I picked up this book at random in the airport and I so glad that I did. It really is the best business and econ book I have read in a long time. The story is very engaging and moves right along, but more important than that, the economic and business insights -- as well as the analysis -- are of very high quality. the author is not polemic on one side or the other of current debates, and folks from all points of view have much to learn from the book. If you are interested in international business and economics I highly recommend this book. It will get you thinking!
Pietra Rivoli's book offers a highly engaging and enlightening perspective on the key elements of the globalisation debate. Through a novel narrative - focussed on the journey of a single product (a t-shirt) through the global economy - Dr. Rivoli brings the current state of world trade and the attendant debates into sharp and human perspective. Once I picked up the book, I couldn't put it down.
The premise of the book is - in the author's own words - to "tell a story" of a simple t-shirt, from cotton-field to compost-heap, and in so doing to illustrate that at almost no stage in the t-shirt's life does it come into contact with really competitive markets. Dr. Rivoli traces the journey of her t-shirt with particular emphasis on the original cotton-farmers in Texas, the factory in China where the t-shirt was made, and the t-shirt's `afterlife' once it has been donated to a charity shop. Interspersed with the narrative brief histories of US trade policy, the global cotton-industry and Chinese cotton production.
Each step in the t-shirt's journey is enlightening. For example, we see how the US cotton industry, which has portrayed itself as a hapless victim of rampant globalisation, has in fact doubled in size since 1970 (with job losses being caused by improved production processes rather than foreign competition). Similarly, we are told how trade policies intended to protect the British woollen industry from foreign cotton in the 18th century actually stimulated entrepreneurial innovation (i.e., Schumpeter's `creative destruction') which led to cotton products being manufactured in the UK, thus sparking the industrial revolution. Dr. Rivioli is sanguine about the current state of world trade, lamenting the lack of genuinely competitive markets in the global economy. There is one rather ironic twist - once clothing is donated to a charity shop, it enters an incredibly fluid and well-functioning market, whereby it is sorted either sent to Africa for sale to discerning consumers, or turned into rags for use in factories. In this final stage, prices adjust quickly, all the players have good information, and in many countries there are virtually no trade barriers.
Throughout the book I was struck by the very human perspective Dr. Rivoli brings to a topic where writers often wallow in their own abstraction. The pen portraits of angry cotton-farmers, desperate lobbyists, hopeful factory workers and wily second-hand clothing traders serve both to make the book enjoyable to read and to reinforce one of its underlying messages - that reducing the debate to simple, stylized positions is unhelpful, and distracts us form the nuance and texture of reality.
The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy is delightfully compelling to read, and has something to offer all readers - the generalist will find it an incredibly accessible, balanced and insightful account of globalisation, and the specialist will find a new and refreshing perspective on a well-rehearsed topic.
This was written pre credit crunch when people where choosing wher to buy things based an ethics rather than cost. I have a feeling that has shifted a bit now but after this book not only because of the crunch. It's now been copied several times over but to me remains definitve. There is no bias in it, no suggestion that this may be wrong and that may be right. Definitely a book to make you question your own judgement. Excellent