October Selection: Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy

At our October 7 meeting we will discuss Richard Smaby’s selection,

Pietra Rivoli, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade. John Wiley & Sons, Second Edition, 2009.


About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
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4 Responses to October Selection: Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy

  1. dorsettrichard says:

    If everyone were to ‘go local’ as businesses like to promote, the economy would collapse in a moment. The T-Shirt book also reminds us of the value of corporations. Yes, indeed. Without them we would be at a standstill. Or worse, only the rich would have access to capital. Looking forward to stirring it up next week.

  2. dorsettrichard says:

    The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy: A Wiseass trapeze artist makes comments.
    I love lobbying and lobbyists. It may be democracy at its finest. Take, for example, the 1st Amendment. Most people read it only so far as it suits them, but go past that last comma. It says, “and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” I have always figured that’s where us lobbyists fit in that’s really what we do. ‘Petition for redress.’
    If you’ve spent your life building a business or a career or accumulating a small degree of wealth and then a vote in Congress will take it away from you. You need to lobby. To educate your elected officials. To persuade them to do it your way. Nothing wrong with that.
    What alternative is there? Lobbyists represent the experts on issues. No matter the issue, there is an expert. The alternative, as I see it, is that we’d have people making decisions without all the information they need to understand an issue. Or, we’d have congressional staff being the experts and they would be the ones driving the decisions. Or, it could be you. Exercising your right to petition the government. I like that.
    I know what concerns people and it is the role of money in elections and how money drives decisions more than good decision-making. But being in the mix of the competition of ideas and how our government is going to run itself is a cool and messy place to be. This is what we get with self government.
    We are all helped directly by government. I sat in Wenatchee airport one day with Bill Gates Sr. and we talked about this. He said that nobody makes it without government. And by nobody, he was certainly talking about his son and others. Without a banking system, transportation, educated workers, national security, and all that we have, success would not happen. We are all helped by government and its decisions. Sometimes we are harmed by them. And for that we must lobby.
    Looking forward to discussing T-Shirt and King Cotton.

  3. dorsettrichard says:

    Who is this Richard Dorsett? He wonders if there is a ‘general’ section to the blog site. Richard wrote ten essays this summer about his Jordan experience. Here’s one of them. He also wonders, “Do the guys in this group write?” Which is another way of saying, ‘What have you got to say about something?’

    Back on the Tell – A Letter from ‘Umayri
    So much that is ancient is underfoot when one stands on a tell. When you begin a new excavation season you imagine what lies below. To know, you have to dig. A mid-sized tell such as ‘Umayri, where I am working this summer, is a multi-period site that was once sustained by a now-dry spring and was heavily occupied during the bronze and iron ages. We can’t, won’t dig it all up and wouldn’t if we could. Instead, we target key portions of the site and leave the rest for future investigators. This year, on the south side of the site, we laid out a new ‘step trench,’ which is a series of excavation squares lined up to probe and expose ‘Umayri’s occupation history. It will provide answers to some of the questions we have about the history of the site and it will inevitably raise new ones.
    I am fond of ‘Umayri. It was identified as ancient by an explorer in 1876, but then went unnoticed by archaeologists for the next century. It’s a good-sized tell, but until the modern highway to Jordan’s Queen Alia Airport was built, it was surrounded by other natural hills and missed by archaeologists until our regional survey team re-identified it in 1976. Digging began in 1984 and this is now the fifteenth season that our team has excavated ‘Umayri. (A dig season typically lasts 5-6 weeks and occurs about every other year.)
    An archaeological excavation demands gear and supplies, perhaps more than you might think; and our first task is always to unpack the storeroom, sort it out and arrange it so that it can be put to use when our team arrives. I had hoped a suitcase Daughter Kate and I had stored in 2002 would be around, but after a decade its contents were offered to local workers. Not an unreasonable fate, but I wish our Frisbees had survived. I had better hopes for the guitar I left behind and even brought new strings for it, but alas, it too went to a new home. When I arrived a crew had already been hired to haul the heavy tools from their third floor storage. It’s a lousy piece of work to carry sheets of plywood we’ll use for tables down flights of stairs. Lots to be hauled: crates, cups, crimpers, a photo drone (drones are in all of our futures), guffahs (buckets from recycled tires), handpicks, mesh bags, nails, string, tags, knee pads, graph paper, rulers, brushes, paper bags, clothespins, rubber bands, tables, dustpans, work gloves, clipboards, toilet paper (lots), trowels, pencils, computer routers with all their supplies and wires, sledgehammers, rebar, buckets, plastic baskets, plumb bobs, sifts (we sift all that we dig), counters (to keep track of the number of buckets excavated), hoes, shovels, lights, teapots, first aid supplies, a basketball, notebooks, iPads (yes, we enter data electronically now), metric tape measurers, and zipties. You get the idea, there’s a lot of detail that goes into our dig.
    I think it auspicious that we have a colleague named Sashiere. Another digger has a new friend named Sturgis whose day job is collecting bodies for a morgue in Portland, Oregon. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories and why they are here to dig with us. Our staff is small this year and we expect about forty for the six-week season, most from Canada and the United States. In 2008 the team surpassed a hundred and many were turned away. For whatever reason, perhaps dissuaded by news from the Middle East, we’ll have fewer characters on the site. Meantime, I look for my own season focus to guide the evenings and weekends. I plan to lie low, take what comes, and not push too hard for the experiences that inevitably make each season memorable. One afternoon, for example, a group of us visited nearby Araq el Amir, a Hellenistic structure at the end of a beautiful valley where I used to take women on first dates when I was in my early twenties.
    There’s no single, simple way to understand and explain Jordan. You can consider its ancient history as we do in the practice of archaeology or you might consider all that has happened since the end of the Ottoman Empire and the advent of the modern Middle East. It’s a complicated place. Many here come from elsewhere, whether the Hashemite family that originated in the Hijaz or the Palestinian refugees who sought safety in 1948 and again in 1967. Tragically, even today, others flee violence in their homes for refuge in Jordan. Each time I wander down memory lane and visit my old stomping grounds, I feel melancholy creeping up on me. So much of the experience of Jordan comes from its heritage and it is the heritage that most seems to be disappearing. Can the Hashemite Kingdom sustain itself in an era of the Arab Spring?
    I patiently await the pulse of the project to develop. Each season has its own character and this one too will have a rhythm. Decades ago I enjoyed the interesting older diggers telling tales of the giants of archaeology. Now my buddy David Hopkins and I are the old (and interesting, I hope) diggers telling tales.
    Jordan has changed. Because my visits here have stretched over four decades, I notice differences. Some of what I see I simply don’t recognize. Parts of the country that I loved so much are being squeezed out by an ever-expanding population and the housing and road networks that accompany an insatiable demand for goods and services. I’ll bet it has been quite awhile since a sheepherder, like the ones I used to see, took his flock anywhere near downtown Amman. I will skip visiting Petra, one of my favorite places in the world, because it has become a place to capture the money of its visitors. Some of the magic I experienced is not to be had anymore and I think I’ll rely on my memories. Just a hundred miles from where I sit are a million refugees from Syria awaiting the outcome of a civil war there and even more are likely to arrive as they seek refuge from the latest violence in Iraq. A hundred years ago there were just over a thousand people living in Amman; today there are more than three million. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia that gets to me or that I just miss old friends and lovers. Jordan breaks my heart. As I look about it is hard to imagine that what so many have enjoyed here will be unscathed by regional developments. I was lucky to have experienced Jordan forty years ago, when a visit to Petra verged on the mystical. Today, I wonder where water will come from to satisfy the thirst of this growing population.
    On Monday morning I was on the tell. I opened a new square and am ready to find what is in the earth layers I will excavate. When I dig I am content and the swipe of my trowel never fails to provide surprise and discovery.
    July, 2014
    Ramadan, 1435
    Amman, Jordan

  4. Neil Bergeson says:

    I’m sure the discussion of Richard’s Traveling T Shirt book was an interesting and lively one. Wish I could have been there with you all. However, I did get a chance to discuss it somewhat with the partner of Bekki’s niece, whom we visited in Reno as a part of our trip to Tucson. She, Felicia Perez, holds a variety of jobs, one of which is for the United Workers Congress, where she is a membership and communications strategist. This puts her in touch with a number of folks concerned about working conditions in many non-union jobs, both here in the U.S. and in many countries mentioned in Rivoli’s book. Before we left Reno she suggested I take a look at the following website:

    http://asia.floorwage.org/ .

    On their home page they give the following explanation for why they exist:

    “Most of the world’s garments are made in Asia, and yet the Asian workers who make them are not paid enough to live on.

    “The Asia Floor Wage Alliance is a global coalition of trade unions, workers rights and human rights organizations that is actively trying to change this.

    “The garment industry in Asia provides millions of job to millions of women and men, it has been behind some of the biggest economic growth in the region. But this rapid growth has come at a price – and it is the workers who are paying it.

    “All garment workers in Asia need a wage increase to be able to provide for themselves and their families basic needs – including housing, food, education and healthcare. However often when workers struggle to improve their wage and conditions in one country, companies relocate to another country where wages and conditions are lower.

    “Workers, are therefore, afraid to fight for better wages because they might lose their jobs.

    “The Asia Floor Wage proposes a wage for garment workers across Asia that would be enough for workers to live on, in dignity and safety.

    “Find out all about how this is calculated, and what it consists of.”

    Sound familiar?

    There’s much more to be found on this website that fleshes out some of the issues and this organization’s efforts to improve the working and living conditions of garment industry workers and their families in many Asian countries. There’s even a comic book style explanation of the Asia Floor Wage is all about.


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