Pietra Rivoli’s latest book The Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade should be required reading for anyone interested in poltics, trade, and free markets (or the lack of the same).
Rivoli is an economics professor at Georgetown University, but don’t let that frighten you away from this book. Rather than a dry, academic economics text, this book is written for the rest of us. In fact, as the book so aptly points out, there is little in the way of free markets and the like in the global economy today. Rivoli deftly points out that the cotten, yarn, and apparel industries have gone to great lengths to essentially remove all market risks from their businesses. This allows them to survive in a global economy because their businesses are essentially written into the law. Instead of competing in various industries on a level playing field, it’s like they’re guaranteed sixty points before they even step on to the field.
In addition to examining how those industries avoid markets or rig them via politics to their benefit, Rivoli examines how US trade policy (or lack thereof) affects people in other countries. She shows how export quotas applied to one country affect life in another; she examines how so-called free trade pacts (NAFTA, CAFTA, and the like) are really anything but. In addition, she explores just how accurate charges leveled by anti-globalization activists are.
In the end, her book isn’t an in-depth examination of one specific industry or product; it is a book focused on how modern industry operates as seen through the lens of one specific product. Rivoli’s goal isn’t to enlighten the world about the T-shirt market. Her goal is to get people thinking about national and global trade policies.