Giraffes and Levis

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Mar 8, 2012    •    678 Views

French fashion, food, wine and now a French giraffe.

Most French moms buy Sophie for their newborns. Seven inches tall, with brown spots, black eyes and pink cheeks, she is just a rubber toy giraffe that squeaks. In French supermarkets, her price is $12.

In the U.S., Sophie is a $25 giraffe with cachet. Exactly the same as her French sisters, her “Made in France” label, her natural rubber body, and her small-scale production differentiate Sophie from mass produced Chinese baby toy imports like Elmo and Big Bird. In the U.S., because Sophie is special, her sales are soaring.

Sophie reminds me of Levi’s in Communist Russia. Patented in 1873, Levi’s have always been utilitarian. However, in the former Soviet Union approximately 20 years ago, their “made in the U.S.A.” label made them a fashion icon .

The Economic Lesson

Looking at the total value of toy, doll and game imports from January to September, 2011 for 25 countries, France is #19 at $6 million. At the top of the list is China, then Japan and Mexico.

Because numbers from the St.Louis Fed indicate the U.S. imports more from France than we export to France, our trade balance is negative.

An Economic Question: Discussing trade, economists typically mention David Ricardo and the law of comparative advantage. Might French toy manufacturers have a comparative advantage over China?


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