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Paperback The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy : An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade. New Preface and Epilogue with Updates on Economic Issues and Main Characters Book

ISBN: 1118950143

ISBN13: 9781118950142

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy : An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade. New Preface and Epilogue with Updates on Economic Issues and Main Characters

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Book Overview

The keys to global business success, as taught by a T-shirt's journey The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy is a critically-acclaimed narrative that illuminates the globalization debates and reveals the key factors to success in global business. Tracing a T-shirt's life story from a Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory and back to a U.S. storefront before arriving at the used clothing market in Africa, the book uncovers the political and...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

For the classroom - more than you think

Enough reviews lauding the author and this book have been written, and all of them well-deserved. But since it becomes available in paperback this June (2006), this review hopes to spark a wider discussion of how it might be used in the classroom. The summary is well known. Prompted by anti-globalization protests on her Georgetown campus, an economics professor travels the world to discover the life of a t-shirt, from West Texas cotton (and a brief history of U.S. cotton and labor policies) to Chinese manufacturing to U.S. trade policy (including "perverse effects and unintended consequences") and finally to the used-clothing market in Africa. Neither paladin nor myrmidon of the usual ideologues, the author uses "story-telling" rather than strict quantitative analysis or theoretical modeling. Applications for courses in foreign policy, political economy, public policy and the like are obvious. For undergraduates or new graduate students, it might be a good way to introduce a wide variety of concepts at the beginning of a course, or as concluding work, to see how the semester's concepts work together (and at odds). But it should also not be overlooked for use in courses such as business ethics, or simply "ethics". It has plenty for courses like "science and society." It also might contribute to courses interested in race, class or gender issues, although the answers and implications can be more mixed than some partisans might prefer. (For example, the author's pro-free-trade bias is challenged, but so too are notions that "exploited" tells the entire story of women in low-paying manufacturing jobs.) Our college is using the book as its "summer reading" for all incoming first-year students, with a series of events during orientation and the fall semester. Some of the questions I would like to see raised include considering "Commercial success can be achieved through moral failure" (p. 14), "Global capitalism and labor activism are not enemies, but are instead cooperators, however unwitting, in improving the human condition" (p. 102), the role of technological advances in shaping social and cultural changes, and questions about political activism, social justice, etc. Other faculty members are working on different questions that are interesting and important, on the substance of the book, but also on broader concepts applicable to life as a new college student. My own bias is that this kind of book, and this book in particular, is a very student-friendly addition to a wide range of courses usually full of dryer tomes. If you're looking for something different than The Lexus and the Olive Tree and The World is Flat, this might be for you.

Interesting, important, broad in scope, full of technical and historic detail

Spurred by a Georgetown student anti-sweatshop protest, Pietra Rivoli took up the task of tracing the life of a (tacky souvenir) t-shirt she buys in Florida, to examine the economics and politics of this non-trivial segment of the apparel industry. Why she buys the t-shirt in the first place remains a mystery. Why she needs one from Florida that she will likely discard is even more of a mystery. She made me think about studying the American practice of souvenir shopping and excess consumption. But her t-shirt has a story worth telling. Rivoli first adeptly traces the history of cotton as a critical world commodity, including the struggles in England two hundred fifty years ago by the wool industry to combat the comfort of cotton, going so far as to prohibit the use of calico and the requirement that people be buried in wool. The questionable economics of slavery moved cotton production to the United States, but it was and still is the intervention of technology, research and financial capital that made cotton farming so much more productive today. Nonetheless, the ability of Texas farmers to market "low quality" cotton can best be attributed to both technology and federal price supports, up to 19 cents on a 59 cent pound of cotton. Cotton, while still a major commodity in global trade, has probably declined in relative value and share of the world economy. What we may be seeing is more of the slow death of the importance a dated commodity and less of a "race to the bottom" that she suggests. She then takes us to t-shirt and apparel manufacturing and employment, now on the wane in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. People mistakenly think that these jobs are being sent to China. They're not. In fact, they're just disappearing. Rivoli notes that China, between 1995 and 2003, lost ten times the numbers of textiles manufacturing jobs as did the United States (p. 142), and Chinese workers have little or no safety net or alternative employment, unlike their displaced American brethren. In the ill-fated "race to the bottom," it should be clear that this fate seems to await any industry that is unable to maintain a long-term competitive advantage, and the only way to do that seems to be through protectionism. While t-shirts are cheap, saving textile jobs is not cheap. Saving American textile jobs costs between $135,000 and $180,000 per job saved, according to best estimates (p. 144), costing American taxpayers and consumers billions of dollars. Where jobs are being created is in the lobbying and trade association industry. This section (Part III) is an overwhelming alphabet-soup of acronyms - WTO, AGOA, NAFTA, CBTPA, ADTPA, ATC, MFA, ACMI, LTA, ATMI, and ITCB -- for trade agreements, trade associations, trade and lobbying groups, and other defenders of (primarily) protectionism. The complexity of the letters is exceeded by the complexity of the trade agreements they promulgate. It takes a lot of honest, well-intentioned effort and dollars to d

Globalization Demystified

All of us have an opinion on globalization. We either fall into the protectionist or free trade camp or perhaps somewhere between but few of us have a clear concept of the mechanics of globalization. Alan Tonselson’s book "The Race to the Bottom" tried explaining it using wry statistical economic analysis but Rivoli breathes life into globalization by fleshing out the people involved in the life cycle of an ordinary T-shirt. Her book illustrates this phenomenon to the layperson by demonstrating that globalization is more about history and, more importantly, politics, than about economics. Her detailed discussion of textile trade politics leaves me to marvel at the fact that I am in fact wearing a T-shirt at all! Teleologically all political activity is aimed at material gain, hence, we are back to economics or as she so aptly demonstrates that politics gets in the way of economics. Travels of a T-Shirt is an engrossing, informative, enlightening, and exciting book. The most salient feature is her historical discussion of cotton production and the textile industry. If you thought that globalization is a 21st century phenomena think again. Globalization is as old as the human race. Only its magnitude is unique to our century. Readers will discover that the issues of globalization are not black and white but rather infinite shades of grey. I urge everyone to read this book for I guarantee that they will walk away with a whole new perspective.

great book on globalization

An entertaining and insightful read on how the global economy really works for people. the author tackles the serious issues about globalization by exploring the life of her t-shirt, but she also is a great writer who can take the complex and make it both understanding and entertaining. bravo!

A Historical Tour of Industry Issues

I'm from the apparel industry - not fiber, yarn, textile or retail which in the US are separate industries - but apparel, the cutting and sewing and shipping of clothing. Ironically, a week before reading this book, I was given a passionate and amazing talk by an executive from one of the non-apparel companies profiled in this book. When he was done, I told him his business plan, which he detailed, could not have been written by an academic or a consultant, but only by a warrior in the supply chain. Well, this book could not have been written by a warrior, but only by an academic. In its description of the travels of a shirt, it bears close resemblance to a similar story written several years back in the NYTimes magazine. Having said that, this book rocks. Its great. Its a tutorial of how the apparel industry chases the low cost needle from country to country. And it is extremely current. I learned a lot about cotton, yarn, textiles, trade, lobbying, England - but nothing new about apparel, per se. So to me, everyone will learn something new from this book. It is unfortunate the author did not interview Kevin Burke of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. She seems to imply that the AAMA just disappeared. It did not. Kevin is a key player in the "Alphabet Army" the author describes as centered in Washington. Still, as I read the book, I learned the history of one of the members of our organization (, a highly successful cotton organization called PCCA. And I saw many names of people I knew first hand. There is so much history to the apparel supply chain I simply did not know - and now I understand it much better. As for my own bias of the divergent sides one takes on trade, I found myself leaning side to side like an old hill billy watching wrestling on TV as I squirmed in response to one sides rhetoric and the others B.S. Its well written. I like to think I'm a good industry writer, but I could not have done what Dr. Rivoli has achieved. Its a great yarn, maybe a little too heavy on the sweatshop, dogma and labor aspects of the issue, but then again, its written by an academic. I'm still waiting after 15 years of touring apparel factories all around the world to find an actual sweatshop. The only one I've ever seen was on a PBS documentary shot in New York of a horrifying factory there. Apparel chases the low cost needle. As Wal-Mart told me personally last decade, "when a US apparel contractor can make a dozen golf shirts at the same quality and price as we're getting from Cambodia, we'll buy them". Apparel chases the low cost needle. China is the world's apparel plant floor. Wal-Mart is the world's retail floor. Reality rules, and it is so inevitable it hurts. Are there any questions?
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