The cost of progress

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 May, 1996, 12:00am

It is always a sign that times really have changed when Government statisticians catch up with what the rest of us have been doing for years and are beginning to regard as old-fashioned. So it must be considered that the dropping of the record player from the consumer price index and its replacement by the Discman marks the end of an era. The index is preparing to enter the 1990s and the man in the street will find it a marginally more accurate representation of his spending habits as a result.

This, of course, is something we should all be grateful for. No longer will employers be able to claim household expenses are rising by an annualised rate of just 6.7 to 8.2 per cent (depending on how well they pay their staff).

The Government's recognition that the average person's yuppie lifestyle now includes regular purchases of such modern paraphernalia as mobile telephones and healing crystals is bound to reflect in higher rates of inflation. Being at the forefront of technological change - to say nothing of paying outrageous monthly rents - costs more than surviving on such former index staples as pickled cabbage, shrimp-paste and gin. Pay rises will have to reflect the fact that fax machines, Putonghua instruction and weekends in Bali are basic human needs.

A word of caution, however. It will be at least five years before the index is so comprehensively updated again. By then most of the items in the new shopping basket will be obsolete or out of production. They will be sold, if at all, at bargain-basement, stock-clearing prices.

Make the best of the higher index now, because in the year 2000 official inflation rates may well be negative, while the true cost of living continues to soar.