Cheeseburger 101: Economics Explained Using Burgers Instead Of Math

The Golden Arches are one of the most recognized symbols on the planet. McDonald’s is everywhere, and given its ubiquity, the Big Mac Index is an easy economic litmus test. It looks at the relative price of a Big Mac in a particular country, and right now, the Big Mac Index is telling us to go to Ukraine.

No one outside of Russia is telling people to go Ukraine, but that’s where you’ll find the cheapest Big Mac in the world at $1.70. The second cheapest: Egypt, at $1.75.

You might not want to plan your vacations using the Big Mac Index, but it’s an intuitive way to explain a country’s relative economic prosperity without sounding math-ey. People hate math; love cheeseburgers. Explaining things in ways that make sense to your audience will get you a long way, otherwise people will just tune you out.

Ukraine has been embroiled in a quasi civil war since Russia called “trade-backs” and annexed Crimea in 2014. The conflict has not been good for Ukraine’s economy. Given Ukraine’s position as an Eastern European buffer state between the European Union and Russia, a dollar has always gone a long way there, but the Crimean conflict has depressed the economy to the point where Ukraine is now the proud home of the world’s cheapest Big Mac.

On the other side of the coin is Switzerland, a country so stable it didn’t even participate in World War II. A Big Mac in Switzerland will run you $6.74, four times as much as a Ukrainian Big Mac. Everything in Switzerland is expensive. It’s a global financial hub with a relatively small population. The country is the closest real-world analog to Gringotts that exists.

When you’ve got more money than people, prices go up. Goods are more expensive when a country is awash in cash than when a country is tearing itself apart at the seams.

The top four countries on the Big Mac Index are Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, and the US. All desirable places to live, objectively. The bottom four countries on the Big Mac Index are Ukraine, Egypt, Malaysia, and South Africa. None of those are countries people move to unless they’re hiding from something.

Big Macs aren’t just delicious — they’re a way to explain economics using cheeseburgers instead of math.

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