FlyTitle: The Big Mac index

How big is China’s economy? Let the Big Mac decide

中国的经济体量有多大?让巨无霸来丈量

AMERICA’S ECONOMY did not exceed China’s in size until the 1880s, according to the Maddison Project at the University of Groningen. The two now rival each other again. Because China’s workers are 4.7 times as numerous as America’s, they need be only a fraction as productive to surpass America’s output. No fewer than 53 countries would already have a bigger GDP than America if they were as populous as China.

美国的经济规模直到19世纪80年代才超过中国——格罗宁根大学的麦迪森项目(Maddison Project)显示。现在两国又开始一较高下了。由于中国的劳动力数量是美国的4.7倍,人均生产力只需要达到美国的几分之一便可在整体产出上超过美国。如果其他国家也有中国如此庞大的人口,那么至少会有53个国家的GDP高于美国。

In 2019 China’s workers produced over 99trn yuan-worth of goods and services. America’s produced $21.4trn-worth. Since it took about 6.9 yuan to buy a dollar last year, China’s GDP was worth only $14trn when converted into dollars at market rates. That was still well short of America’s.

在2019年,中国劳动者生产出超过99万亿元的商品和服务。美国的产出为21.4万亿美元。由于去年大概6.9元人民币可兑换1美元,中国的GDP总值若按市场汇率换算成美元只有14万亿美元,仍然远低于美国。

But 6.9 yuan stretches further in China than a dollar goes in America. One example is the McDonald’s Big Mac. It costs about 21.70 yuan in China and $5.71 in America, according to prices collected by The Economist. By that measure, it takes only 3.8 yuan to buy as much as a dollar. But if that is the case, then 99trn yuan can buy as much as $26trn, and China’s economy is already considerably bigger than America’s.

但是, 在中国的6.9元人民币比在美国的1美元更耐花。麦当劳的巨无霸汉堡就是一例。根据本刊收集的价格,一个巨无霸在中国的售价约为21.70元,在美国约为5.71美元。照此计算,只要3.8元人民币就能达到1美元的购买力。但如此一来,99万亿元人民币的购买力便相当于26万亿美元,那么中国的经济规模已经明显超过了美国。

Motivated by this logic, The Economist has compared the price of Big Macs around the world since 1986. The result is a rough gauge of the purchasing power of currencies. It suggests that many currencies are undervalued, relative to the dollar, on the foreign-exchange markets (see chart). The Swiss franc and the Lebanese pound are overvalued. Lebanon’s currency was undervalued until inflation took off late last year, raising local prices even as the pound remained pegged to the dollar. The Big Mac alone jumped 38% in price.

在这一逻辑的启发下,本刊从1986年开始比较全球各地的巨无霸价格,以此粗略地衡量各国货币的购买力。结果表明,许多货币在外汇市场上相对美元而言被低估(见图表)。瑞士法郎和黎巴嫩镑的汇率则被高估。黎巴嫩的货币此前一直被低估,直到去年年底通胀开始飙升,在黎巴嫩镑保持与美元挂钩的情况下抬高了当地价格。巨无霸的价格上涨了38%。

经济学人双语版-肉饼劲道 Patty power

Every few years the World Bank embarks on a vastly more systematic effort to gauge purchasing power by comparing thousands of prices across the world. The results can be startling. Its survey of prices in 2011, released six years ago, showed that China was cheaper than previously thought and its economy was therefore much larger. Based on these estimates, the IMF calculated that its GDP overtook America’s in 2014 and was 27% bigger in 2019.

每隔几年,世界银行都会展开一项系统化得多的调查,对比全球数千种商品的价格来衡量购买力。其结果可能令人吃惊。六年前发布的2011年价格调查显示,中国的物价比之前想象的更便宜,其经济体量因而也要大得多。根据这些估算,国际货币基金组织(IMF)推测中国的GDP在2014年便已超过美国,到2019年更是超出了27%。

Many observers, however, greeted these estimates with scepticism. In 2010 an informal survey by a reporter at Caixin, a financial magazine, noted that a number of items were dearer in Hangzhou than in its sister city Boston. (It compared apples to apples, and found that the Golden Delicious variety was 37% pricier in the Chinese city.)

然而,许多观察人士对这些估算持怀疑态度。2010年,财经杂志《财新》的记者进行的一项非正式调查发现,杭州的一些商品比它的姐妹城市波士顿更贵。(调查比较了苹果的价格,发现杭州的金冠苹果要贵37%。)

The sceptics won some vindication in May when the World Bank released its latest price-comparison exercise. It discovered that things were about 17% more expensive in China, relative to America, than previously thought. At a stroke, China’s GDP fell by over $3.2trn. The estimates suggest China did not overtake America’s economy until 2016.

今年5月,世界银行发布了最新的价格比较报告,让这些怀疑论者赢得了一些佐证。报告发现,中国相对于美国的物价比之前想象的要贵17%左右。中国的GDP一下子便减少了超过3.2万亿美元。据此估算,中国的经济规模到2016年才超过美国。

But are these new estimates any more robust than earlier efforts? Comparing prices across the world is fraught with difficulties. An item may be a staple in one place and a delicacy in another. The World Bank must also decide how much weight to give each item. That depends on shopping habits, which differ—partly because prices differ. It is easy to go around in circles.

但这些新的估算是否比之前的更可靠呢?比较世界各地的物价可谓困难重重。一个地方的平常主食换在另一个地方可能就是珍馐佳肴。世界银行还必须设定每样商品的权重。这取决于购物习惯,而各地的购物习惯千差万别——这在一定程度上又是因为价格不同。这很容易就绕起了圈子。

So it might help to check the World Bank’s results against a cruder yardstick—like the price of a Big Mac. Our index suggests that the bank now, if anything, underestimates the buying power of China’s currency, and therefore its economic size. McDonald’s was once a symbol of America’s economic might. Now the Big Mac shows how its might is being surpassed. ■

因此,用巨无霸价格这样一个更粗略的标准来检验世界银行的计算结果,或许能有所帮助。我们的指数显示,如果说有什么不同的话,世界银行现在的计算低估了人民币的购买力,因此也低估了中国的经济规模。麦当劳曾是美国强大经济实力的象征,而今巨无霸又显示出它的这种实力正在被超越。