Sue's Reviews > The Travels of A T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade

The Travels of A T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli
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Apr 25, 11

Read in February, 2011

Pietra Rivoli bought a souvenir T-shirt, and then she wrote a book about it. Inspired to explore the lowly T-shirt by an anti-WTO rally, she determined to look at the issues related to cotton farming, to clothing manufacture, and ultimately to the used-clothing trade.

If there is one message in this book, it is that free trade in the world of cotton is myth. With one exception, that is. More about that later.

First Rivoli traces the story of cotton as a critical commodity. The preeminence of the US as a producer of cotton was tied to the nefarious slave economy, but it was research and technology that led to the productive and dominant farm business that it is today. That and a whole lot of government support — up to 19 cents on a 59-cent pound of cotton. It’s very difficult for other countries to compete.

Then there’s the matter of producing the T-shirt. We tend to believe that China has a grip on the market, but China is also losing textile jobs. Some place with a cheaper work force (read: female, young, desperate) will always be in the wings. The only way to save such jobs long term is protectionism, which is alive and well in the US — and costing taxpayers $135,000-$180,000 per job saved. The book introduced a mind-numbing litany of trade associations, lobbying groups, and trade agreements, each with its own acronym (AGOA, NAFTA, CBTPA, ADTPA, ATC, MFA, ACMI, LTA, ATMI, ITCB).

Finally Rivoli found her free trade: in the used clothing business. People donate to the Salvation Army or Vietnam Veterans. Skilled sorters in the US find the garments worthy of the second-hand market at home. Rejects are bundled and sold in bulk, bound for market stalls in Tanzania. Market shoppers are savvy about which T-shirts are best for the fashions of their city, and they haggle to take them home. No subsidies, no government support, and it all works.

An excellent and readable book about the complexities of world trade.
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message 1: by Linda S (new)

Linda S I found your review of The Travels of the T-shirts very informative. I have been looking for a book on global trade and this might be it.

Thanks,

Linda


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