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How to measure living standards and productivity

  • Nicholas Oulton

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.

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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 28678.

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Length: 45 pages
Date of creation: 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:28678
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  1. Arthur Lewbel & Krishna Pendakur, 2006. "Tricks With Hicks: The EASI Demand System," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 651, Boston College Department of Economics, revised 26 Nov 2008.
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  3. Christensen, Laurits R & Jorgenson, Dale W & Lau, Lawrence J, 1975. "Transcendental Logarithmic Utility Functions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(3), pages 367-83, June.
  4. Lewbel, Arthur, 1991. "The Rank of Demand Systems: Theory and Nonparametric Estimation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(3), pages 711-30, May.
  5. 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.
  6. Dowrick, Steve & Quiggin, John, 1997. "True Measures of GDP and Convergence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(1), pages 41-64, March.
  7. 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.
  8. Nicholas Oulton, 2007. "Ex Post Versus Ex Ante Measures Of The User Cost Of Capital," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 53(2), pages 295-317, 06.
  9. 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).
  10. Stigler, George J & Becker, Gary S, 1977. "De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(2), pages 76-90, March.
  11. 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.
  12. Hulten, Charles R, 1973. "Divisia Index Numbers," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 41(6), pages 1017-25, November.
  13. 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.
  14. J. Peter Neary, 2004. "Rationalising the Penn World Table: True Multilateral Indices for International Comparisons of Real Income," Working Papers 199622, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
  15. 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.
  16. Deaton, Angus S & Muellbauer, John, 1980. "An Almost Ideal Demand System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(3), pages 312-26, June.
  17. Diewert, W. E., 1976. "Exact and superlative index numbers," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 115-145, May.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. Muellbauer, John, 1976. "Community Preferences and the Representative Consumer," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 44(5), pages 979-99, September.
  21. Hill, Robert J., 2006. "Superlative index numbers: not all of them are super," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 130(1), pages 25-43, January.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. Richard Blundell & Xiaohong Chen & Dennis Kristensen, 2003. "Nonparametric IV estimation of shape-invariant Engel curves," CeMMAP working papers CWP15/03, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
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