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How to Measure Living Standards and Productivity

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  • Nicholas Oulton

Abstract

This paper sets out a general algorithm for calculating true cost-of-living indices or true producer price indices when demand is not homothetic, i.e. when not all expenditure elasticities are equal to one. In principle, economic theory tells us how we should calculate a true cost-of-living index or Konüs price index: first estimate the consumer's expenditure function (cost function) econometrically and then calculate the Konüs price index directly from that. Unfortunately this is impossible in practice since real life consumer (producer) price indices contain hundreds of components, which means that there are many more parameters than observations. Index number theory has solved this problem, at least when demand is homothetic (all income elasticities equal to one). Superlative index numbers are second order approximations to any acceptable expenditure (cost) function. These index numbers require data only on prices and quantities over the time period or cross section under study. Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that consumer demand is not homothetic (Engel's Law). The purpose of the present paper is to set out a general algorithm for the nonhomothetic case. The solution is to construct a chain index number using compensated, not actual, expenditure shares as weights. The compensated shares are the actual shares, adjusted for changes in real income. These adjustments are made via an econometric model, where only the responses of demand to income changes need to be estimated, not the responses to price changes. This makes the algorithm perfectly feasible in practice. The new algorithm can be applied (a) in time series, e.g. measuring changes over time in the cost of living; (b) in cross section, e.g. measuring differences in the cost of living and hence the standard of living across countries; and (c) to cost functions, which enables better measures of technical progress to be developed.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Centre for Economic Performance, LSE in its series CEP Discussion Papers with number dp0949.

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Date of creation: Sep 2009
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Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp0949

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Web page: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/series.asp?prog=CEP

Related research

Keywords: consumer price index; Konüs; cost of living; measurement of welfare change; Quadratic Almost Ideal Demand System; producer price index; homothetic; Productivity;

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References

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  1. Diewert, W. E., 1976. "Exact and superlative index numbers," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 115-145, May.
  2. Hill, Robert J., 2003. "Constructing price indexes across space and time: the case of the European Union," Research Report 03C20, University of Groningen, Research Institute SOM (Systems, Organisations and Management).
  3. Nicholas Oulton, 2007. "Chain Indices of the Cost of Living and the Path-Dependence Problem: An Empirical Solution," CEP Discussion Papers dp0797, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  4. Hill, Robert J., 2006. "Superlative index numbers: not all of them are super," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 130(1), pages 25-43, January.
  5. Arthur Lewbel & Krishna Pendakur, 2009. "Tricks with Hicks: The EASI Demand System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 827-63, June.
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  8. J. Peter Neary, 2004. "Rationalizing the Penn World Table: True Multilateral Indices for International Comparisons of Real Income," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1411-1428, December.
  9. Nicholas Oulton, 2005. "Ex Post Versus Ex Ante Measures of the User Cost of Capital," CEP Discussion Papers dp0698, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  10. Muellbauer, John, 1976. "Community Preferences and the Representative Consumer," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 44(5), pages 979-99, September.
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  13. Caves, Douglas W & Christensen, Laurits R & Diewert, W Erwin, 1982. "Multilateral Comparisons of Output, Input, and Productivity Using Superlative Index Numbers," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(365), pages 73-86, March.
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  15. Sudhir Anand & Paul Segal, 2008. "What Do We Know about Global Income Inequality?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(1), pages 57-94, March.
  16. Mellander, Erik, 1992. " An Indirect Approach to Measuring Productivity in Private Services," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 94(0), pages S229-44, Supplemen.
  17. Deaton, Angus S & Muellbauer, John, 1980. "An Almost Ideal Demand System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(3), pages 312-26, June.
  18. Richard Blundell & Xiaohong Chen & Dennis Kristensen, 2007. "Semi-Nonparametric IV Estimation of Shape-Invariant Engel Curves," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 75(6), pages 1613-1669, November.
  19. Lewbel, Arthur, 1991. "The Rank of Demand Systems: Theory and Nonparametric Estimation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(3), pages 711-30, May.
  20. Samuelson, Paul A & Swamy, S, 1974. "Invariant Economic Index Numbers and Canonical Duality: Survey and Synthesis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(4), pages 566-93, September.
  21. Robert J. Hill, 1999. "Comparing Price Levels across Countries Using Minimum-Spanning Trees," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(1), pages 135-142, February.
  22. James Banks & Richard Blundell & Arthur Lewbel, 1997. "Quadratic Engel Curves And Consumer Demand," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 79(4), pages 527-539, November.
  23. Diewert, W. E. & Wales, T. J., 1988. "A normalized quadratic semiflexible functional form," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 327-342, March.
  24. Bert M. Balk, 2005. "Divisia price and quantity indices: 80 years after," Statistica Neerlandica, Netherlands Society for Statistics and Operations Research, vol. 59(2), pages 119-158.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Nicholas Oulton & Ana Rincon-Aznar, 2009. "Rates of Return and Alternative Measures of Capital Input: 14 Countries and 10 Branches, 1971-2005," CEP Discussion Papers dp0957, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  2. Urban Sila, 2009. "Can Family-Support Policies Help Explain Differences in Working Hours Across Countries?," CEP Discussion Papers dp0955, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.

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