In This Review

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: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade
By Pietra Rivoli
John Wiley, 2005, 272 pp

The protagonist of this highly informative and entertaining book is a $6 T-shirt purchased in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Georgetown economist Rivoli uses her T-shirt as a vehicle for telling an analytic story about its life -- from the cotton fields of Texas to either its proud purchase by a Tanzanian villager or its sale as mattress filler, depending on its condition when discarded by its American owner. Along the way, she explores the history of cotton production and the cotton textile industry and evaluates the misguided and often absurd U.S. textile policy over the past half century, up to the end of 2004, when the multilateral Multifiber Arrangement (which inadvertently created many more jobs in not-quite-competitive developing countries than it preserved in the United States) expired. Rivoli draws heavily on her own interviews and on anthropological as well as economic literature, which gives her tale a human touch. She shows how despite the awful working conditions in apparel factories, in both historical America and contemporary poor countries the jobs they offered were often liberating to young women, who preferred the sweatshops to the stifling life they otherwise would have had to endure on the farm.