Jun 01 2008
The theory of purchasing power parity (or PPP) holds that in the long run, the price of a particular basket of goods should adjust across countries and currencies to “cost” the same amount regardless of the currency the goods are denominated in. In other words, one dollar should buy the same amount of “stuff” in the US as it does in Mexico, China, the Netherlands or anywhere else in the world. If a dollar buys MORE in one of these countries once it’s been converted to the local currency, it implies that the local currency is undervalued and should adjust in the long run to achieve parity in the amount it can purchase in dollar terms.
One popular measure of purchasing power parity, devised by the folks at the Economist magazine’s intelligence unit, is the Big Mac Index, which measures the price of McDonald’s Big Macs in over 100 countries where they can be purchased. You can read more about this index here.
Barflies around the world provide a useful service for their beer-drinking comrades at PintPrice.com. The prices of pints of lager are compared on the basis of anecdotal evidence from beer-drinkers around the world, so figures are regularly updated. There are some surprising results. Beer in Zambia and Burundi seems eye-wateringly expensive considering that they are among the world’s poorest countries. The French overseas départments of Guadeloupe and Martinique charge just about as much as in mainland France. Beer-loving America and Britain fall somewhere in the middle. Happily for sports fans at the Beijing Olympics, a pint in China is just $2.46.
I thought it might be useful to some of our graduating seniors planning their summer vacations or gap years. Pay close attention to the data in this table.
So, if cheap beer is a priority in your vacation decision, it looks like North Korea and Myanmar are ideal destinations. I must say, I am relieved to see that Switzerland, my own new home, is not in the top ten… but it is far from cheap.
The website will tell you the average price of a pint of beer in any country in the world, and then break it down to cities within each country. In Zurich, my soon to be home, a pint costs the equivalent of $6.57 US. Compared to my hometown of Seattle, Washington, where a pint goes for $3.25, that’s exactly double the price! Surprisingly, however, a pint of beer here in Shanghai goes for a shocking $5.15, more than double the Chinese average of $2.35.
Apparently, the price of beer has more to do with the local supply and demand than with relative exchange rates. Where the Big Mac Index offers a rather genuine approach to determining purchasing power parity (since the Big Mac is an identical product sold by the same restaurant facing similar costs in over 100 countries), a pint of beer is a bit more subjective a measure of PPP. Quality of beers clearly differ in locales as diverse as North Korea and Luxembourg, not to mention the incomes of beer drinkers, the number of domestic brewers, excise and value added taxes, consumers’ price elasticities of demand, and so on.
As summer vacation approaches, however, vacation planners may care to take into account the “Price of a Pint” index of purchasing power parity. Clearly, one’s dollars will go much further at bars in some places than others.
I know what you 18 year old American high school grads are thinking, “Mexico or Canada?” You’ll just have to follow the link to find out!
(Disclaimer: Mr. Welker is in no way encouraging his former students to travel to certain places based solely on the cheap price of beer there, merely to avoid places where beer is clearly out of their price range!)