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Chain Indices of the Cost of Living and the Path-Dependence Problem: An Empirical Solution

  • Nicholas Oulton

This paper proposes an empirically feasible method for correcting the path-dependence bias of chain indices of the cost of living. Chain indices are discrete approximations to Divisia indices and it is well known that the latter are path-dependent: the level of a Divisia index is affected not just by the level of prices at the two endpoints but also by the path between the endpoints. It is also well-known that a Divisia index of the cost of living is path-independent if and only if all income elasticities are equal to one, a restriction that is decisively rejected by studies of consumer demand. In theory, the true cost of living index (or Konüs price index) could be derived by estimating the expenditure function. But this seems impractical due to data limitations: the number of independent parameters rises roughly in proportion to the square of the number of commodities and consumer price indices contain hundreds of items. This paper shows how this problem can in fact be overcome empirically using a flexible model of demand like the "Quadratic Almost Ideal Demand System". The proposed method requires data only on prices, aggregate budget shares and aggregate expenditure. The method is applied to estimate Konüs price indices for 70 products covering nearly all the UK's Retail Prices Index over 1974-2004, with each year in turn as the base. The choice of base year for utility is found to have a significant effect on the index, even in the low inflation period since 1990.

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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Performance, LSE in its series CEP Discussion Papers with number dp0797.

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Date of creation: May 2007
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Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp0797
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/series.asp?prog=CEP

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  1. 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).
  2. Deaton, Angus S & Muellbauer, John, 1980. "An Almost Ideal Demand System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(3), pages 312-26, June.
  3. Christopher F Baum & Mark E. Schaffer & Steven Stillman, 2002. "Instrumental variables and GMM: Estimation and testing," North American Stata Users' Group Meetings 2003 05, Stata Users Group.
  4. J. Peter Neary, 1996. "Rationalising the Penn World Table - True Multilateral Indices for International Comparisons of real Income," Working Papers 199622, School Of Economics, University College Dublin.
  5. Andrew B. Bernard & J. Bradford Jensen & Stephen J. Redding & Peter K. Schott, 2007. "Firms in International Trade," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 105-130, Summer.
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  7. Andrew Bernard & Stephen Redding & Peter Schott, 2009. "Multi-Product Firms and Trade Liberalization," Working Papers 09-21, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  8. Oulton, Nicholas, 2008. "Chain indices of the cost-of-living and the path-dependence problem: An empirical solution," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 144(1), pages 306-324, May.
  9. Anthony J. Venables, 2006. "Shifts in economic geography and their causes," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Q IV, pages 61-85.
  10. John Shea, 1997. "Instrument Relevance in Multivariate Linear Models: A Simple Measure," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 79(2), pages 348-352, May.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Hulten, Charles R, 1973. "Divisia Index Numbers," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 41(6), pages 1017-25, November.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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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