Readers of this blog will have noticed that I tend to post lots of charts in a few posts. There’s a reason for that.
For most questions we ask there are many interpretations. For example, drawing from my recent posts, we could ask “Does communism work?”. And there we go into “But what do we mean by communism?”, “What do we mean by work?”.
Then we get into “Which countries count as communist?”, “Which measures should we used to think about ‘working’?”, “Which time period?”. Etc.
This happens because for any concept, there is no clear-cut definition for it (Huemer, 2015). Things have particular qualities and concepts are fuzzily defined clouds around them so that we can generalise. Sketching their boundaries and working with concepts is a true art.
For the Soviet Union, if ‘worked’ is defined as raising the standards of living of the population, it worked. If it is defined as ‘better than the average country’ it also worked. If it is defined as ‘in a sustaining way’ it may not, as it ended up crashing. If it is defined as ‘worked better than capitalism’ we get into the trouble of defining capitalism (Hong Kong? USA? Morocco?) But then we can compare it to the ‘best plausible alternative’ and enter the counterfactual game.
We can also analyse ‘standards of living’. Of whom? Of the poorest? Of the average citizen? Median? Of a weighted average? What do we count? Basic foodstuff? Colour televisions? Private jets? A Maslowlike assessment in which more basic needs are given a greater weight?
So what I do is try to get different interpretations of the meanings and see if we can say something ‘For most plausible interpretations’ or if we have to resort to ‘In this sense, this happened, in that other sense, these other things happened’.
 Except perhaps for very simple concepts or concepts that have a set of rules as part of them (like GDP, defined as GDP=C+I+G+(X-M) and similar definitions). But not even here, as concepts are defined using other concepts, and we cannot fully close the net of concepts by introducing some 100% clear concepts[1.1]. So even when ‘kg of potatoes produced’ is something clearer than ‘GDP’, it still leaves us with the problem of defining precisely what counts as a potatoe, what minimum quality of potatoe should we consider, whether we should assume that reported data is the real data or we need to correct it, and so on.
[1.1] Good luck producing explanations in term of quarks and the most basic laws of Physics