Posted by: Sam Carson | 4 October, 2007

Beer-izing the economy: when abroad let beer show you the money.

I’ve always used the beer index to figure out buying power in economies I’ve visited.  It works much the same way as with the iPod Nano, but is a smaller and (especially for me at the time) much more common unit.

Though I don’t remember specific prices, the beer-index instantly proved how expensive French Polynesia was (at about $3-4USD/beer) as compared to Spain ($1.50-3/beer).  Or closer together Antigua at about $2/beer was a quarter more pricey than Sint Maarten at $1.50 (a few years ago).  These would be a similar style bars, safe but not very upscale locales.  These prices proved a much better index for buying power than exchange rates.

The rest of the import economy could really be deciphered from the price of the ubiquitous can of Heineken.  Aside from the actual relative price of a can as a display of buying power, import tariffs could be understood by contrasting the price of local beer to theat of Heineken as well (Heineken seems to price aggressively low), so a glance at a bar menu would tell you the real world extra cost  of foreign goods.  The absence of the green cans would prove a pretty protectionist economy as Heineken is in every available market.

The display of beer advertising also could provide some idea about the society.  Tonga’s conservatism rarely advertises beer, anywhere, where neighbouring Fiji is a bit more liberal with Fiji Bitter signs more prevalent.  In Tahiti, the impact of French Colonialism apparent with it’s even more liberalized display of Hinano (yum) beer ads virtually everywhere.

Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.  Next time you travel abroad, don’t price things in your home currency, price in the number of beers it costs in the local currency.  Then you’ll have a much better understanding of when you’re getting ripped off!

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