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About this book

Inflation should no longer be a politically sensitive indicator. Indeed, since the early 1980s, macroeconomic policies have managed to contain it. Yet the consumer price index (CPI), which is the main indicator for measuring inflation, remains very frequently consulted by citizens, due to its multiple uses. The CPI is used for indexing wages, pensions, but also various contracts such as food pensions. It is also used by National Accounts to deflate macroeconomic values and to provide data in “real” terms. But how is this CPI measured? index? What reforms have happened to give shape to the XXIst century CPI?

This book presents the CPI based on the study of the controversies that have marked its history. Set in both the socio-economic and ideas contexts, these controversies show the eminently conventional and political nature of the CPI and, therefore, of many other macroeconomic indicators, such as growth or productivity.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. ‘What is a Price Index’: Statistical Approach

Abstract
This chapter presents in statistical terms the debates that continually re-erupt whenever the CPI comes under strong political pressure. It presents the differences between a Laspeyres, Paasche and Fisher Indices.
Florence Jany-Catrice

Chapter 2. A Political Economy of the Price Index 1913–1990

Abstract
This chapter reviews the consumer price index over time, presenting eight generations of the CPI. The chapter focuses on the Fordist period (1945–1970). This period is characterised by a multiplicity of political pressures and ended in a sort of paroxysm with the publication by the major Trade Union affiliated to the communist party (the “CGT”) of an alternative indicator (1972–1998).
Florence Jany-Catrice

Chapter 3. The European Turning Point

Abstract
This chapter analyses a major European turning point which, following the introduction of the Maastricht criteria and then the transition to the euro, transformed the political and economic context. With the introduction of the harmonised index of consumer prices Harmonized Index of Consumer Price (HICP) and the increased role played by Eurostat, the chapter describes some transformations in the measure itself: the new focus on European integration and the increased circulation of mainstream ideas, revitalised by the emergence of neoliberal ideas in the USA, led eventually to a questioning of the very principle of a measure computed close to the market.
Florence Jany-Catrice

Chapter 4. The Quality Effect

Abstract
This chapter analyses the question of product quality. It renews attention on the incommensurability of individual preferences and utilities and shows how qualities are statistically quantified. It stresses on the numerous conventions that lay behind such quantifications.
Florence Jany-Catrice

Chapter 5. From Consumer Prices to the ‘Cost of Living’

Abstract
This chapter examines the conflicts around definition, in particular that between a price index based on a constant basket of goods and services (COGI) and a cost of living index (COLI), which is consubstantial with the long history of the price index. For historical reasons specific to the France of the 1970s, INSEE maintains, at least in its communications, a strict division between a consumer price index and a cost of living index, as is the case in the European Union. In fact, however, the format of the data, the techniques employed and the dominance of utilitarian ideas are all factors that prefigure the possible advent of a constant utility index.
Florence Jany-Catrice

Chapter 6. The Reform of ‘Checkout Data’

Abstract
This chapter aims to trace the reform of checkout data, with an emphasis on the shift it has produced in the boundaries between the public and private spheres in the process of constructing the CPI. The recent changes towards the use of checkout data constitute a modern expression of the reuse of private data by a public actor.
Florence Jany-Catrice

Chapter 7. Under- or Overestimation of Inflation?

Abstract
This chapter begs the question that runs through the whole book: is the CPI ‘under-’ or ‘over’-estimated? What are the social forces to convince either of these statements?
Florence Jany-Catrice

Backmatter

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