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4. Causation: The Experimental Variable

Does communism explain the failure of the Soviet economic "experiment?"

The scientific method, we are taught, involves the testing of theories through experimentation and observation, and an attempt to logically explain the results. When experiments are set up, based on that method, they normally involve a "control" element, some known ingredient or recipe, and a "variable" element, an ingredient introduced into the recipe which is different. Normal procedures focus on a single variable at a time. If more than one variable is introduced or present, it becomes difficult to explain the results or outcome.

Communism has long been assumed to be the experimental "variable" which would explain the political and economic problems experienced by the Soviet Union. The problems which Russia experienced, following the Bolshevik Revolution, suggested that communism was the cause. Yet, when communism was eliminated with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no immediate turnaround in the Russian economy. Instead Russia went into a tailspin.

There are three problems with the assumption that communism was the variable responsible for the shortcomings of the Soviet Union. The first is the assumption that communism was the only variable involved. Russia is, after all, a large country with extreme variations in climate and geography. Economic performance is often tied to distance - the cost of goods increases with shipping distances - and conditions, such as the condition of a transport system. The second problem relates to timing - when the variable is introduced. The assumption that everything that occurs after a variable is introduced is related to, or caused by, that variable, may or may not be true. Comparing what happened after the Bolshevik takeover to what happened before may support the assumption that communism was the cause. It does not deal with other variables which might have been introduced, or been present, at the same time. The third problem is that the Soviet Union is compared against an imaginary post-Czarist or democratic regime - a government which would realize all the potential that the real Czarist government had never come close to during its existence.

This book suggests that the variable which explains the failures of the Soviet Union is not communism, but resource availability. In addition, the experimental comparison should not be between the Soviet Union, as it was, and a Russia as it might have been. Perfectly functioning governments and economies exist only in the imagination. Failure is inevitable, given that standard. Any meaningful comparison should be between Russia and countries in similar circumstances. The success or failure of capitalist economies should be measured against similarly situated countries and economies.