I am unsure what the policies are with respect to offensive posts, so I am unsure whether this is covered.

My concern is not posts that are obviously offensive (which probably have to be taken down to avoid legal issues). The issue I see are more borderline cases.

  • Recently, there was a post that had an unneeded reference to the ancestry of someone in a video. Not anything that would run afoul of rules about racism, but something that would raise eyebrows if you said it in my home country (Canada), and would be questioned if said in some contexts (e.g., in a university lecture). In this case, the statement should just have been quietly edited out, since it had nothing to do with economics.
  • My larger concern is with respect to some recent posts about slavery. I’m an outsider, but it seems to me that economics has had some bad press recently, and having technical discussions of the economics of slavery (not tied to historical analyses) is not going to help matters. The issue in this case that people could pose deliberately provocative questions. (There are other genres of questions where this could happen, but this was the example that I saw as an issue.)
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's worth mentioning that slavery is not just a historical issue. The term "modern slavery" is officially recognised both in the US (see here) and in the UK (where we even have a Modern Slavery Act to address it). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 18:08

2 Answers 2


On the Ancestry:

I agree the question's reference to the ethnic group was eyebrow raising (In fact I am partially through my grandmother part of the ethnic group that was referred to in the post so these things affect me personally).

However, I do not think that author was being racist in this case. In fact because this case is not clear cut I actually even asked author why should that ancestry matter/how is it possible to know it (I wanted to see the answer to judge what the intent of the user was). The author defended it on basis of thinking this will help to identify the person (the question was a reference request to a video about economics of healthcare). For full disclosure in this case I think such ancestry is very poor identifier and agree with you it did not add much to the question but some people are open about their ancestry so it is potentially an information that could narrow down the search for the reference.

For example, even Wikipedia has a page on list of economists of such ancestry. I honestly do not think Wikipedia is being racist here. And so reference to such ancestry can help narrow down search. The author is also user with decent amount of rep on other stacks so it does not look like a troll. Furthermore, the author did not written anything in the post that would indicate any prejudice toward that ethnicity or even stereotype of any way. Lastly, I also have said ancestry and although that remark felt on the nose I did not feel that user is being racist toward me (although other people might disagree). I think in such cases it is best to give people presumption of innocence rather than guilt otherwise it can lead to more harm than good.

This being said I am not trying to defend the person. If even mere reference to ethnicity violates CoC then it should be gotten rid of. Stack Exchange is private site they can set their own rules. Hence I think it would be best to just flag it and have moderators decide if it violates CoC and needs to be edited out or the user should be punished in a way that is appropriate in this case (I would suppose warning not to do it again would be appropriate in my opinion).

On the Economics of Slavery:

I do not think that we should shun discussing the economics of slavery or even race etc.

There are several reasons for that:

  1. In this case the science is actually on the side of abolitionists from societal perspective. So in this case even science shows that slavery is not really good thing.

So why should we stay silent about that? Which world do you think will be better place? World, where people know that slavery is both immoral and inefficient or just place where people know it is only immoral? I think the former is the case.

  1. It can be argued that economics profession got bad rep because it does not pay enough attention to economics of race, slavery etc.

In fact the American Economic Association (AEA) which is currently quite strict on stamping out racism and promoting diversity officially stated the following [emphasis mine]:

We encourage all economists to seek out existing scholarship on race, stratification economics, and related topics. To get us started, our AEASP and CSMGEP colleagues and students are compiling a reading list on racism and the experience of Black Americans. ... We look forward to the development of new scholarship by economists to better understand racism, a word that rarely appears in our professional journals, and how to end its impact on our economy, and encourage submissions to the AEA journals that address aspects of racism and economics.

Hence according to the main professional body of economics in the world discussing these issues helps to combat racism. Sure we can debate whether AEA is correct but I think you would be hard pressed in finding anyone who would say that AEA is conservative - in fact it has become quite progressive in last 10 years.

  1. Of course, the debate on these delicate issues has to be very sensitive. However, it should not be shunned in my opinion. We just need to be extra careful that in these instances debate is conducted in factual, science based manner, and in a manner that is not purposefully provocative.

Responding to Edit:

  1. If someone posts clearly provocative question - some might remember that there was some short lived question about whether using bullets during holocaust was economical - such questions should be clearly closed and promptly deleted as they in my opinion are trolling not good faith questions.

In my opinion it is possible to discern question sincerity from the style of writing and also from the effort put into it. In the above mentioned holocaust question the style of writing was clearly purposefully provocative, and it had other hallmarks of trolling (low rep account, style of writing similar to known troll on this site, no references to proper research etc).

  • $\begingroup$ My concern with the slavery questions would be ones that might be something like “optimal way of being a slaver,” which is “scientific,” but would raise eyebrows. (I will leave this question open to see if there is further discussion, but this answer is enough for me. I just wanted to have a discussion here, and not in the comments.) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianRomanchuk I agree that would be an issue hence my point 3. Also yes I understand you want to have discussion so please feel free to leave it open. I am also interested to see what other people think. I just felt that as a candidate for a mod I should lay my opinions bare open and stick my neck out. $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ Hi, I missed the “purposefully provacative” part. That’s exactly what I am referring to. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianRomanchuk you did not missed it I actually added it to be clear in a response to your feedback. Sorry if I did not made that clear - I added it after I written the comment $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ Anyway, I also updated the question to highlight that is the issue I am concerned with. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianRomanchuk I also added an edit to clarify my position $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 22:25

I am immediately suspicious when I see questions on slavery. It is true that historical economics, particularly regarding race in America, should get more scholarship, and there are some scholars who write papers on it. Mostly though--at least from what I've happened to see so far--questions on slavery have been about "efficiency" while completely ignoring negative social externalities or distributional impacts of slavery.

A lot of these questions run the risk of becoming too discussion based. What I think is best is if questions on slavery are narrow and well focused, maybe looking at a published paper on some aspect of it. Maybe I will try finding a paper and posting an example of what a good question might look like.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I virtually completely agree, although as I understand this site is supposed to prefer positive to normative Q/A in these delicate situations proper scholar should always acknowledge that the institution of slavery even discussed in positivist sense is condemnable and we should make sure that that discussion is not getting too broad or out of focus by paying extra attention to the comments and sort of answers the question attracts. I also think it might be good idea to maybe have a meta post about examples of questions that deal with these sensitive topics and some basic guidelines $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 15:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The same way as we have such meta posts about homework questions $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ I only glanced at the questions, but it seemed that they could have been aimed at testing limits of what could be posted. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianRomanchuk hmm I think that is a bit overthinking it. I doubt it that there are 100+ rep users who purposefully just try to test the limits of what is allowed. This sort of stuff is usually done by the >100 rep users especially 1 rep trolls. I think it in the ancestry case that was just a person being tone deaf to historical connotations of explicitly labeling people of such ancestry - many people don’t realize that - that's why as you pointed out such thing would mostly raise eyebrows in academic circles. The slavery question actually if you have a look at it that is actually not even $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ a question about slavery in US south but slavery in general and outside America and few other countries where slavery was race based, historically slavery was not race based institution so I dont think one can even clearly say that the author was trying to test limits. If anything since that question later was edited to reference labor movements and arguing sweatshops would still exist without them I think that if author had any side motive it was something more along the lines of the Marxist view of wage slavery $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1 Mod
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 17:57

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