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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

At What Price?

Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes

Panel on Conceptual, Measurement, and Other Statistical Issues in Developing Cost-of-Living Indexes

Charles L. Schultze and Christopher Mackie, Editors

Committee on National Statistics

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

National Research Council

NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
Washington, DC

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
2101 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20418

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

This study was supported by Contract No. J-9-J-8-0039 between the National Academy of Sciences and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Support of the work of the Committee on National Statistics is provided by a consortium of federal agencies through a grant from the National Science Foundation (Number SBR-9709489). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

At what price? : conceptualizing and measuring cost-of-living and price indexes / Panel on Conceptual, Measurement, and Other Statistical Issues in Developing Cost-of-Living Indexes ; Charles L. Schultze and Christopher Mackie, editors.

p. cm.

“Committee on National Statistics, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.”

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-309-07442-8 (hardcover)

1. Consumer price indexes—United States. 2. Cost and standard of living—United States—Statistical methods. 3. Prices—United States—Statistical methods. 4. Economic indicators—United States. 5. Index numbers (Economics) I. Schultze, Charles L. II. Mackie, Christopher D. III. National Research Council (U.S.). Panel on Conceptual, Measurement, and Other Statistical Issues in Developing Cost-of-Living Indexes.

HB235.U6 A86 2002

338.5'28'0973—dc21

2001007411

Additional copies of this report are available from the
National Academy Press,
2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 20055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area); Internet, http://www.nap.edu

Printed in the United States of America

Copyright 2002 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Suggested citation: National Research Council. (2002). At What Price? Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Panel on Conceptual, Measurement, and Other Statistical Issues in Developing Cost-of-Living Indexes, Charles L. Schultze and Christopher Mackie, Editors. Committee on National Statistics, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

National Academy of Sciences

National Academy of Engineering

Institute of Medicine

National Research Council

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Wm. A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering.

The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine.

The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. Wm. A. Wulf are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×
This page in the original is blank.
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

PANEL ON CONCEPTUAL, MEASUREMENT, AND OTHER STATISTICAL ISSUES IN DEVELOPING COST-OF-LIVING INDEXES

CHARLES L. SCHULTZE (Chair),

Brookings Institution, Washington, DC

ERNST R. BERNDT,

Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

ANGUS DEATON,

Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

ERWIN DIEWERT,

Department of Economics, University of British Columbia

CLAUDIA D. GOLDIN,

Department of Economics, Harvard University

ZVI GRILICHES,*

Department of Economics, Harvard University

CHRISTOPHER JENCKS,

John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

ALBERT MADANSKY,

Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago

VAN DOORN OOMS,

Committee for Economic Development, Washington, DC

ROBERT A. POLLAK,

John M. Olin School of Business, Washington University, St. Louis

RICHARD L. SCHMALENSEE,

Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

NORBERT SCHWARZ,

Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

KIRK WOLTER,

National Opinion Research Center, Chicago

CHRISTOPHER MACKIE, Study Director

CONSTANCE F. CITRO, Senior Program Officer

MICHAEL SIRI, Project Assistant

*  

Died 1999.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL STATISTICS 2001

JOHN E. ROLPH (Chair),

Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California

JOSEPH G. ALTONJI,

Department of Economics, Northwestern University

LAWRENCE D. BROWN,

Department of Statistics, University of Pennsylvania

JULIE DAVANZO,

RAND, Santa Monica, California

ROBERT M. GROVES,

Joint Program in Survey Methodology, University of Maryland, College Park

JOEL HOROWITZ,

Department of Economics, University of Iowa

HERMANN HABERMANN,

Statistics Division, United Nations

WILLIAM KALSBEEK,

Department of Biostatistics, University of North Carolina

RODERICK J.A. LITTLE,

School of Public Health, University of Michigan

THOMAS A. LOUIS,

RAND, Arlington, VA

DARYL PREGIBON,

AT&T Laboratories-Research, Florham Park, NJ

FRANCISCO J. SAMANIEGO,

Division of Statistics, University of California, Davis

RICHARD L. SCHMALENSEE,

Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MATTHEW D. SHAPIRO,

Department of Economics, University of Michigan

ANDREW A. WHITE, Director

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

Acknowledgments

The panel’s report is the result of the efforts of many people. The project was sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor and also, in part, by the many federal agencies that support the Committee on National Statistics through the National Science Foundation. Throughout the study, the panel received unflagging cooperation from the dedicated staff of BLS. In particular Dennis Fixler (now with the Bureau of Economic Analysis, BEA) and John Greenlees gave generously of their time to educate the panel about the methodology and procedures of the Consumer Price Index. Former Commissioner Katharine Abraham, Mary McCarthy, Charles Mason, Ken Dalton, Dan Ginsburg, Walter Lane, Sylvia Leaver, and Paul Liegey attended meetings, gave briefings, or prepared research materials for the panel.

The panel is also indebted to others who made presentations on data and methodological issues, thereby helping us to develop a broad-based understanding of elements that go into the making of price and cost-of-living indexes: David Cutler, Harvard; John Astin, Eurostat; William Nordhaus, Yale; Alan Blinder, Princeton; and Ariel Pakes, Harvard, all served in this capacity. Others, including Kathleen Scholl, U.S. General Accounting Office; Mick Silver, Cardiff University; Tom Palley, AFL-CIO; and Joe Newhouse, Harvard, supplied the panel with helpful information and suggestions. We offer special thanks to Jack Triplett, formerly of BEA and BLS, for attending early meetings and using his long experience and deep knowledge of the major issues to help us get started and plot our course.

No panel with a task as difficult as ours could perform its duties without an excellent and well-managed staff: Andy White, director of the Committee on

Page viii Cite
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

National Statistics (CNSTAT) was responsible for seeing that this was the case. Miron Straf, the former director, was instrumental in developing the study. Project assistants Joshua Dick, Julia Kisa, and Michael Siri provided excellent administrative assistance. Constance Citro, senior project officer, provided experienced and wise counsel throughout the life of the panel. The report also benefitted substantially from the work of Eugenia Grohman, associate director for reports in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, who was responsible for editing the report and who also made valuable suggestions about its structure. We thank her for this and also for her role in overseeing the review process.

The panel owes an especial debt of gratitude to Christopher Mackie, CNSTAT study director for the project. He quickly absorbed the relevant professional literature and steeped himself in the issues. He helped organize our work, coordinated and provided insightful comments on papers and drafts covering a wide range of topics, contributed to our substantive discussions, drafted important parts of the report in cooperation with various panel members, and shepherded the report through the review process.

This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the National Research Council (NRC). The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making the published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.

We thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report: Ellen R. Dulberger, Business Strategy, IBM Global Services, Somers, NY; Charles Engel, Department of Economics, University of Wisconsin; Robert Feenstra, Department of Economics, University of California, Davis; Ariel Pakes, Department of Economics, Harvard University; Marshall Reinsdorf, Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce; Matthew D. Shapiro, Department of Economics and Survey Research Center, University of Michigan; and Richard Valliant, Westat, Rockville, MD.

Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations; nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by John Geweke, Department of Economics, University of Iowa, and Christopher Sims, Department of Economics, Princeton University. Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring panel and the institution.

This report reflects the collective expertise and commitment of the individual members of the panel. All participated in the panel’s many meetings and discussions and in the drafting and reviewing of sections of the report. Each member brought a critical perspective and I thank them for their hard work and dedication to service for public benefit. Finally, the substance of this report and its many antecedents owe much to Zvi Griliches. He was a prominent contributor to the literature on many of the issues with which the panel wrestled, and he pioneered in exploring ways to deal with the thorniest issue of all, the problem of quality change. Zvi was a member of the panel but died November 4, 1999, shortly after the group began deliberations. I speak for the entire panel in saluting his monumental contributions in this area. We will miss him.

Charles L. Schultze, Chair

Panel on Conceptual, Measurement, and Other Statistical Issues in Developing Cost-of-Living Indexes

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
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This page in the original is blank.
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

2

 

CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS FOR PRICE AND COST-OF-LIVING INDEXES

 

38

   

Setting the Stage: What Are Price Indexes?,

 

41

   

The Theory of Price Indexes and Its Critics,

 

43

   

Two Perspectives,

 

57

   

Conclusions,

 

73

   

Technical Note: A Mathematical Approach to Price Indexes,

 

74

3

 

INDEX DOMAIN

 

94

   

An Unconditional COLI: Conceptual Issues,

 

96

   

Measurement Problems,

 

98

   

Supplemental Indexes and Satellite Accounts,

 

101

   

Other Domain Issues,

 

102

   

Conclusion and Recommendation,

 

105

4

 

EVOLVING MARKET BASKETS: ADJUSTING INDEXES TO ACCOUNT FOR QUALITY CHANGE

 

106

   

COLI and COGI Views of the Quality Change Problem,

 

109

   

Evidence from the Boskin Commission Report,

 

112

   

BLS Approaches to Quality Changes,

 

114

   

Hedonic Regression Methods,

 

122

   

Cautions and Recommendations,

 

140

   

Technical Note 1: Boskin Commission Estimates of Quality Change and New Goods Bias,

 

146

   

Technical Note 2: Mathematical Description of Hedonic Methods,

 

149

5

 

NEW GOODS AND NEW OUTLETS

 

155

   

New Goods,

 

155

   

New Outlets,

 

167

6

 

THE SPECIAL CASE OF MEDICAL SERVICES

 

178

   

Background,

 

178

   

Conceptual and Measurement Issues,

 

181

   

The Domain of Consumer Health Expenditures: Employers’ Health Insurance Payments,

 

185

   

Direct Pricing of Health Insurance,

 

186

   

Recommendations,

 

188

7

 

INDEX DESIGN AND INDEX PURPOSE

 

191

   

Indexing Public Transfer Payments,

 

192

   

Wage Bargains and Indexed Wages,

 

207

   

Indexing Private Contracts,

 

208

   

Inflation-Indexed Treasury Securities,

 

210

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×
   

Indexing the Federal Income Tax System,

 

212

   

Measuring Output Changes,

 

214

   

Inflation Indicators for Macroeconomic Policy,

 

216

   

Technical Note: The CPI Versus the NIPA Price Index as an Inflation Measure,

 

219

8

 

WHOSE INDEX? AGGREGATING ACROSS HOUSEHOLDS

 

222

   

Two Kinds of Heterogeneity,

 

223

   

Heterogeneity in Prices Paid and in Rates of Inflation,

 

225

   

The Consequences of Heterogeneity for Index Construction,

 

226

   

Group Indexes: Why the Current Data Collection System Cannot Produce Them,

 

226

   

A Price Index for the Elderly?,

 

228

   

The Conceptual Basis for Group Indexes,

 

229

   

How Might Data for Subgroup Indexes Be Assembled and What Would It Cost?,

 

232

   

Suggested Research and Testing,

 

235

   

Plutocratic Versus Democratic Weights,

 

237

   

Summary and Recommendation,

 

240

   

Technical Note 1: Aggregation and the “Representative Consumer,”

 

241

   

Technical Note 2: Do Inflation Rates Differ by Age or Income Group?,

 

246

9

 

DATA COLLECTION FOR CPI CONSTRUCTION

 

252

   

The Current Data Collection Process,

 

253

   

Alternative Data Collection Approaches,

 

264

   

Summary and Recommendations,

 

274

   

Technical Note: Additional Description of CPI Data Inputs,

 

276

 

 

APPENDIX: STATISTICAL DEFINITION AND ESTIMATION OF PRICE INDEXES

 

283

 

 

REFERENCES

 

293

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

307

 

 

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF PANEL MEMBERS AND STAFF

 

315

 

 

INDEX

 

319

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×

At What Price?

Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2002. At What Price?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10131.
×
This page in the original is blank.
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How well does the consumer price index (CPI) reflect the changes that people actually face in living costs—from apples to computers to health care? Given how it is used, is it desirable to construct the CPI as a cost-of-living index (COLI)? With what level of accuracy is it possible to construct a single index that represents changes in the living costs of the nation’s diverse population?

At What Price? examines the foundations for consumer price indexes, comparing the conceptual and practical strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of traditional “fixed basket” and COLI approaches. The book delves into a range of complex issues, from how to deal with the changing quality of goods and services, including difficult-to-define medical services, to how to weight the expenditure patterns of different consumers. It sorts through the key attributes and underlying assumptions that define each index type in order to answer the question: Should a COLI framework be used in constructing the U.S. CPI?

In answering this question, the book makes recommendations as to how the Bureau of Labor Statistics can continue to improve the accuracy and relevance of the CPI. With conclusions that could affect the amount of your next pay raise, At What Price? is important to everyone, and a must-read for policy makers, researchers, and employers.

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