Paris police capture Eiffel Tower

Some of this is copyright
Some of this is copyright

We’ve just learned that a special police unit has busted an Eiffel Tower smuggling ring. Well, more of key ring really, since the raid netted 60 tonnes of souvenirs with a street value of, er, 5 for a euro. I’ve no idea how many you need to make up 60 tonnes, but sources say it’s a lot. (If you read this article to the end, I’ll tell you how much the original weighs). A police inspector told Le Figaro that they’re not after the hundreds of sellers you may have seen around various touristy areas of Paris. They’re after the ringleaders who control what is in fact an international business, or a global value chain (GVC) as we would say, importing the merchandise from China into France for sale by mainly African sellers to tourists from the world over.

The OECD is usually all in favour of GVCs and often asks governments to do more to open up international trade. The OECD Trade Facilitation Indicators for example estimate that comprehensive implementation of all measures currently being negotiated in the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Round would reduce total trade costs by 10% in advanced economies and by 13-15.5% in developing countries.  Reducing global trade costs by 1% would increase worldwide income by more than $40 billion according to the OECD, and most of this would go to developing countries, where the people selling Eiffel Towers come from.

Those gains from the Doha Round may or may not be realised. Progress in the negotiations is slow to non-existent, and in the meantime, selling key rings and other cheap souvenirs allows those who do it to make a living and to help their families. It’s a very precarious living and they can’t send much money home, but at least whatever they send goes directly to those who need it, and those little sums soon add up. According to the 2013 African Economic Outlook, remittances from workers abroad overtook foreign direct investment and aid as the main financial flow into Africa in 2010 (and that’s only for remittances that are recorded).

But the situation of the workers sending the remittances can be terrible. According to a Malian I spoke to, many of the young men selling souvenirs and employed in other dead-end jobs are trapped in France. They expected to do great things here, based on the stories they’d heard and the fact that usually they’re the brightest, most dynamic members of their community.  They don’t dare tell their families what it’s really like, and that the money they spent to help them emigrate could have been put to a better use. So they perpetuate the myth with stories of the good life, and live in utter poverty to be able to keep up appearances and send money back. That encourages their younger siblings and friends to try their luck too, and although satellite TV and the amount of information available on Internet are changing perceptions, many still think that the grass is greener on this side.

It’s not just in France that immigrants have a harder time than the others. The 2013 edition of the International Migration Outlook says that “on average in OECD countries, immigrants’ labour market outcomes are below those of the native-born of similar age and education levels. Immigrants also find themselves more often living in sub-standard housing conditions.” You could argue that language difficulties and different work experiences or types of qualification explain the fact that immigrants have a harder time finding a job and keeping it. But that wouldn’t explain why their children face the same problems.

For the Outlook, “Discrimination is a key obstacle to the full integration of immigrants and their offspring into the labour market and the society as a whole” adding that “it is not uncommon for immigrants and their offspring to have to send more than twice as many applications to get invited to a job interview than persons without a migration background who have an otherwise equivalent CV.”

That discrimination is often fuelled by stories of immigrants abusing the welfare system or health services. According to the OECD’s figures however, the effect on public finances “is around zero on average across the OECD countries considered […] It is highest in Switzerland and Luxembourg, where immigrants provide an estimated benefit of about 2% of GDP to the public purse.”

I wonder if the Swiss and Luxembourg papers are full of stories about immigrants coming over here, boosting our economy, reducing our borrowing requirements and helping keep taxes down. Probably not.

And since you’ve read, or skipped, to the end, the Eiffel Tower weighs 10,100 tonnes, 7300 tonnes of which is the metal structure. And it’s not illegal to make souvenirs featuring it since it’s in the public domain. The lighting however isn’t, so you should pay to film or photograph it at night. But we’ll talk about knowledge-based capital another time.

Useful links

International Migration: The Human Face of Globalisation an OECD Insights book by Brian Keeley

Patrick Love

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