Wealth is relative, a truism if ever there was one. We usually think about wealth in terms of the haves versus the have nots; the rich and the not so rich; the poor and the destitute. We consider someone is wealthy when how much they have, the money, cars, clothes, jewellery, property, is measured against someone who owns little or nothing. Yet a person might be worth a million dollars but still consider themselves ‘poor’ if the circle they happen to move in is populated by billionaires.
Comparing the wealth of one country versus another is also a relative exercise. But simply using gross domestic product (GDP) as a comparator usually masks the reality on the ground. Take Egypt, for example. The banks in Egypt are fighting hard to change attitudes towards credit, with the hope of boosting the country’s economy. Although resistance to change has had much to do with history, culture and religion, poverty has also played a part. Thus personal banking in Egypt for the masses is well-nigh impossible in a population where many live and survive on only a few dollars a day.
Perhaps a better way is to compare the aspects of life which we all have in common, whether in Egypt or the United States. We can all understand the cost of the weekly shop, the rent we pay, the cost of travelling on the local bus service, or how safe we feel walking our local streets. The website Numbeo compiles indexes based on similar parameters, comparing the entries in an index in percentage terms relative to New York City.
According to the website data, you would need almost $6,000 in New York to maintain the same standard of living you can have with $1,900 in Cairo. In other words, your money will stretch three times further in Cairo than in New York. Grocery prices in New York are 127% higher than in Cairo while rent prices are 555% higher. In New York you’ll pay 142% more for meals in restaurants.
Drilling down even further into individual items is fascinating. A loaf of white bread costs $1 in Cairo and $3 in New York, a 200% difference. A dozen eggs cost $1.60 compared to $3, a difference of 87%; apples per kg will set you back $2.08 in Cairo and $3.24 in New York City, 56% of a difference; while a packet of Marlboro cigarettes costs a mere $2.10 in Cairo and around $12.75 in New York, over 500% of a difference.
Although the marked contrasts between the two cities still show up when transport costs are compared, however it’s not all one way. A Volkswagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline, or equivalent new car, will set you back some $30,000 in Cairo. The same car will cost you $20,000 in New York. But apart from that, a litre of gas costs $0.30 in Cairo and $1.04 in New York, a massive 243% difference. A one-way ticket using local transport is 800% cheaper in Cairo, $0.25 compared to $2.25; and a regular monthly pass costs $13.11 in Cairo compared to $104 in New York. That’s 693 percentage points of a difference.
Renting a small city-centre apartment in Cairo on a monthly basis costs around $300; in New York you can expect to pay $2,500. You’ll also pay around $25 a month in total for basic utilities, such as electricity, gas, water and garbage. In New York the equivalent price is around $120, a 380% difference.
Finally, the average monthly disposable salary, after tax, is $250 in Cairo and $3,884 in New York, a difference of 1,454% and surely the most telling figure of all.