There is a considerable array of material on prices available for most countries, even former colonies, for a comparatively long way back in time. Most of this, however, is intractable in the extreme, and it has been decided to include none of it in this work. Instead, there are two sets of indices, based on this material; but reducing it to some sort of readily comprehensible order. It was felt that annual average prices in local currency of (say) a kilogram of rice were unlikely to be of much use except to the specialist, and that a general indication of overall price levels would be more widely useful. Of course, there is oversimplification and distortion in the process, and like all index numbers, those presented here require careful interpretation. In order to achieve exact comparability of an index over long periods of time the commodities and their weighting must remain unchanged. However, in a changing economy first the weightings and then possibly the commodities themselves will cease to be appropriate representations of the quantities and things actually used. All indices, therefore, must compromise between continuity and relevance, and the more rapid is economic change the more frequent must be the breaks in continuity. In the period since the Second World War, the official indices in some countries have been changed very frequently indeed. In other countries and periods where commodity consumption patterns have changed very little, the indices have not changed either. In this way the danger of lack of representativeness has generally been avoided.
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B. R. Mitchell
- Palgrave Macmillan UK
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