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.
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.
Posted by: adminEcon
Tags: Big Mac Index, China, exports, imports, McWages, Mexico, Norway, Orley Ashenfelter, overvalued, purchasing power, purchasing power parity, St. Louis Fed, The Economist, undervalued
The Big Mac Index is out again. Not much has changed. Norway’s Big Macs are most expensive and Chinese Big Macs are cheap.
What do Big Mac prices tell us? Starting with an average U.S. price of $3.73 (based on 4 cities), we can determine whether other currencies are over valued or undervalued in comparison to the dollar. So, when we see that a euro based Big Mac will cost $4.33, we know the euro is overvalued. Rather interestingly, a Brazilian Big Mac, at $4.91 is also more while Argentina’s Big Mac is very inexpensive at $1.78.
I wondered, though, whether a low price would be inexpensive domestically and discovered that we can also look at the Big Mac Index from an average net wage perspective. In March, 2009, someone buying a Big Mac in Chicago, Tokyo, or Toronto would have needed 12 minutes of work time. By contrast, workers in Nairobi, Mexico City, and Jakarta worked longer than 2 hours. The global average, based on 73 cities, was just below 40 minutes.
The Economic Lesson
As economists, the Big Mac Index takes us to purchasing power parity. A 2 page St. Louis Fed paper clearly and briefly connects the Big Mac Index to economics. Starting with a “one price” theory, they explain that price deviations can vary because of local productivity. If workers producing exports have higher wages, other workers benefit, and prices move up. Looking at supply and demand, Big Mac prices relate to the cost of local labor and the amount consumers are willing and able to spend. Does export activity relate to Brazil’s position on the list?
When U.S. senators consider whether to respond to an undervalued Yuan, they can check the most recent Big Mac Index. Big Macs are 49% cheaper in China than in the U.S. According to The Economist, we would pay $3.58 for a Big Mac here and the equivalent of $1.83 in China. An easy way to see the relative value of the dollar, the Big Mac Index lists prices in countries that include Japan ($3.54), Norway ($6.87), and Saudi Arabia ($2.67).
The Maharaja Mac, sold in India, is not included in the Big Mac Index because it has a chicken patty instead of beef. In Israel, at kosher McDonald’s, Big Macs are also not listed in the index because the cheese is excluded.
The Economic Lesson
The Big Mac Index is all about purchasing power parity (PPP). Saying that the Big Mac Index provides “food for thought,” a paper from the St. Louis Fed describes purchasing power parity as a foundation of international economics. Usually based on a “market basket” of goods and services, PPP helps us to compare currencies and predict how their value will change if their purchasing power is not equal. As I mention in a 1/07/10 post, Timothy Taylor presents an excellent PPP discussion in “America and the New Global Economy,” Part 1.