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How To Measure Living Standards And Productivity




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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  • Nicholas Oulton, 2012. "How To Measure Living Standards And Productivity," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 58(3), pages 424-456, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:revinw:v:58:y:2012:i:3:p:424-456 DOI: j.1475-4991.2012.00498.x

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Amita Majumder & Ranjan Ray & Kompal Sinha, 2014. "A Unified Framework for the Estimation of Intra and Inter Country Food Purchasing Power Parities with Application to Cross Country Comparisons of Food Expenditure: India, Indonesia and Vietnam," Monash Economics Working Papers 31-14, Monash University, Department of Economics.
    2. Ana Rincon-Aznar, 2009. "Rates of return and alternative measures of capital input: 14 countries and 10 branches, 1971-2005," National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) Discussion Papers 347, National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
    3. Sila, Urban, 2009. "Can family-support policies help explain differences in working hours across countries?," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28684, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    4. Oulton, Nicholas, 2015. "Understanding the space–time (in)consistency of the national accounts," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 21-23.
    5. Cooper, Russel J. & McLaren, Keith R. & Rehman, Fahd & Szewczyk, Wojciech A., 2015. "Economic welfare evaluation in an era of rapid technological change," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 38-40.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C43 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods: Special Topics - - - Index Numbers and Aggregation
    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • E31 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Price Level; Inflation; Deflation
    • D24 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Production; Cost; Capital; Capital, Total Factor, and Multifactor Productivity; Capacity
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence


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