As times are tough, all of us in Argentina are looking for a way to stretch our pesos just a little bit further.
Living in an interventionist economy, I personally like to take advantage of little ways subsidies and quirky rules can work to my benefit. Airline tickets? In pesos please. Paying in quotas with no interest in a depreciating currency? Don’t mind if I do. If you think this makes me a hypocrite and not ideologically a purist, I do not care. It makes life fun, and I once had to pay over US $400 dolls for a charger for my macbook. Win some, lose some.
Some days when I’m tending towards the blue side of life, I like to go to McDonald’s. I am unfortunately too old for ball pits and gendered toys trying to sell me the latest Disney flick, so I go for the pick me up of a hamburger that is severely underpriced due to a combination of coercion and threats.
This was all big news in 2012, but that was back when the official dollar was sitting at ARS $4.5, while the just budding blue dollar was incrementally higher at ARS $5. Back then, publications the likes of Slate and New York Times commented on why the Big Mac is unusually cheap in Argentina when compared to other similar menu items.
The Economist publishes an informal purchasing power index called the Big Mac Index to show the relative value of currencies. This shows whether a currency is likely under or over valued based on the cost of a Big Mac sandwich, which indirectly exposes inflation.
When the index started showing Argentina’s peso as 19 percent overvalued, a funny phenomenon indeed came to pass. First, the Big Mac made a suspicious relocation from the bright lights of the main menu to the suspiciously tiny and hidden side menu. Second, the price dropped faster than the beat at a David Guetta concert.
The word on the street was that then Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno, notorious for strong arming independent reporters for stating that inflation was a problem, essentially pressured McDonald’s to drop the price of the Big Mac so that it would reflect a stronger, less ridiculously priced peso. So wouldn’t you know, the restaurants complied but sifted the menu item out of the limelight. Out of sight, out of mind to consumers. That is until international media outlets picked up the crowd pleasing puff piece.
Back then, the Big Mac sold for ARS $20 in the swanky parts of town, a full six pesos less than the similar Quarter Pounder with Cheese (because it is a Proper Sandwich Name). The Big Mac was a full ARS $4.50 less than an comparable menu item.
While reports state that the Big Mac was allowed to appreciate 26 percent, and official reports have vehemently denied interference, the discrepancy remains. And now, I will explain to you what the situation is today and how to have a spot of fun with it.
In July 2014, the most recent Big Mac Index reported that the local price of the Big Mac was ARS $21.00 At the official exchange rate of ARS $8.17/US dollar, that implies a US $2.57 sandwich.
Now let’s get real.
Back in July, the dollar crossed the ARS $13.00 threshold, which would have put the sandwich at US $1.62. That would have put Argentina literally at the bottom of the list, right below Ukraine whose currency was undervalued by over 66 percent.
Today, a Big Mac purchased in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires costs ARS $25.00. Using last month’s blue dollar rate of ARS $15.00, that is US $1.61. It’s like free money in the form of hydrogenated fats lumped together with GMOs, questionable meat, and preservatives I can’t even pronounce. Take a look at the menu below:
The undervalued Big Mac story made headlines when the ‘Mac was a mere five pesos less expensive than “comparable sandwiches” like the Quarter Pounder with Cheese (Cuarto de Libra con Queso) Now at ARS $25, it is literally less than half. You can have two Big Macs for the price of one QPC and then keep the change.
If you’re lucky enough to have a friend, or possibly there’s a special someone in your life, might I suggest you take them out to your closest McDonald’s to try the following trick. Or if you’ve accidentally hurt or alienated the people you love, this might take the edge off the crushing solitude.
First, buy three Big Macs for ARS $75.00.
Then, turn it into two Triple Macs by placing one patty from the third ‘Mac into each of the first two sandwiches.
Each of your new Bianca-made Triple Macs cost you ARS $37.50, which is ARS $17.40 less than if you’d actually ordered the Triple Mac. Ha! Win! Take that, inflation! For bonus points, find a sucker who ordered a Triple Mac and throw your extra bun circles at this circumstantial adversary to really make him taste the humiliation. Or, feed it to some ducks you’d like to experience digestive difficulties.
So while if you live and work here you’re likely getting paid so little that to buy an airline ticket to visit your family costs more than four months of your salary, remember that sometimes life is sweet. Go make yourself a few Bianca-made Triple Macs for the flight and vamos juntos a la victoria, or whatever it is we’re after with Kirchnerism.
I am LOVIN’ it.