Pakistan Institute of Development Economics



Inter-city Variation in Prices

This research has been motivated by the fact that inter-city variation in prices and hence cost of living has implications for many aspects of development and public policy. This is true for all countries and especially for developing countries like Pakistan where one would expect differences in cost of living to be more pronounced (ceterus paribus) due to a relatively underdeveloped transport network and a lack of development of a national common market. A better understanding of the inter-city variation in prices indicates the extent to which markets within countries are integrated. A monitoring of the inter-city price index over time indicates whether the economy as a whole has become more or less integrated over time i.e. has there has been convergence or divergence within the local economy (which has also been one of the objectives of this research). Secondly, a quantification of inter-city variation in cost of living is essential to understand differentials in real incomes across the country. Such an understanding will yield fairer minimum wage legislation by the government and also wage remuneration packages by employers in both the public and private sectors operating in multiple cities thus leading to better equalisation of real wages across locations. As noted by Haworth and Rasmussen (1973) the pursuit of a uniform wage policy by the U.S. Post Office in the 1970s led to greater wage dissatisfaction among workers and labor strikes in areas where cost of living was relatively higher. Thirdly, allowing for cost of living differentials among cities will lead to better estimates of urban inequality and incidence of poverty. In this context it is particularly important to see if differences in cost of living mitigate or accentuate the difference in the magnitude of poverty between richer and poor jurisdictions. The estimation of cost of living differentials will also lead to much greater understanding of migration patterns within countries and the functioning of regional and interregional markets across the country which are directly related to cost of living, and real wages/incomes. For example, if the same minimum wage legislation is applicable to the whole country, it will lead to migration to those cities where cost of living is relative low and hence the real value of the minimum wages is high (ceterus paribus). This illustrates the important implications that uniform minimum wage legislation and welfare packages across the country have for migration patterns when cost of living differentials are significant.

Ahmed Gulzar, Sonia Ahmad