New Prices for Old
A jungle of nonsense has grown up around the Ministry of Labour's cost-of-living index and there will be no regrets that it is now being cut away, by the introduction on June 17th of the new interim index of retail prices. The nonsense involved in measuring present-day living costs against a scheme of consumption which was already ten years out of date when the old index began in 1914 is apparent to everyone. The expanded list of items making up the new index will at least get rid of the convention that the majority of working-class households spend 6o per cent. of their income on rather primitive food, cut their own clothes out of calico and go to bed by candlelight. The less picturesque but more complex form of nonsense which dictates that the wages of 2,5oo,000 workers must rise and fall with an anachronistic index will also be weakened by the change, though there is no guarantee that the trade unions, during the two months in which they must make up their minds, will not decide to establish another such relationship with the new index, and so voluntarily assume a new statistical strait- jacket. But there is at least no danger that the Government will get itself further into the toils of deception and expense, whereby it and its war-time predecessors artificially held the index steady at about too per cent. above 1914, by the increasingly ruinous policy of subsidies. Mr. Dalton has already said that subsidies cannot 'con- tinue to rise. The new index makes it possible to reduce them (which means in effect allowing the market price to rise) without producing an exaggerated rise in the index. That, no doubt, is what the new index is for. But when it has served that purpose, and business is back to normal, it is to be hoped that a permanent, scientific, fool- and rogue-proof index of retail prices will et last be constructed. In any case future Governments will have had a perfect demonstration of the truth of the saying which begins "0, what a tangled web we weave . . . "