Congratulations to us all - we're in the public phase of the beta, now.

So now we're here, what sort of level of question and answer do we want?

This is our chance to shape the site over the next few months. Anything we decide won't be forever: but it will help us in deciding which questions to close, which to re-open, which to delete, until we change the scope again some time in the future.

And although we grew out of an Area51 proposal, that site proposal was a long time ago: we've lost people along the way, and gained people, so now's a good time to reconsider where we are, and where we are going.

Some Stack Exchange sites, such as mathoverflow, choose to stick to research-level questions.

Some sites, such as English Language & Usage, allow all except beginners' questions and general reference.

Where do we want to pitch?

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    $\begingroup$ I was going to announce this, and you beat me to it. :) On behalf of the Community Team, welcome to public beta! This site has been off to a strong start and it will be exciting to see what the next phase brings. $\endgroup$
    – Ana
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ Whoops, sorry Ana. I guess there'll be a formal announcement anyway, to introduce the community team members who'll be looking over us? $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, no, this announcement coming from the community is as good as any I could make, or better. Additionally, I will be keeping a pulse on things and am here to help, but you may see other Community Managers stop by too because we believe many hands make light work. You're starting an excellent 'first day of public beta' conversation here; please, carry on! $\endgroup$
    – Ana
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 19:15

4 Answers 4


I agree with the approach of @Ubiquitous' answer (if I have understand it correctly): our policy should be determined in terms of the content that will be generated and will remain on the site.

Given this, I propose tentatively the following text to be used in the guidelines for Economics.SE (it is essentially an expansion on what Ubiquitous proposed, with some degree of relaxation):

To determine if your question is on-topic in Economics.SE, before posting it think about the following: is your question interesting for a graduate or research-level student, an academic, or an industry professional? Can it be formulated in such a way that it will become one? Even if you are an undergraduate Economics student, or a self-studying Economics enthusiast, or just someone trying to understand the Economics point of view on a specific subject, it may be the case that your "simple", "basic" question, can generate answers that will also be of interested to the categories of persons mentioned in the beginning. But please note: if you let us do the thinking in your place, then your question, instead of answers, may generate a lot of downvotes and quickly be put on hold or closed.

Please upvote, downvote, comment, propose your own guideline...

Whatever is decided, is there functionality so that askers see such a guideline without the need to browse Help? That would give some good chances for the guideline to work as a filter.

After the clarification from @skv regarding the "thinkwall" functionality available, I also propose the one-liner

Make your question interesting!

or, if there is a little more space available,

Make your question interesting! This is how useful answers are generated here!

  • $\begingroup$ I think your tentative text would be a great inclusion to the guidelines. $\endgroup$
    – cc7768
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ There is functionality to add a one liner, its still not active here but in other public beta sites it is active, so a succinct one liner could be shown to the asker even before they ask, also in the sidebar, there is a space which explains this $\endgroup$
    – skv
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 9:20

I am still forming an opinion on this, but right now I see a lot of very basic homework questions that even a mediocre undergraduate should have no problem handling. Honestly, I don't think this is going to make the site very attractive for "experts", and worry that it will have adverse consequences for the long-run health of the site (my views on this have hardened a little since posting my answer in the homework questions meta thread).

My current view is that we should welcome basic questions provided that they and their answers are likely to contribute something of value for future visitors to the site. I do not think that questions like this one fall into that category.

To be clear: I do not propose that we restrict the site only to highly technical research-level questions. Often, basic questions about the application of economics to real problems turn out to be interesting because they introduce a lot of nuance to standard textbook-style analysis. A good example would be this question. Every undergraduate knows about standard solutions to externalities, but the wrinkles of applying those ideas to a messy real-world context make the question a lot more interesting—even though it is not couched in a technical language.

In short: I think the standard should be that a question or its answers are plausibly of interest to experts (either an industry practitioner or an academic) who arrive at the site in the indeterminate future. That's the only way I can see us retaining and attracting experts, which is a necessary (and possibly sufficient) condition for this site succeeding.

Whatever the community agrees, I think it is important that we get to that agreement quickly and that we start ruthlessly closing threads that do not meet the agreed standard.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for quickly deciding on what our standard will be and ruthlessly enforcing it. I think intermediate level questions can certainly be on topic, but I think the question you referenced and his other question are a great example of exactly what we don't want to encourage. $\endgroup$
    – cc7768
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ @cc7768 The specific OP obviously wants his assignment done by others (and unfortunately, in his first question, this is what exactly happened). But I would say that the "second" question has some potential "answering merit", because it touches on the issue of how specific mathematical tools and properties "map" into economic phenomena and their properties. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AlecosPapadopoulos. The question might have some merit if asked in a more elaborate way. As is, I see nothing to guide an answer which leaves it a little too broad and arbitrary in my opinion. I do agree that rephrased and given some intelligent background (anything more than just two equations) that there could be a suitable answer. $\endgroup$
    – cc7768
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 0:18

Ha, politicians typically delay the big questions until it's to late - but you start right away with the big question. Regarding the level of questions, let me suggest this relative metric, somewhat my opinion refined from the Expert-level discussion earlier.

The asker's level (as implied by question quality) should be sufficient to understand the answer without compromising too much on the answer's quality.

OKAY: That is, a question on graduate level stuff is fine, if the student seems to have understood all the prerequisites. That saves us from the following dilemma: If we would need to introduce the prerequisites in the answer, it would become too broad. If we do not, the answer's quality decreases.

OKAY: As another example, it's fine if the question deals with intermediate undergraduate stuff (IS-LM, Trade effects, Interest Rates), if the level is such that we can expect knowledge of Microeconomics, Equilibrium understanding and similar requirements.

NOT OKAY: A question on Monetary, say: Why don't we use gold instead of money such that the government has no control over it?, where it is clear that the OP does not understand basics, say, the quantity theory of money and is basically trying to ask a scientific question without any proper prior knowledge.

The issue is that for any of these questions, we would need a long preamble, introducing all the same basics over and over again. Or answers would be of the form A is true under certain assumptions - which I do not have space to elaborate, follow [link] or trust me.

Both of which is something that I would not feel comfortable doing. But perhaps I'm in the minority here? I guess votes will tell.

  • $\begingroup$ I am unable to guess where economics.stackexchange.com/questions/383/… would stand in some senses this is basic so would you want such questions to be off topic? $\endgroup$
    – skv
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ This is not a requirement onto the absolute level of question difficulty, rather the relative difficulty w.r.t. the askers pre knowledge. If you want to exclude basic questions (that is, add an absolute requirement on top), that's a different story. $\endgroup$
    – FooBar
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ That particular question is not just basic but betrays that asker doesn't understand the formula. It's a formula on expenditures and the asker wants to know why an income source is not included. Note: I personally like that question and hope it stays on-topic. That said, I can see why there should be some level of misunderstanding where a question doesn't fit the site. $\endgroup$
    – Brythan
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ Good call. This approach also discourages regurgitation of popular econ-type catchphrases in lieu of informed, academically-based questions. $\endgroup$
    – philE
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 21:11

Basic questions should be allowed so beginning students can also benefit. But basic question with obviously direct answers should not allowed. Even if you are trying to understand a basic concept, there are subtleties and nuances in it. If you need to develop perfect clarity, you can ask good and thoughtful questions on basic ideas. I think benefit of doubt should go to the questioner i.e. assume his intentions are sincere.


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