August 9, 2011
[August 10th Update from Simon: Several people wrote that my numbers were incorrect and that a Big Mac sandwich costs much less than $17 in Switzerland. This is correct and its my mistake. It’s not the Big Mac sandwich, but the meal that costs > $17, around CHF 12.50; this is how much I personally paid (along with my business partner) when we were in Switzerland last December. I should have been more clear and written “Big Mac meal” instead of just “Big Mac”. It was very late last night when I wrote this piece and I didn’t notice the oversight at the time; my thanks to those who pointed it out. The underlying premise remains the same– Ben Bernanke’s stewardship of the dollar is a complete joke, and this is best evidenced by USD price levels in Switzerland, whether for a Big Mac meal or anything else.]
Just a quick thought on a ridiculously volatile day:
One of the things that people pick up on very quickly as they travel are how different price levels are around the world. I’ve been to roughly 100 countries, and I still find it amazing how much variance there is among things like food, property, and entertainment prices.
There are certain places– Cambodia, Ecuador, Tanzania– that are so jaw-droppingly cheap that it almost seems unreal. And you wonder how these people could possibly ever survive if they came to your country.
Well, the United States has just joined this proud cadre banana republics… at least if you’re from Switzerland.
You see, the Swiss franc is one of the few currencies that have given investors some sense of comfort recently; Switzerland inspires confidence and stability, and the worse things get in the United States and Europe, the more investors pull their money out of the dollar and euro, and park it in the Swiss franc.
It’s all about supply and demand. Increased demand for the Swiss franc coupled with expanded supply of dollars and euros has caused the franc to surge over the last weeks and months. It wasn’t too long ago that it would take 1.20 francs to buy a US dollar. Now it takes $1.40 to buy a single franc.
I can think of a lot of words to describe the performance of the US dollar. Farce. Joke. Lunacy. Embarrassment. Disgusting. But it’s more clearly summed up like this: the price of a Big Mac meal in Zurich is now so high (at $17.19) that a minimum wage employee in Minneapolis, Minnesota, would have to work for nearly 4-hours in order to afford it.
This is what stability looks like to Ben Bernanke.