Prescriptivism to positivism? The development of the CPI in New Zealand

Sharleen Forbes, Corin Higgs, James Keating, Evan Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Retail price collection in New Zealand has a long history. Early indices were prescriptive, with price changes measured in items proscribed as staples. The development of a price index to meet the conflicting demands of government, domestic labour and international organisations was an imperfect process and these conflicts gradually changed its nature and purpose. This paper documents the history of retail prices in New Zealand, from the compilation of basic commodity prices in the 1840s through to the beginnings of the Consumers' Price Index as we now know it, an objective, positivist index based on actual household consumption (expenditure) patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-77
Number of pages21
JournalNew Zealand Economic Papers
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the University Research Fund of Victoria University of Wellington for funding our research. Chris Pike of Statistics New Zealand provided valuable input on several versions of the manuscript, and helped create Table 3. Feedback from participants at a workshop on the history of the CPI at Statistics New Zealand in July 2011 was also valuable. We thank two anonymous reviewers for comments that significantly improved the paper. Any remaining errors are the responsibility of the authors.


  • Consumer Price Index
  • New Zealand
  • measurement
  • prices


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