Difficulties in Measuring National Income8th February 2020
There are many conceptual and statistical problems involved in measuring national income by the income method, product method, and expenditure method.
We discuss them separately in the light of the three methods:
Problems in Income Method
The following problems arise in the computation of National Income by income method:
(i) Owner-occupied Houses
A person who rents a house to another earns rental income, but if he occupies the house himself, will the services of the house-owner be included in national income. The services of the owner-occupied house are included in national income as if the owner sells to himself as a tenant its services.
For the purpose of national income accounts, the amount of imputed rent is estimated as the sum for which the owner-occupied house could have been rented. The imputed net rent is calculated as that portion of the amount that would have accrued to the house-owner after deducting all expenses.
(ii) Self-employed Persons
Another problem arises with regard to the income of self-employed persons. In their case, it is very difficult to find out the different inputs provided by the owner himself. He might be contributing his capital, land, labour and his abilities in the business. But it is not possible to estimate the value of each factor input to production. So he gets a mixed income consisting of interest, rent, wage and profits for his factor services. This is included in national income.
(iii) Goods meant for Self-consumption
In under-developed countries like India, farmers keep a large portion of food and other goods produced on the farm for self-consumption. The problem is whether that part of the produce which is not sold in the market can be included in national income or not. If the farmer were to sell his entire produce in the market, he will have to buy what he needs for self-consumption out of his money income. If, instead he keeps some produce for his self-consumption, it has money value which must be included in national income.
(iv) Wages and Salaries paid in Kind
Another problem arises with regard to wages and salaries paid in kind to the employees in the form of free food, lodging, dress and other amenities. Payments in kind by employers are included in national income. This is because the employees would have received money income equal to the value of free food, lodging, etc. from the employer and spent the same in paying for food, lodging, etc.
2. Problems in Product Method
The following problems arise in the computation of national income by product method:
(i) Services of Housewives
The estimation of the unpaid services of the housewife in the national income presents a serious difficulty. A housewife renders a number of useful services like preparation of meals, serving, tailoring, mending, washing, cleaning, bringing up children, etc.
She is not paid for them and her services are not including in national income. Such services performed by paid servants are included in national income. The national income is, therefore, underestimated by excluding the services of a housewife.
The reason for the exclusion of her services from national income is that the love and affection of a housewife in performing her domestic work cannot be measured in monetary terms. That is why when the owner of a firm marries his lady secretary, her services are not included in national income when she stops working as a secretary and becomes a housewife.
When a teacher teaches his own children, his work is also not included in national income. Similarly, there are a number of goods and services which are difficult to be assessed in money terms for the reason stated above, such as painting, singing, dancing, etc. as hobbies.
(ii) Intermediate and Final Goods
The greatest difficulty in estimating national income by product method is the failure to distinguish properly between intermediate and final goods. There is always the possibility of including a good or service more than once, whereas only final goods are included in national income estimates. This leads to the problem of double counting which leads to the overestimation of national income.
(iii) Second-hand Goods and Assets
Another problem arises with regard to the sale and purchase of second-hand goods and assets. We find that old scooters, cars, houses, machinery, etc. are transacted daily in the country. But they are not included in national income because they were counted in the national product in the year they were manufactured.
If they are included every time they are bought and sold, national income would increase many times. Similarly, the sale and purchase of old stocks, shares, and bonds of companies are not included in national income because they were included in national income when the companies were started for the first time. Now they are simply financial transactions and represent claims.
But the commission or fees charged by the brokers in the repurchase and resale of old shares, bonds, houses, cars or scooters, etc. are included in national income. For these are the payments they receive for their productive services during the year.
(iv) Illegal Activities
Income earned through illegal activities like gambling, smuggling, illicit extraction of wine, etc. is not included in national income. Such activities have value and satisfy the wants of the people but they are not considered productive from the point of view of society. But in countries like Nepal and Monaco where gambling is legalised, it is included in national income. Similarly, horse-racing is a legal activity in England and is included in national income.
(v) Consumers’ Service
There are a number of persons in society who render services to consumers but they do not produce anything tangible. They are the actors, dancers, doctors, singers, teachers, musicians, lawyers, barbers, etc. The problem arises about the inclusion of their services in national income since they do not produce tangible commodities. But as they satisfy human wants and receive payments for their services, their services are included as final goods in estimating national income.
(vi) Capital Gains
The problem also arises with regard to capital gains. Capital gains arise when a capital asset such as a house, some other property, stocks or shares, etc. is sold at higher price than was paid for it at the time of purchase. Capital gains are excluded from national income because these do not arise from current economic activities. Similarly, capital losses are not taken into account while estimating national income.
(vii) Inventory Changes
All inventory changes (or changes in stocks) whether positive or negative are included in national income. The procedure is to take changes in physical units of inventories for the year valued at average current prices paid for them.
The value of changes in inventories may be positive or negative which is added or subtracted from the current production of the firm. Remember, it is the change in inventories and not total inventories for the year that are taken into account in national income estimates.
Depreciation is deducted from GNP in order to arrive at NNP. Thus depreciation lowers the national income. But the problem is of estimating the current depreciated value of, say, a machine, whose expected life is supposed to be thirty years. Firms calculate the depreciation value on the original cost of machines for their expected life. This does not solve the problem because the prices of machines change almost every year.
(ix) Price Changes
National income by product method is measured by the value of final goods and services at current market prices. But prices do not remain stable. They rise or fall. When the price level rises, the national income also rises, though the national production might have fallen.
On the contrary, with the fall in the price level, the national income also falls, though the national production might have increased. So price changes do not adequately measure national income. To solve this problem, economists calculate the real national income at a constant price level by the consumer price index.
3. Problems in Expenditure Method
The following problems arise in the calculation of national income by expenditure method:
(i) Government Services
In calculating national income by, expenditure method, the problem of estimating government services arises. Government provides a number of services, such as police and military services, administrative and legal services. Should expenditure on government services be included in national income?
If they are final goods, then only they would be included in national income. On the other hand, if they are used as intermediate goods, meant for further production, they would not be included in national income. There are many divergent views on this issue.
One view is that if police, military, legal and administrative services protect the lives, property and liberty of the people, they are treated as final goods and hence form part of national income. If they help in the smooth functioning of the production process by maintaining peace and security, then they are like intermediate goods that do not enter into national income.
In reality, it is not possible to make a clear demarcation as to which service protects the people and which protects the productive process. Therefore, all such services are regarded as final goods and are included in national income.
(ii) Transfer Payments
There arises the problem of including transfer payments in national income. Government makes payments in the form of pensions, unemployment allowance, subsidies, interest on national debt, etc. These are government expenditures but they are not included in national income because they are paid without adding anything to the production process during the current year.
For instance, pensions and unemployment allowances are paid to individuals by the government without doing any productive work during the year. Subsidies tend to lower the market price of the commodities. Interest on national or public debt is also considered a transfer payment because it is paid by the government to individuals and firms on their past savings without any productive work.
(iii) Durable-use Consumers’ Goods
Durable-use consumers’ goods also pose a problem. Such durable-use consumers’ goods as scooters, cars, fans, TVs, furniture’s, etc. are bought in one year but they are used for a number of years. Should they be included under investment expenditure or consumption expenditure in national income estimates? The expenditure on them is regarded as final consumption expenditure because it is not possible to measure their used up value for the subsequent years.
But there is one exception. The expenditure on a new house is regarded as investment expenditure and not consumption expenditure. This is because the rental income or the imputed rent which the house-owner gets is for making investment on the new house. However, expenditure on a car by a household is consumption expenditure. But if he spends the amount for using it as a taxi, it is investment expenditure.
(iv) Public Expenditure
Government spends on police, military, administrative and legal services, parks, street lighting, irrigation, museums, education, public health, roads, canals, buildings, etc. The problem is to find out which expenditure is consumption expenditure and which investment expenditure is.
Expenses on education, museums, public health, police, parks, street lighting, civil and judicial administration are consumption expenditure. Expenses on roads, canals, buildings, etc. are investment expenditure. But expenses on defence equipment are treated as consumption expenditure because they are consumed during a war as they are destroyed or become obsolete. However, all such expenses including the salaries of armed personnel are included in national income.