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Book Report: "The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy"
The book "The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy" is invigorated by Rivoli’s experience in 1999, of being a witness of a group of a hundred student activists gathered at Georgetown University protesting against globalization. Pietra Rivoli is a professor at Georgetown University, and she poses herself as a “classically trained economist”. Rivoli introduces an explicit story of the development of cotton production in the United States from its background in the cotton fields in West Texas. She also discusses the governmental subsidies issue for the cotton industry at large.
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At the beginning of the book, the reader can encounter a trace of the history of cotton as a critical world object of utility. The history of the T-shirt starts at the area that seems to be the home to the majority of the world cotton: West Texas. The author has also included the struggles in England near two hundred years ago by the wool industry for the improvement of cotton. These struggles went so far to the limit of the application of calico and the requirement to bury people in wool.
- One can find descriptions of the way the labor market develops and its influence on the apparel and textile industry. Slavery, then sharecropping, and next factory farming were the ways, which helped farmers to compete and to reduce prices on cotton to the lowest level. Then the mechanization process begins.
- The second part of the book traces the history of T-shirt manufacturing in China. After the cleaning and shipping of cotton harvest, the author describes a clear picture of manufacturing, which she observes in China.
- The third part of the story considers the process of globalization. She presents both sides of the argument that concern free trade and the reasoning of exploitative markets, which obtain the support of globalization. The author traces the reader through the detailed half-century history of protectionism in the USA. One may find in the book both the complexity and absurdity of the regulations, quotas systems, and tariffs that American manufacturers have predetermined into the law to protect domestic manufacturing.
In the relatively short book, the author succeeds in writing well-prepared, clear, engaging, and provoking insight on the history of the cotton industry, free market, and globalization, despite the inevitable use of many acronyms.
"The Travel of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy" is a carefully examined and well-written narration about the history, culture, politics, geography, and trade in cotton, particularly cotton textile, and trade itself in general terms. The author uses the simplest piece of clothing, the 6$ T-shirt, to disclose the human and political parts of the globalization argument.
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The book focuses on the three main issues: cotton, Chinese manufacturing, and the “snowflake” market of the used clothes. Around these points, she develops the whole narration and uncovers the main idea of the book.
The author covers several themes and ideas in this book. Among them is the history of cotton manufacturing in the United States, which Rivoli narrates in detail. The history of the Chinese textile Mills is carefully covered as well. She is surprised by the fact that despite awful working conditions, extremely low salaries, or even their absence or substitution with food, the workers, young women, in particular, escape from farms in search of liberating opportunities.
The writer describes the way the idea of the “race to the bottom” has sparked accusations of the negative influence of the low-cost labor and clothing in other countries on the domestic manufacturing and apparel factories. Moreover, in the book she covers also the theme of the United States’ textile protectionism, pointing out the complete absurdity of the tariffs and quotas that American manufacturers have decreed into the law. The last point that Rivoli mentions is the second clothing market in Africa, where she traces the story of the donated clothes to the Salvation Army, and in what way the entrepreneurs sell them in the market stalls in Africa.
Pietra Rivoli does not want to expose her biases on the globalization, free trade, protectionism, or market of the used clothes. As a business economist and a good teacher, her main idea of the book is to reveal all these issues from the different sides, both positive and negative, and to give to the reader a wide field of thinking.
Pietra Rivoli does not make the argument for either protectionism or free trade. However, taking into consideration the fact that she is a trained business economist, she prefers free trade, as do the majority of economists almost unanimously. Although this story does not argue for either side, quite the contrary, it shows that both sides of this policy split involuntary spur economic growth.
The author claims that both lobbying and protectionism serve to maintain American textile manufacturing alive “only by unnatural acts of life support”. Moreover, Rivoli indicates that the majority of protectionist measures have been actually harming the American cotton industry over a long period of time.
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Even though the author keeps a proportional prospect on protectionism and globalization through her book, it is obvious that these protections profit only the US cotton and clothing industry, to the damage of many other parties.
Rivoli never directly declares her strong criticism for subsidies, quotas, and tariffs; she does a great effort to present the particular facts in a way, which assists people to realize the problems born by protectionism. As she states, protectionism has other negative influences around the world. Many foreign citizens, who are eager to work and are ready to work, stay unemployed owing to protectionism. It has also encumbered the US consumers, as the facts caused by this process result in higher prices and have not saved the job places.
The book provides an exhaustive history of many issues regarding the global trade in textile and the evolution of clothing manufacturing. Throughout the book, the author is cautious to introduce both sides of the discussion on the particular issues, which make affect global clothing manufacturing and trade. Whereas Rivoli tends to stand by the free trade model, she does offer the argument supported by the followers of free trade and anti-globalization agitators and adherents of protectionism.
The book represents the magnificent outline of the innumerable political, economic, and social forces that have an impact on the apparently simple process of T-shirt production. During the whole narration, Rivoli discusses both globalization and protectionism within the scope of cotton growing and apparel industry emphasizing the great role of the government in it.
She provides a strong critique of the quota system and big subsidies, which the government provides for the farmers. A mixture of the United States government subsidies assures that cotton farmers get higher subsidies than the price of cotton on the global market is, which makes the US taxpayers pay cotton farmers a large sum of money. The society also requires the garment factories to buy a certain percentage of cotton from the American growers. Society compensates huge sums of money for the weather losses and elaboration of the new technologies. The author claims that the annual amount of money, which the government provides for cotton farmers could support the whole of Africa in 2004. As the comparison of American cotton farmers' working conditions, Rivoli tells the tragic stories about the Indian farmers, who experience crop failure.
She says, “While my T-shirt’s life story is certainly influenced by competitive economic markets, the key events in the T-shirt’s life are less about competitive markets than they are about politics, history, and creative maneuvers to avoid markets” (Rivoli, 2009, p.14). However, the author still exposes different points of view and different sides of the laws, which entrepreneurs enact into the apparel industry, and encourages readers to make their own conclusions.
Rivoli is sure that the markets will alter everything and speed up the countries into the 21st century. She also considers the fact that technological progress encourages people to move off the farms into the cities, because better wages assist the cities’ growth, and tariffs switch industries into more productive areas. Rivoli’s travels and experiences in China prove these ideas. She believes that all of these alternations will assist countries in adjusting and entering into the 21st century at their own speed.
Rivoli’s book serves as an immensely useful presentation to the commodity markets, “The Chinese miracle” in production, trading in the second-hand industry, and perverting effects of subsidies and quota system on the global trade. This is the most unbiased book ever, as the author discusses and addresses all sides of the argument on globalization.
The writer tells “Travels of a T-shirt” through the eyes of people, without the implication of theories. Every person that the reader encounters through the narration is real and battles hard to keep doing their part of what keeps the economy alive. Most significantly, Rivoli emphasizes even the tiniest details matter.
Within the scope of the deep and detailed analysis of cotton production, apparel manufacturing, free trade, and protectionism, the writer uses real people and life situations. One of these provoking stories intrigues me to the depth of my heart.
While analyzing the process of T-shirt manufacturing, the author reveals the people, who are engaged in this process. And the saddest thing is that these persons may be the young girls from India or Vietnam chained to a sewing machine and earning several cents per hour. Such workers can go to the bathroom only two times per day and work up to 90 hours per week without overtime. They sleep with more than ten other workers like them in a small room. The gruel is the only food they get. They even do not have a right to speak or unionize while working. And the worst of all is that such young girls and boys are not unfortunate. On the contrary, they escape from work on the farm to the mills in the cities searching for liberal opportunities and better life. This is a deplorable and sad situation in society.
This book broadens my life’s point of view and extends my knowledge regarding international trade, politics, sociology, and geography. This is a meaningful book worth reading for either entrepreneur, students of economic faculties, economists, or ordinary people.