Che Misterio asks: Could Argentina be manipulating Big Mac prices? A preliminary investigation.

I am pleased to once again present Che Misterio, who previously enlightened us with the realities of Argentina’s economy at the street level. Today, he takes on the very provocative question of whether that time-tested bulwark of American soft power, the Big Mac, might be the latest commodity to fall victim to Argentine price-fixing. Ladies and gentlemen, a preliminary investigation:

Big Mac Fraud

by Che Misterio

Could the Kirchner Administration be obsessive enough to fix the price of a Big Mac?

In Argentina everything is possible.

I’ve been hearing rumors that as part of the government’s desperate attempt to massage inflation statistics downwards, apparently the Economist magazine’s famous annual Big Mac Index is not beyond reach, and even Wikipedia is acknowledging this. I confess I’m not in the habit of dining at McDonald’s or similar such eating establishments, particularly when  in a country known the world over for the quality of its red meat. Alas, it is the quest for knowledge of the world’s economic blind spots that brings me here.

That the currency is being manipulated is so blindingly obvious that one has to pass the informal money changers merely to arrive at the Golden Arches. So, after convincing myself that there was sufficient evidence online to support this premise, I decided to investigate. I donned a false mustache and a silly hat. Casting my mind back to Kevin Spacey’s stellar performance in The Usual Suspects, I limped into McDonald’s.

To add validity to the startling claims made here, I recorded the exchange with the kind lady serving the fabled burger. It was not to be seen on the menu, but I specifically demanded my burger of choice. None other would do, it was a Big Mac or nothing, I had made up my mind on this, and no degree of negotiation would tempt me to shift my stance. Lo and behold, Big Macs are in fact available to the insistent.

The Big Mac meal is approximately half the price of all the other meals, at a mere A$26.50 (actually it cost me $27.50 all in as she didn’t have change). So, at the official rate this is US$5.59, but naturally anyone with dollars would have changed at the so-called “blue-dollar” rate, 6.20 according to today’s quote, and paid a mere US$4.27, excluding the slight price increase due to not possessing sufficient change even in a McDonald’s. This is for the combo meal, with regular fries and a drink (I had a coke). The next cheapest combo was a little under double this.

Here is the receipt:

I attempted to take a photograph with my phone, but by this point I was a little nervous. I felt nauseous after the burger. I had forgotten to get a napkin and now had mayonnaise or some such condiment smeared across my false moustache, which was itself sliding visibly into my mouth. Cameras donned the ceiling, it was relatively empty, and limping around taking photographs would have risked blowing my cover. However, what I managed to snap gives some idea of the situation:

So, it does appear that this is an extremely reasonably priced meal. In terms of flavor I found it drab, with the texture of soggy cardboard and laced with far too much dressing of some sort or other, but this is identical across the world I suppose. I am not sure I would revisit the store again this decade for anything other than undercover detective work. But I am now satisfied–the rumors at first glance appear true. I had no idea things could be quite as ridiculous as this, but then again, I never expected to buy contraband light-bulbs smuggled in from Chile, or encounter sniffer dogs specially trained to detect  American dollar bills.

If the government is indeed willing to place such draconian controls on the prices of certain items to manipulate an index, I would like to propose an additional method to further ascertain the nature of rampant inflation in this country: perhaps the Economist could establish an index for cheese, another for domestic flights and another for laptops.

In fact, why not set one up for the dollar itself?

Ah yes, we have that one already, and it’s not working very well.

2 responses to “Che Misterio asks: Could Argentina be manipulating Big Mac prices? A preliminary investigation.

  1. Pingback: Che Misterio goes deep into Argentina’s Black Market for Dollars

  2. October, last year, now everything went up again… and guess what.. the Big Mac combo price remains the same. Notice in your photo that it is not advertised anywhere, you will not find it on any Argentinian McDonald’s you go to, only way of getting that combo is by asking for it… why do you think that is? Obviously because its price has been kept the same for over 3 years while the rest of the combos have been rising their price at an alarming rate of 26% a year. So, the Big Mac combo is ridiculously cheap to the point they dont want you to buy it.
    Let’s compare real prices:
    -avg salary: 4.500 pesos
    -tax: 21%
    -1/4 gallon of milk (1 lt): 7 pesos
    -1bed 1bth, 40yo mid-class apt: 700.000 – 1.000.000 pesos
    -1bed 1bth, 40yo mid-class apt (rental): 2.500 – 3.000 pesos p/month

    The truth is that living in Argentina is to an Argentinean as an American is to live in Manhattan, Honolulu or San Francisco.