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Quality Change in Price Indexes

  • William D. Nordhaus

Price indexes provide the fundamental building blocks for measuring the general price level along with real incomes and real output. But the most important single price index for the United States, the CPI, has been criticized as significantly underestimating the pace of quality change. This paper sketches the issues involved in the measurement of quality change in price indexes. It reviews the theory of quality change, discusses how the Bureau of Labor Statistics deals with quality change, and provides examples of measurement issues in practice. It concludes with a proposal to resolve the massive uncertainties in this area.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.12.1.59
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 12 (1998)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 59-68

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:12:y:1998:i:1:p:59-68
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.12.1.59
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  1. Griliches, Z. & Cockborn, I., 1993. "Generics and New Goods in Pharmaceutical Price Indexes," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1664, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  2. Gordon, Robert J., 1990. "The Measurement of Durable Goods Prices," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226304557.
  3. Brent R. Moulton & Karin E. Moses, 1997. "Addressing the Quality Change Issue in the Consumer Price Index," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1), pages 305-366.
  4. David M. Cutler & Mark McClellan & Joseph P. Newhouse & Dahlia Remler, 1996. "Are Medical Prices Declining?," NBER Working Papers 5750, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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