Sunday, April 03, 2005


Follow The Money

The San Francisco Chronicle reviews Pietra Rivoli's The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, which begins with a souvenir t-shirt the author finds at a Walgreen's in Fort Lauderdale:

The label on the back of the souvenir leads Rivoli to the Miami silk-screen firm that imported the blank shirt from an exporter in Shanghai. Rivoli interviews the Chinese entrepreneur who directs her to the farming region where the cotton was grown. "I think the cotton is grown very far from Shanghai," says the Chinese exporter in heavily accented English. "Probably in Teksa." "Where is Teksa?" Rivoli asks, assuming it to be some remote region in China. To her surprise, however, the raw cotton has originated not far from the hometown of President George W. Bush, deep in the heart of Texas.... "The winners in my T-shirt's life,'' she writes, "are adept not so much at competing in markets but in avoiding them.".... "On a per acre basis, subsidies paid to [US] cotton farmers are 5-10 times higher as high as those for corn, soybeans and wheat."

Rivoli's technique of what one might call "economic travelogue" is a genre that has been around a while -- one modern example is Leah Hager Cohen's Glass, Paper, Beans -- but with the rise of globalization, it promises to become ever more instructive and twisting and turning in its paths. I can only hope we see more books like this.

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