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Part Two: The Value of Money > Chapter 11. The Problem of Measuring the...

5. The Practical Utility of Index Numbers

The inadmissibility of the methods proposed for measuring variations in the value of money does not obtrude itself too much if we only want to use them for solving practical problems of economic policy. Even if index numbers cannot fulfill the demands that theory has to make, they can still, in spite of their fundamental shortcomings and the inexactness of the methods by which they are actually determined, perform useful workaday services for the politician.

If we have no other aim in view than the comparison of points of time that lie close to one another, then the errors that are involved in every method of calculating numbers may be so far ignored as to allow us to draw certain rough conclusions from them. Thus, for example, it becomes possible to a certain extent to span the temporal gap that lies, in a period of variation in the value of money, between movements of stock exchange rates and movements of the purchasing power that is expressed in the prices of commodities.6

In the same way we can follow statistically the progress of variations in purchasing power from month to month. The practical utility of all these calculations for certain purposes is beyond doubt; they have proved their worth in quite recent events. But we should beware of demanding more from them than they are able to perform.