10
$\begingroup$

I moderate Cooking.Stackexchange. Every now and then, we get questions about the price or availability of certain food items. For example:

I don't have other examples right now, but I'm sure I have seen them on Cooking, as well as on other sites. People wonder about prices all the time. They tend to ask it on sites about topics to which the good in question is connected, assuming that price is deterministically dependent on production costs.

These questions are closed on Cooking, and I also vote to close them on other sites. In theory, it should be possible to migrate them. So:

  1. Does the Economics.SE community see these questions as on-topic?
  2. If they fall within the scope, do you want them, or do you feel that they will be unwelcome because they are too basic to be interesting to this community, or because finding such a specific answer is too much work for a SE question (or for another reason?
  3. If they are outside your scope, do you have a canonical question explaining basic microeconomics? Preferably one which mentions that one shouldn't expect prices to be determined by "expenses for producing this unit + 5% profit margin"?

Basically, while we can't answer these questions on Cooking, I would like us to be able to point our users into a direction where they can learn more about what they are wondering. Then they get something out of their asking even though their question got closed.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Economics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional and academic economists and analysts.". I think that says it pretty clearly. $\endgroup$
    – FooBar
    Jan 16 '16 at 10:32
8
$\begingroup$

My approach: questions about pricing, relative prices and the like are on topic here but it is my impression that they will rarely get an answer that matches the very narrow and specific level that they are asked (the OP's "finding such a specific answer is too much work for a SE question" conjecture).

Still, what the asker could gain from seeing the question migrated here, would be answers from people that have a solid background on the methodology to analyze such issues and are used to think about them, which will allow them to offer some qualitative insight on the main causes on what the question asks.

For example, to the question

"Why is canned tuna cheaper than frozen or fresh tuna?"

although I have not any experience with the tuna market, I could immediately point out that the risk associated with selling canned tuna is less than selling fresh tuna, because canned tuna can be stored -and the cost of storage does not fully offset the gain in additional "waiting-for-the-customer" time, which considerably increases the chance for a sale.

Canned tuna is also cheaper than frozen tuna, because storing cans is a low-energy consumption activity, while storing frozen tuna is a high-energy consumption activity (to maintain deep-freeze temperatures).

Things like that.

I would wait for other senior members and especially for our moderators to offer their views on "on-topicness".

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ I also agree that they probably won't get the answer they are looking for, but I wish to point out that it is possible for them to at least get an answer -- as you give an example of -- and it may bring more traffic to this site, which may benefit Economics SE (granted, if the increased traffic generates questions that get no answered, then it will be a short-lived boon). $\endgroup$
    – majmun
    Jan 3 '16 at 2:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @majmun Or, the increased flood of less interesting questions drives experts away. Given that there's no real target for us (we don't need to have solid 10 questions per day to stay alive as a site), I don't see increased traffic as a intrinsically relevant. $\endgroup$
    – FooBar
    Jan 3 '16 at 12:39
3
$\begingroup$

Of the one's we've received so far, they're pretty much all terrible questions.

In almost all cases, there's only one rudimentary economics concept involved - the crossing of supply and demand curves.

And the answer to why is X cheap, why is Y expensive, why does Y cost more than X, requires knowledge about the XY market, to explain why the supply and demand curves cross where they do.

There are millions of questions of this kind, but only one economics concept.

So I suggest we have one canonical question, with an answer that explains the basic concept, and explains why we don't answer questions about specific industries; and then close all the other "why this price?" questions as duplicates of that one.

And for the odd exception where there's an answer that requires more interesting economic concepts (e.g. the yield curve for different loan durations), then we can keep those open.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ OK, so what do you propose that we on other sites do? Migrate these questions to you so you guys can close them? Close them on our sites and do nothing? Close them, but advice them to read through your canonical question and figure out for themselves how it explains their problem? Also, will your canonical question focus on "this is how prices work", or on "this is how people imagine prices work, and we now explain why that's wrong"? $\endgroup$
    – rumtscho
    Jan 7 '16 at 20:03
2
$\begingroup$

I don't think these are on-topic here. We most likely don't have the knowledge of the particular product to say more than general economics insights.

Moreover, these aren't really "deep" questions, so they are neither particularly interesting, nor is really a PhD in economics required to know why canned tuna is cheaper than other.

See also our "mission":

Economics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional and academic economists and analysts.

Which is a very far step away from "everyone who wonders why his consumption good is so darn expensive"

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Somewhat following up on @Alecos's answer : I'll leave it to others to decide whether these kind of questions are on topic, but if they are, I think we should adopt a policy similar to the one we adopted for homework questions when we decided to ban questions with specific numbers.

What I have in mind is that a necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) condition for questions like

"Why is canned tuna cheaper than frozen or fresh tuna?"

to be on topic is that they be formulated as

"Why is canned food cheaper than frozen or fresh food?",

that is, with as little reference as possible to a specific market/product.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .