Product Innovations, Price Indices and the (Mis)Measurement of Economic Performance
The goal of this paper is to address the problem of 'product innovations'
(i.e. new goods. increased variety, and quality change) in the construction of
price indices and, by extension, in the measurement of economic performance.
The premise is that a great deal of technical progress takes the form of
product innovations, but conventional economic statistics fail by and large to
reflect them. The approach suggested here consists of two stages: first, the
benefits from innovations are estimated with the aid of discrete choice
models, and second, those benefits are used to construct 'quality adjusted'
price indices. Following a discussion of the merits of such approach vis a vis
hedonic price indices, I apply it to the case of CT (Computed Tomography)
Scanners. The main finding is that the rate of decline in the real price of CT
scanners was a staggering 55% per year (on average) over the first decade of
the technology. By contrast, an hedonic-based index captures just a small
fraction of the decline, and a simple (unadjusted) price index shows a
substantial price increase over the same period. Thus, conventional economic
indicators might be missing indeed a great deal of the welfare consequences of
technical advance, particularly during the initial stages of the product cycle
of new products.
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