October 7, 2013
For the benefit of a TV documentary, French journalist Benjamin Carle is attempting to live without the benefit of any product not made in France. It is his and the television company’s response to calls from French politicians to citizens of France to reject foreign made products and to buy only those made in France.
For Carle the effect of this stunt appears to have been pretty devastating. It began with removal men taking everything not nationally made from his Paris flat. He was left with little more than an armchair and his cat. As well as having to surrender such foreign made luxuries as Scotch whisky and all of the electrical appliances from the apartment, even his bicycle was taken away. But, significantly, what he did not have to give up were his clothes and nor would he have to eschew good food. Two industries where France excels are quality textiles and food production – with little competition from imports. A supremacy built on quality – not restrictive trade practices, be it noted.
This exercise is likely to demonstrate most dramatically the complexity of the modern world’s economic structure. While the major objective of the ‘Monsieur Made-in-France ‘ stunt appears to be to demonstrate an undue dependence of French and other European consumers on the electrical and other industrial products of China and other low wage economies, it is likely to demonstrate more obviously the economic interdependence of nations. The demand from its large and prosperous domestic economy means that Europe not only sucks in imports from the east, thus contributing mightily to the economic growth of that region, but also maintains European manufactures of cars and other consumer goods.
In the longer term, European demand for imports increases the incomes of workers and consumers in emerging economy countries and results in their wages rising too. Restricting imports or depressing demand for imported products will have the opposite effect; it would also depress demand for European exports. But this does not only apply to industrial products; the wider campaign to buy food locally and cut down on imports currently fashionable among the European middle class, on the grounds of environmental efficiency , while unlikely significantly to reduce GHG emissions, would depress the production and incomes of southern European, African and Asian food producers. As exclusion of industrial imports by the most prosperous countries would be likely to depress the global economy, so too would the growth of agricultural eco-protectionism and the subsequent depression of imports threaten global food security. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main….” John Donne Meditations 17. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623).