Conflicts in the calculation and use of the price index: the case of France

Florence Jany-Catrice (2018)

Cambridge Journal of Economics, 42(4), pp. 963–986

Abstract. This article presents a socio-economic analysis of the evolution of construction of inflation in France. Analysis of the various open or more muted controversies that underlie the history of the index throughout the twentieth century and into the first decades of the twenty-first century shows that the various challenges to the index have always been and continue to be linked, albeit to varying extents, to issues around economic distribution and representations of wealth. However, the actors engaged in these controversies and the principles around which they are organised have changed: politics, which brought into play the various social relations between government, statistical agencies and trade unions, has gradually given way to more scientific considerations, which has meant that the more recent controversies have been more technical in nature. And by giving experts a greater role to play, these controversies have also tended to play out at an even greater distance from the traditional actors. It is also shown that these controversies are embedded in a real world which, because of its increasing complexity and singularity and its (justifiable) concern with quality, is not fully captured by the available tools, despite their sophistication.

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