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I am struggling to understand why the question "Is a small business owner without employees a capitalist?" is on-topic.

Yes, it is about a topic related to the economy (not economics though) and the term is used by Marx, but more in a political context. A more suitable question in my opinion would be something like "how does XY (e.g. Marx) define who is a capitalist?"

My main question is: Why is the linked question on-topic?

My subquestion is: Which of the following inquiries would be off-topic?

  1. Is a person who recently came into money nouveau riche?
  2. Would most people consider the US economy neoliberal?
  3. In your opinion what do I think the definition of communism is?
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    $\begingroup$ Im personally in favor of considering Marxist questions off topic. $\endgroup$
    – EconJohn Mod
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 20:40

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In the standard Overlapping Generations model of Diamond, there are two generations, each living two periods. In the first period of their life, the Young have no capital, and they work in firms where the capital is owned by the Old. So in the heart of, let's say, "western mainstream economics", we have a model that relies on the total separation of labor and capital, and distinguishes between "workers" and "capitalists" (in terms here of property rights) in the most clear-cut way.

This is a good example in my opinion as to why the term" "capitalist", if properly defined (as it must be done with all terms that have also sociopolitical flavor), can be used in economics of any strand and for proper economic modeling and thinking.

You are certainly right in pointing out that the question as posed by the OP was clumsy - and at the same time, as is sometimes the case with clumsy questions, it provided an opportunity to try to properly treat the term.

As for your three inquiries:

1) I don't remember seeing an economics model or book using the "nouveau riche" concept (as perhaps a label for special behavioral assumptions that could lead to special outcomes). Off-topic also because it does not involve economic inference.

2) This asks for opinion-based answers, and the re-phrase "is there any study as to how many people consider..." appears necessary. But it would be off-topic anyhow, since it does not involve economic inference.

3) In my opinion, this asks for opinion-based answers.

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  • $\begingroup$ In the meantime OP of the linked question stated in a comment under another question where I asked him to define what he considers capitalism that " I have another question about capitalism and it's a valid question. I didn't have to explain what I mean by capitalism." So I don't think giving him a pass with his clumsy question was a good idea. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with your judgement on all three of my subquestions. I just don't see the difference between these and the linked question. Which to me seems unclear and/or opinion based, as it got four very different answers. I also wonder if this is proper treatment of the term. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ On the owners of capital, which exist in many models (e.g. Diamond's OLG): This is a very clear term. It is not, however, synonymous with capitalist. If it were, then the Soviet state, or the Soviet people, as owners of all Soviet capital would have been capitalists. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ @denesp. But there is no "one", "correct", "universal" meaning for "capitalist", this is the whole point, this is why we need to anchor such terms to elaborate theories and systems of thought (or create one ourselves), if we ever want to use them in a fruitful way. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ @denesp As for the Soviets: but they were capitalists. The soviet state did appropriate the surplus value of the workers. This is standard analysis of the socialist regime, as a transition phase to communism, standard by marxists themselves.The supposed difference is that the appropriated surplus was controlled by the state, and the state gave back the surplus to the people. This did not make it a true communist regime, but then again, it was just a phase on the road to communism. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ If there is no one correct universal meaning for capitalist then the question is opinion based, is it not? At the very least I learned something about the Soviets. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 6:44
  • $\begingroup$ This for me is the point where we need to accept some things will be debatable, without being opinion based. Economics is a social science, so not everything can beaccurate as in physics. Only by discussing we can get to better definitions. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ @denesp I agree with JoaoBotelho, and this is why I insist on formulated theories in the context of which we need to define and use a term: in essence, they are opinions too, but much more elaborated and by many people, and sometimes with some empirical backing also. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ I will not make endless objections, here is my final one: I just read the answers to this other question. This is a debate on how to model an economic phenomenon. I think it is interesting and on-topic. The post I object to is not like this: It is not a discussion of an economic phenomenon, but on what people mean by a term that is not essential in any economic model. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 14:16
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I think the question Is a small business owner without employees a capitalist? is probably off-topic because it uses a term ("capitalist") without a clear definition making it hard to know exactly what the poster is asking. Usually, this is at least grounds to put a question on hold until it can be clarified.

I agree, for example, that the modified question "How does marx define capitalism" or even "Is a small business owner without employees a capitalist is marxist economics?" would be less ambiguous.

My personal feeling is that well-specified questions on Marxist economics should, in principle at least, be on topic here. It needs a bit of policing to keep out Marxist rants and such, but helping to understand the history of economic thought, and using the modern tools of economic to debunk outmoded ways of thinking about the economy seem to be in remit.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer reflects my own views on the subject, but being on the meta site I accepted the majority answer to create consensus. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 21:24

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