iPads in, colour film out: the 2012 inflation basket

And the lowly pineapple finally makes it into basket of goods used to calculate inflation.

The Office of National Statistics has released its annual review of the inflation calculation, showing what has been added and removed to the basket of goods used to calculate inflation. This year, out goes the cost of developing and printing colour film, as digital cameras steadily erode that business, and in comes Apple iPads (or rather, "tablet computers"), to reflect the growing size and importance of the market -- tablet computers are predicted to outsell PCs by 2013.

The changes reflect a number of priorities. As well as those related to the death of old technologies and the birth of new ones, others are designed to make the job of actually collating the information easier. So "branded chocolate sweets" replace "candy coated chocolate" due to difficulty of collection, while "outdoor adventure boot" is swapped out for "walking/hiking boot".

Some of the changes reflect different ways of buying the same things. We no longer purchase "cable TV subscriptions" in enough numbers, apparently, instead opting for "bundled communication services"; and "annual leisure centre membership" is taken out. since it is already reflected in, for example, "leisure centre exercise classes".

There is a tough line to walk with some introductions. Adding technology early is always important, since the fall in prices represents a real increase in relative living standards; and yet, pre-empting market adoption runs the risk of artificially dampening the final figures. For instance, blu-ray players were added to the basket in 2010, when they looked like the future of home entertainment; with the growing popularity of streaming services, they now look like an evolutionary dead-end, and yet their continually dropping prices will have lowered inflation, albeit by a miniscule amount.

The ONS always has a tricky job to do in balancing these competing demands, and it is further hampered by the fact that spending habits differ greatly between the most and least well-off in society. Trying to come up with a single figure to represent the whole nation may be an impossible task, but they will carry on trying to do so for as long as we ask it of them.

Included:

Bag of sweets (not chocolate), replacing bag of boiled/jellied sweets, to allow representation of foam sweets which have taken an increasing share of the market.

Tablet computers, introduced to represent a significant and growing market. Also improves coverage in an under-represented area of the basket.

Chicken and chips, takeaway, introduced to improve coverage of catering which has been identified as an under-represented area of the basket.

Pineapple. Fruit prices vary greatly, so it is beneficial to collect across as broad a range as possible.

Removed:

Develop & print 135/24 colour film, this item has a low and decreasing weight due to the increasing popularity of digital cameras.

Step ladder, a relatively low weighted item in an over covered area of the basket.

Subscription to cable TV, replaced by bundled communication services reflecting a change in the way in which this service is purchased.

 

Get the full data (pdf).

 

The lowly pineapple, finally in the inflation basket. Flickr/ECohen, CC-BY-SA

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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What happens when a president refuses to step down?

An approaching constitutional crisis has triggered deep political unrest in the Congo.

Franck Diongo reached his party’s headquarters shortly after 10am and stepped out of a Range Rover. Staff and hangers-on rose from plastic chairs to greet the president of the Mouvement Lumumbiste Progressiste (MLP), named after the first elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diongo, a compact and powerfully built man, was so tightly wound that his teeth ground as he talked. When agitated, he slammed his palms on the table and his speech became shrill. “We live under a dictatorial regime, so it used the security forces to kill us with live rounds to prevent our demonstration,” he said.

The MLP is part of a coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement. Its aim is to ensure that the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, who has been president since 2001, leaves office on 19 December, at the end of his second and supposedly final term.

Yet the elections that were meant to take place late last month have not been organised. The government has blamed logistical and financial difficulties, but Kabila’s opponents claim that the president has hamstrung the electoral commission in the hope that he can use his extended mandate to change the rules. “Mr Kabila doesn’t want to quit power,” said Diongo, expressing a widespread belief here.

On 19 September, the Rassemblement planned a march in Kinshasa, the capital, to protest the failure to deliver elections and to remind the president that his departure from office was imminent. But the demonstration never took place. At sunrise, clashes broke out between police and protesters in opposition strongholds. The military was deployed. By the time peace was restored 36 hours later, dozens had died. Kabila’s interior minister, claiming that the government had faced down an insurrection, acknowledged the deaths of 32 people but said that they were killed by criminals during looting.

Subsequent inquiries by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a different story. They recorded more fatalities – at least 53 and 56, respectively – and said that the state had been responsible for most of the deaths. They claimed that the Congolese authorities had obstructed the investigators, and the true number of casualties was likely higher. According to HRW, security forces had seized and removed bodies “in an apparent effort to hide the evidence”.

The UN found that the lethal response was directed from a “central command centre. . . jointly managed” by officials from the police, army, presidential bodyguard and intelligence agency that “authorised the use of force, including firearms”.

The reports validated claims made by the Rassemblement that it was soldiers who had set fire to several opposition parties’ headquarters on 20 September. Six men were killed when the compound of the UDPS party was attacked.

On 1 November, their funerals took place where they fell. White coffins, each draped in a UDPS flag, were shielded from the midday sun by a gazebo, while mourners found shade inside the charred building. Pierrot Tshibangu lost his younger sibling, Evariste, in the attack. “When we arrived, we found my brother’s body covered in stab marks and bullet wounds,” he recalled.

Once the government had suppressed the demonstration, the attorney general compiled a list of influential figures in the Rassemblement – including Diongo – and forbade them from leaving the capital. Kinshasa’s governor then outlawed all political protest.

It was easy to understand why Diongo felt embattled, even paranoid. Midway through our conversation, his staff apprehended a man loitering in the courtyard. Several minutes of mayhem ensued before he was restrained and confined under suspicion of spying for the government.

Kabila is seldom seen in public and almost never addresses the nation. His long-term intentions are unclear, but the president’s chief diplomatic adviser maintains that his boss has no designs on altering the constitution or securing a third term. He insists that Kabila will happily step down once the country is ready for the polls.

Most refuse to believe such assurances. On 18 October, Kabila’s ruling alliance struck a deal with a different, smaller opposition faction. It allows Kabila to stay in office until the next election, which has been postponed until April 2018. A rickety government of national unity is being put in place but discord is already rife.

Jean-Lucien Bussa of the CDER party helped to negotiate the deal and is now a front-runner for a ministerial portfolio. At a corner table in the national assembly’s restaurant, he told me that the Rassemblement was guilty of “a lack of realism”, and that its fears were misplaced because Kabila won’t be able to prolong his presidency any further.

“On 29 April 2018, the Congolese will go to the ballot box to vote for their next president,” he said. “There is no other alternative for democrats than to find a negotiated solution, and this accord has given us one.”

Diongo was scathing of the pact (he called it “a farce intended to deceive”) and he excommunicated its adherents from his faction. “They are Mr Kabila’s collaborators, who came to divide the opposition,” he told me. “What kind of oppositionist can give Mr Kabila the power to violate the constitution beyond 19 December?”

Diongo is convinced that the president has no intention of walking away from power in April 2018. “Kabila will never organise elections if he cannot change the constitution,” he warned.

Diongo’s anger peaked at the suggestion that it will be an uphill struggle to dislodge a head of state who has control of the security forces. “What you need to consider,” he said, “is that no army can defy a people determined to take control of their destiny . . . The Congolese people will have the last word!”

A recent poll suggested that the president would win less than 8 per cent of the vote if an election were held this year. One can only assume that Kabila is hoping that the population will have no say at all.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage