There is a commonly understood equation that all world travelers parse out during their adventures to foreign countries: “How much will (x) of my currency buy (y) of their currency?” If an American travels to any of the 27 European nations, they will need to exchange a large portion of U.S. dollars into the EU’s respective currency, the Euro (€). Similarly, if Russians travel to the United States, they will need to buy American dollars ($) with their Russian Rubles (₽).
Purchasing Power Parity
The relative worth of one holder’s currency pegged to another’s in consideration of the purchase of the same basket of goods and services is referred to among economists as the purchasing power parity (PPP). The parity is a theory that suggests “exchange rates between currencies are in equilibrium when their purchasing power is the same in each of the two countries” (University of British Colombia School of Business).
The basis of PPP is the law of one price across nations; however, in the world of global economies and integrated wealth and trade, $10 spent in Russia gets one more goods and services than $10 spent in the United States. This is the economic disparity that leaves Russian consumers worse off in both their own country and the U.S.A.
In order to better understand the purchasing power parity and how it adversely affects the Russian middle class, the following example will better illustrate its practicality:
Consider the two experimental countries, Russia and the U.S. A tall-sized latte from Starbucks costs approximately 255 ₽ or an American equivalent of $4.50; however, in the U.S., an identical product costs $2.95. The PPP between Russian and the U.S.A. for a tall-sized latte from Starbucks is the price paid in Russia in U.S. dollars ($4.50) divided by the price paid in the United States in U.S. dollars ($2.95).
Simple arithmetic leads to the conclusion that for this item, the PPP between Russia and the U.S. is approximately 1.52, which means the consumers pay $1.52 to make a purchase in Russia that would cost $1.00 in the United States. Alternatively, Russian consumers are using their weaker national currency to pay a 50 percent premium on a tall-sized latte from Starbucks. Apply this to the purchase of a flat, college education or vehicle, and the numbers and basic economic principle alone illustrates how worse-off the Russian middle class is than that of its western counterpart.
Poverty in Russia
The PPP between Russia and the U.S. and any other first-world country is relevant to the overarching issue of poverty in Russia because of relative wealth distribution and purchasing power. Russia’s geography necessitates a strong import business relationship with the world’s leading trading partners, including and especially the United States where embargoes do not apply. For Russian consumers, this means higher prices for finished goods and services that are not justifiably priced in the Russian Ruble (₽).
When Russian consumers want to spend on big-ticket items, they have to work harder and longer, save more and manage their money better than consumers in the U.S. Economics and the PPP explain why Russians often work abroad and repatriate foreign currencies with higher PPP than the Ruble so to afford goods and services in Russia. This consumption strategy tightens the labor market for Russians; however, in the long run, this is not an economically viable alternative to internal market corrections.
Creating Middle-Class Improvement
How can the rest of the world equal the playing field for Russia? The answer is difficult. First, the law of incentives must be prioritized in Russia’s labor environment to keep skilled and unskilled labor in Russia and reduce currency repatriation. Secondly, Russia needs to begin to play by the rules set by developing countries if the country wants to reduce its PPP relative to trade nations. Last but not least, these prior measures will work to benefit Russian importers, businesses, and most importantly, Russian consumers. It is time to bring more power back to the Russian Ruble for the middle class of Russia.
– Nicholas Maldarelli