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I'd like to know with data, (not opinion) the effect of asking all undocumented laborers to leave the US. I heard on PBS recently that the dairy industry is very concerned, they admit to having a high number of undocumented laborers, and cannot compete in the labor market as their product is price-fixed by the government. I suspect the entire produce market is subject to the same concerns.

Is such a question on-topic here, and if so, any advice on sharpening the question for a good set of answers? (From the title, I'm afraid such a question gets closed as 'economic/offtopic'

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    $\begingroup$ Such an action would have both political and economic consequences, so I don't see what's the problem to ask about its economic consequences here. That it may be too broad/complex to get any useful short answer, is another matter. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Mar 11 '17 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ The title "When is a question political, therefore not economic?" seems to presume that if a question is political it does not fall under the category of economics. However, plenty of what economics studies is political. I think that the help center is already pretty clear about what is on-topic and off-topic here (economics.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic). The relevant criteria here is whether or not the question is opinion-based (i.e., requires a value judgement or is based on normative rather than positive economics). I would likely argue that this question is a duplicate. $\endgroup$ – jmbejara Jul 31 '17 at 19:35
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Knowing when a question is more political than economic, in my opinion, is when the question cannot directly fit into one of these 6 (or 7) areas.

  • Cosumers
  • Firms
  • Goverment policy related to consumer or prodoucer welfare
  • Allocation Mechanisms or Political Economy
  • Macroeconomic variables or state (i.e GDP, Unemployment ect.)
  • A given pricing mechanism and how it is affected.

I find that some questions or explanations about an "economy" isnt about actively developing a way to address economic issues than it is to redefine a political situation which is beyond formal economic analysis.

If you can clearly identify and communicate that your question fits into one of these categories then by my personal criteria, it is an economic question.

Otherwise id suggest asking it on https://politics.stackexchange.com/

Hope this helps.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think the subjects listed here present a somewhat narrow definition of what is studied within academic economics. The answer given by @Toby, which includes e.g. Gary Becker's work, probably answers the question better. economics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1692/59 $\endgroup$ – jmbejara Jul 31 '17 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @jmbejara what am I missing from this list? $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Aug 2 '17 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ The list feels like it's in some way favoring macroeconomics and other "traditional economics" topics. A lot of economists produce papers that I feel wouldn't fit very neatly. Here are some random examples: “Gender Differences in the Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program," “Sticking with Your Vote: Cognitive Dissonance and Political Attitudes," or "Awareness Reduces Racial Bias." I don't think a subject list is the right way to approach this. I think it's more true to the discipline to define it by its set of tools, as @Toby described. $\endgroup$ – jmbejara Aug 2 '17 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @jmbejara, I thought about what you said and i still disagree. Describing economics as a set of tools is a rather odd statement to me (even if Gary becker said it [if you can post a link to that point id appreciate it]). the application of mathematics and statistics to an analysis of the economy is not creating a new set of tools. $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Aug 7 '17 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @jmbejara The criteria I use here is also given in an attempt narrow down the scope of what is being asked. The site tends to lose its appeal for me when it turns into a place for political rants. $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Aug 7 '17 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ Ok. I do see where you are coming from. Thanks for taking the time to look into. As far as the conversation about the toolkit, I think we can just agree to disagree. I think there are bigger fish to fry on this website. ;) $\endgroup$ – jmbejara Aug 7 '17 at 20:00
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I would argue that that question is on topic for two related reasons. First, economics a science has since the Robbins definition and Becker's work become more a set of tools rather than a field with a clearly defined subject matter (although this will probably not be permanent). Second, economics can be divided into positive and normative economics. Positive economics is about what is. Normative economics is about what ought to be within a clearly defined framework (e.g. welfare economics). The question that is asked is merely a question about the world and this question can be answered with the tools we have as economists. We can even evaluate the desirability of doing so using the tools of normative economics.

I would even go as far as that any question that is "political" is amendable to economic analysis and answerable using economic tools. What is politics but a conflict about how to allocate scarce means between competing ends?

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I think you would need to specify what effect you are looking for. There would probably be too many to list.

Also when you say you want data and not opinion, that is somewhat vague. Real data will only become available ex-post.

You can have a qualitative answer (will wages in the dairy sector rise or fall) based on economic models or you can have a quantitative answer (by how many percentage points will wages in the dairy sector rise or fall) based on an econometric model. Unfortunately even quantitative answers are somewhat opinion based as there is no clearly best model type to address this problem.

Another problem that makes quantitative answers unlikely is that data about undocumented laborers is not easy to come by and that such a measure seems drastic and there may not be enough parallels in recent history to get data for model calibration.

Other then these issues, asking about specific economic effects of specific realistic policies is definitely on-topic.

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