The McDonald’s Big Mac. The quintessential symbol of American capitalism, transcending the realm of food and consumer goods. Its story begins in 1967 when the food giant gave burger-birth to the “Aristocrat” in one of its Pittsburg kitchens. The failure of this noble effort brought about its renaming to the “Blue Ribbon Burger”; a second failure which prompted a flash of marketing genius and completed the Mcmorphosis into the food phenomenon we know today. The “Big Mac” debuted at 45 cents in Pennsylvania to roaring popularity, and joined the menu of every US location by the next year.
Nearly 50 years later the Big Mac is being distributed in 118 countries by over 33,000 McDonald’s outlets. The burger’s ubiquity, indeed its burgerbiquity, has come to represent far more than the power and implications of globalization and corporate imperialism. The distribution of the fast food giant’s signature product has actually become so universal that it can, as a non-rigorous exercise, command its own economic index. In fact, it has since 1986.
The Big Mac Index was hatched by The Economist twenty years ago as a lighthearted but surprisingly cogent exercise in measuring exchange rates and purchasing-power parity. From an example on their site: The average US Big Mac cost $4.62 in January; in China it cost $2.74 after market exchange; hence, the yuan was undervalued by 41% in January—drive-thru economics for those of us who just don’t have the time.
This form of fast food analysis has actually found publication in economics textbooks and been vouched for as a global standard. But because the Big Mac Index replaces highly dynamic cultural interpretations, and in many cases overlooks varying ingredients of the burger itself with its hard black-and-white understanding of price value (a common problem in economics), “burgernomics” fails to gain universal acceptance as a legitimate economic application. But you can always partake, for the index's simple if reductive utility or just for the love of fast food.
This article looks at the 10 countries in the world where a pocket of loose change will buy you the most in McDonald’s in 2014. To make the order a little more sensitive, we’ve ranked how many Big Mac sandwiches you could get with $100 USD, rounded to the nearest Mac. While the shortfallings of the Big Mac index aforementioned still stand, this is a uniquely useful perspective on the countries in which your U.S. dollar will stretch the most.
10 Sri Lanka: 37 Big Macs
9 Russia: 38 Big Macs
8 Taiwan: 38 Big Macs
7 Egypt: 41 Big Macs
6 Hong Kong: 43 Big Macs
5 Indonesia: 43 Big Macs
4 Ukraine: 44 Big Macs
3 Malaysia: 44 Big Macs
2 South Africa: 46 Big Macs
1 India: 64 Maharaja Macs
India’s “(Big) Maharaja Macs” come at a value menu price by American standards—92 rupees, or $1.54 USD. Even though no Indian locations serve beef or pork products due to Hindu and Muslim customs, the chicken Maharaja Mac equivalent proves just as popular here where the rate of McDonald’s-ization tops South Africa: 250 locations since 1996. If the chicken Mac just doesn’t feel right, you can get worldly with a McSpicy Paneer Wrap (fresh South Asian cheese), a McVeggie, a Pizza McPuff (a vegetarian pizza-filled puff) or, of course, the one and only McCurry.
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