The classic taxi driver gripe, anywhere in the world, is how expensive things are these days.
I’ve lost count of the number of times, in Shanghai, of how often I’ve been told that "ordinary Shanghai people aren’t rich – only foreigners and people from Zhejiang are rich", and that "the price of everything keeps going up, but we don’t make any money".
For visitors to Shanghai, staring open-mouthed at the city’s opulent infrastructure, it’s difficult to imagine that much of the city’s population is poor and can barely afford to live there.
Luckily then, there’s some proof from UBS, which has just finished its latest three-yearly report into the cost of living in 73 cities across the world.
(Hat-tip to Dezan Shira, the accountants, for filleting the report and pulling out the China and India details)
UBS has bench-marked its research against New York. So, in terms of the average wage, Shanghaiers get 16pc of a New Yorker’s pay packet, while paying a roughly similar percentage of tax. Beijingers get 14pc.
However, food prices in Shanghai are a staggering 71pc of those in New York. In Beijing they are a still unreasonable 61pc. Clothes are even more wallet-bleedingly expensive. In Beijing, you can expect to pay 98.5pc of the New York price for clothing, while in Shanghai you pay 62.2pc.
Home appliances and electronics are more expensive in China than the US, as are cars.
Eating dinner out, for two, costs $50 in NY, and a surprising $45 in Shanghai (either the Whampoa Club and Larises of this world are driving up the average, or they stripped out the baozi joints and noodle shacks).
So it is no wonder the Chinese feel increasingly disgruntled. They earn a fraction of the wages but pay nearly the same prices. The reason, of course, is China’s enormous wealth gap. Rich Chinese have money to drive up the prices of nearly everything, and they are creating a growing underclass of furious and desperate poor.
Worse, the burgeoning costs of social welfare as a result of China’s ageing demographics means prices will continue to rise.
Dezan Shira is already betting on India as the next major business centre as a result. It points out that wages are half in Mumbai and Delhi and that property is cheaper.
"We have been surprised by the disparity in costs between China and India in terms of basic commodities such as textiles and food. China, despite having the benefit of huge domestic agricultural and textiles industries, and a relatively low salary cap, has prices comparable to Europe," they say.
And there’s a little barb for Shanghai in particular, as the city pretends that it is turning itself into an international financial centre: "We would additionally caution against the apparently high costs of doing business in Shanghai. While the city wants to be seen as being to international standards, it cannot continue to do so purely on the basis of charging internationally-sized prices."