Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Cost of Living

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Cost of Living

Article excerpt

Labour's appeal to the cost of living has a rather old-fashioned feel to it: as if the whole nation still heated water with a geyser over the bath and darned (or got me to darn) its socks of an evening. 'Till recent years the phrase "Cost of Living" was only used loosely by economists when the balance between movements of wages and prices was in question,' the Encyclopædia Britannica remarked in 1922. 'In popular parlance it has since become a recognised economic problem.' That was when Sidney and Beatrice Webb were busy with their blue books and squared paper, before discovering a 'New Civilisation' in Soviet Russia.

The next big step was the construction of an index to the cost of living. Since 1947, the Oxford English Dictionary notes, not entirely helpfully, this has been 'known in Britain as the Index of Retail Prices'. Today we hear monthly about the Retail Prices Index and the Consumer Prices Index, but the immediate inference is to think of the rate of inflation that they measure, rather than the cost of living .

Living in the narrowest sense once meant food and drink. …

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