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How to measure living standards and productivity


  • Oulton, Nicholas


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Oulton, Nicholas, 2009. "How to measure living standards and productivity," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28678, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:28678

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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, June.
    2. 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.
    3. Robert J. Hill, 2004. "Constructing Price Indexes across Space and Time: The Case of the European Union," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1379-1410, December.
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    19. 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.
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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. Oulton, Nicholas & Rincon-Aznar, Ana, 2009. "Rates of return and alternative measures of capital input: 14 countries and 10 branches, 1971-2005," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28687, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    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. repec:bla:ecorec:v:93:y:2017:i:301:p:314-332 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. 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


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

    JEL classification:

    • C43 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods: Special Topics - - - Index Numbers and Aggregation
    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
    • 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
    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being


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