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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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.