Accounting for housing in a CPI
In this paper, we take stock of how statistical agencies in different nations are currently accounting for housing in their consumer price indexes (CPIs). The rental equivalence and user cost approaches have been favourites of economists. Both can be derived from the fundamental equation of capital theory. Concerns about these approaches are taken up. We go on to argue that an opportunity cost approach is the correct theoretical framework for accounting for owner-occupied housing (OOH) in a CPI. This approach, first mentioned in a 2006 OECD paper by Diewert, is developed more fully here. We explore the relationship of this new approach to the usual rental equivalency and user cost approaches. The new approach leads to an owner-occupied housing opportunity cost (OOHOC) index that is a weighted average of the rental and the financial opportunity costs. ; We call attention to the need for more direct measures of inflation for owner-occupied housing services. In a 2007 paper, Mishkin argues that central banks with supervisory authority can reduce the likelihood of bubbles forming through prudential supervision of the financial system. However, the official mandates of central banks typically focus on managing measured inflation. Barack Obama has pledged to give the Federal Reserve greater oversight of a broader array of financial institutions. We believe that an important addition to this pledge should be to give the BLS, BEA, and Census Bureau the funds and the mandate to aggressively develop improved measures of inflation for owner-occupied housing services. Central banks and national governments have many policy instruments at their disposal that they could use, in the future, to control inflation in housing markets. What they lack are appropriate measures of inflation in the market for owner-occupied housing services. The proposed new opportunity cost measure for accounting for OOH in a CPI will not be simple or cheap to implement. However, the current financial crisis makes it clear that the costs of not having an adequate measure for inflation in the cost of owner-occupied housing services can be far greater.
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