McDonald's Delivers in Many Developing Nations.

Purchasing Power

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 22, 2013    •    351 Views    •    TIME TO READ: 1 minute

The Big Mac Index is out again and not much has changed. Norway’s Big Macs are expensive and Chinese Big Macs are cheap.

What do Big Mac prices tell us about purchasing power? Starting with an average U.S. price of $4.37, we can determine whether other currencies are overvalued or undervalued in comparison to the dollar. So, when we see that Norway’s Big Mac is $7.84 and a euro zone Big Mac will cost $4.88, we know the kroner and the euro are overvalued. By contrast, Mexico’s Big Mac is very inexpensive at $2.90 and predictably, at $2.57, yes, a Big Mac reflects China’s undervalued currency.

Next, I wondered whether a low price would be inexpensive domestically and discovered that we can use McWages. In 2011, a US McDonald’s employee buying a Big Mac would have needed 27 minutes of work while a person in China doing the same job needed 85 minutes. You can see, below, that a McDonald’s Indian employee needed close to 200 minutes to buy what he or she was making.

Created by WSJ using Princeton's Orley C. Ashenfelter's data.

Finally, as economists, we should note that the Big Mac Index takes us to purchasing power parity (PPP). This 2 page St Louis Fed paper, though dated, provides the perfect discussion of PPP and the Big Mac.

Sources and Resources: I definitely recommend going to The Economist to see all Big Mac prices and to use their interactive graphic on current and past purchasing power parity. More academic but fascinating, the Ashenfelter paper on McWage purchasing power is here while a good summary of the paper and the source of my graph is at WSJ.com.

Note: This post has been minimally edited since it appeared.

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