even if there is disagreement in economics because of competing theories or empirical estimations at least here the discussion always tends to be grounded.
Normative economics should not be off topic per se but we should be very careful with what normative economics we allow here. I do not think this site should become moral philosophy site (there should be separate site for that). Consequently we should allow normative questions that not just pure moralizing.
That is normative questions such as:
- what is the optimal marginal tax rate schedule under Rawlsian social preferences? or What is the difference between optimal top marginal tax rate under Rawlsian and Utilitarian and libertarian social preferences? Should be on topic.
but questions like:
- Are money root of all evil? Is usury a sin? Is communism/capitalism etc. evil/good? Should not be allowed.
- We should discourage questions that are too broad or just seek opinions.
For example, questions such as:
- if an economist could build an utopia how it would look like? While such question can be fun - there already are many platforms for such questions e.g. reddit, various facebook groups etc. From my observations these kinds of questions just devolve into purely opinionated discussion with no end because organizing the whole society is extremely broad question and implicit in the above question are also some serious moral/value judgements so it would be problematic also from the previous point.
- On purely practical note we should have some strict rules about 'homework' questions. This should stay on topic but there should be strict rules/litmus test so the site will not get flooded by questions such as:
- Total costs are given by TC=2Q^2 how do I calculate marginal cost?
Users should be required to attempt the question themselves and describe where they go stuck.
I think criteria like those above (and maybe some further ones) would help to make site a space which would be treasured by professional economists. In turn professional economists will be able to provide high quality answers which will encourage users seeking answers to their questions about economics in science and fact based manner. It would encourage people who are passionate about economics as a science.
PS: Let me once more reiterate that I am not trying to be purposefully negative/provocative. The criticism above comes from a place of love for idea of another Economics Q&A site not hate.