# Clarifying the Area 51 proposal: Can some basic economics and policy questions be on-topic?

[Ganesh Sittampalam's original question]

I've voted to close this question* because it directly corresponds to this off-topic question from the area51 proposal (about economics and policy) and I think it's important we be consistent. However, if we do now feel that this question is just about ok, what can we do to change the definition of the site?

[Expansion/update by Chris W. Rea]

* Note: The question above has since been deleted by the original poster. But, here are some others that might fall under the same reasoning:

Are such economics and policy questions appropriate for the site?

When I (Chris W. Rea) wrote the sample off-topic question at Area 51, "In a recession, should the Federal Reserve intervene? If so, what measures are appropriate?", I was trying to restrict more advanced academic questions as there is likely to be a future StackExchange site for economists and graduate-level economics students. But, personally, I think the basics ought to be OK to discuss here.

• To the community: We'd really like to see your answers and/or votes on this question, please! – Chris W. Rea Oct 1 '10 at 14:23
• Should we redo the FAQ to include that basic questions on economics are fine. – Dheer Apr 27 '11 at 9:59

Personally, I feel that some questions related to economics are indeed appropriate for the site, as understanding these matters can impact the decisions we make regarding our personal finances.

With regard to the actual question being asked: we hash out the details here on the meta site. I do not believe there is anything wrong with modifying our stance, as long as it is done as a community and we do not make radical changes.

Note:

This was in reply to Ganesh's original question. However, it is still applicable and sums up my stance on the subject. All of the questions linked up there are fine, in my opinion.

• Understanding the economy and economic positions directly correlates to ones understanding of personal finance and money issues. – Anonymous Type Oct 13 '10 at 23:27

It's reasonable to have a layman's discussion about the wider economic world without necessarily delving to the level of detail that a professional economist or graduate-level student would be operating on.

If you keep the scope of acceptable topics too narrow, the site will die. How many times can somebody ask "How do I get out of debt?"

• +1 How many times can somebody ask "How do I get out of debt?" – George Marian Oct 11 '10 at 4:24
• hehe, I bet that one gets tons of duplicates. – Anonymous Type Oct 13 '10 at 23:32

I think the best thing for now would be to accept any questions, but agree a line with the economics stackexchange if that gets set up, and transfer questions as appropriate. If the consequence of being over the line is just a transfer rather than closure, it'll be much less important to define it precisely.

• So what you're suggesting is: Draw the line in the same place as the Economics site would (eventually) between basic/advanced questions (assuming they wouldn't want basic level questions), and we'd permit such basic ones but not advanced, and vice-versa? Not a bad idea... – Chris W. Rea Oct 3 '10 at 14:24
• I'm saying that for now, we should have no line at all, i.e. accept basic and advanced questions. If and when the economics site is set up, then use their line. – GS - Apologise to Monica Oct 3 '10 at 17:37
• @Chris - I prefer Chris's suggestion. A Q&A site where the boundaries change 1) is likely to be confusing and 2) will presuppose knowledge about the larger Stack Exchange family that I don't believe we ought to be enforcing on users. – justkt Oct 4 '10 at 17:43
• @justkt - the idea would be that we would mass-migrate the relevant questions at the point the boundaries changed. But yeah, it might still be confusing. – GS - Apologise to Monica Oct 4 '10 at 19:05
• I like Ganesh's suggestion, I think you are being overly cautious in supposing that users will get confused. – Anonymous Type Oct 13 '10 at 23:34

At this stage the Policy and Economics site has not been set up. Personal Finance isn't just about investing in listed entities, or managing debt. It can range from choosing to start a business to understanding the macro- and micro-economic environment in which to do so. A person who starts their career managing student debt may become someone who starts their own business or wishes to manage a fairly substantive investment portfolio.

I think there needs to be an awareness of overlap but I also think that purely "academic" questions which may come up can be migrated when the time comes.

On the question in your first link (which has since been deleted by the original poster, perhaps due to peer pressure to close, or perhaps due to my edits to remove S&A wording) ... I had written the following comment to try and show why there is a personal finance angle to questions such as that:

A basic understanding of government taxation and spending may help an individual understand their role as a taxpayer. Also, if an individual were to invest in government bonds (as many do) an understanding of how government revenues and costs should balance (or don't) ought to help one make better investing decisions. So I see an angle for this - but like I said, I'll let the community decide.

I think what we want to avoid are economics or policy questions that are at an advanced academic or professional level. When I posted the sample question at Area 51, that's what I was going for. I didn't mean to prevent any and all questions about economics. An advanced discussion of what the Fed should or shouldn't do in a recession is quite different from a person asking "why is the government cutting costs?"

The question is: Where do we draw the line at what constitutes basic vs. advanced economics or policy?

• I think that's a pretty hard line to draw :-( It's pretty easy to move on from "why is the government cutting spending" to "why do we have quantitative easing", for example. – GS - Apologise to Monica Sep 30 '10 at 16:41
• You "Draw the line" at things that a laymen does not "need" an understanding of, and which relate to policy directions useful to government micro/macro management rather than to the management of ones own finances. – Anonymous Type Oct 13 '10 at 23:29

I'm vaguely okay with many of them. Inflation and exchange rates do affect the value of your dollar. I thought that Is there any way to know how much new money the US is printing? was a great question.

I didn't like the feel of China one, or the one about the government spending. It's hard for me to place exactly why this is, but at a certain point I think things moved along from "help me understand how this affects my finances" along to "help me understand this critique of US policy which is relevant to the economy at large but not otherwise directly relevant to my finances" and finally ended up distressingly close to "help me critique US economic policy".

I propose that the far end of the spectrum there is the part which needs to be most strongly avoided.

• actually something about China is related to pretty much anyone with savings since there currency policy and the strength of their savings is having a direct impact on the value of the USD and other currencies. – Anonymous Type Oct 13 '10 at 23:33
• @Anonymous Type - Sure, but I don't think the questions were doing a very good job of exploring that relationship. – user296 Oct 14 '10 at 20:16

I think factual questions like "What is the role of Federal Reserve?" or "how QE2 may impact me financially?" are fine. However questions that are more policy-related, like "was the economic stimulus success or failure?" or "what should the Congress do to lower unemployment?" - where the answer depends on the politics and is substantially subjective or argumentative - should be offtopic. There are a number of projects on Area51 for politics and economics in large, and while those topics may be very interesting and fascinating, I personally would like for this site to stay closer to personal finance area and only go into larger subjects when they are related to a personal level somehow, and then aim for facts and not debate.

I think basic economic qustions can be of a HUGE value for this site expecially for international users that can't hardly be interested in money q/a very specific on US system, like: It is legal for a retailer/store or other business to refuse $50 &$100 bills or other legal tender, e.g. pennies?

I want to make it clear that I have got nothing against this last question, it's simply the 1st one that I found, I think it's a valuable question, and I think what can make this site really great is exactly this mix between inter-economic money questions and everydays' life money questions.