The We get introduced to husband and

The King of Cotton

            The
Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets,
Powers, and Politics of World Trade (2nd Edition) by Pietra Rivoli is an honorable narrative that
educates on the globalization debates and uncovers the key elements to success
in a global business. This book is also a review of globalization
through the lens of the “ever-present” t-shirt. In this report, I am addressing Part 1: King
Cotton which covers Chapters 1-4.

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            In Chapter 1 of Travels,
the readers are exposed to the amazing longevity of how America has dominated
the global cotton industry. We get introduced to husband and wife, Nelson and
Ruth Reinsche; Owners of the Reinsche Cotton Farm in West Texas, specifically
Lubbock.  We learn that the Reinsche’s 1,000-acre
farm can produce 500,000 pounds of cotton itself which equals to 1.3 million
t-shirts.  Rivoli informs us that Lubbock,
Texas is one of the largest cotton growing regions in the world. One of the
reasons why the U.S. cotton industry has been able to thrive for so long is
because they have received subsidies from the government.

In 2004, the U.S. trade negotiators
confessed that these subsidies were unjust to poor countries and arranged to
end them, but 4 years later these grants continued to be given out to U.S. cotton
farmers and growers. This domination of American cotton farmers’ success is
also credited to their adaptability to the continuous change in supply and
demand of the global market.

 

Nelson Reinsche

 

Chapter 2 focuses
directly on the history of cotton development and its connection to t-shirts. Rivoli
describes the impact that slavery had on cotton development as well as the
costs that abolishing slavery had on the cotton-growers of the country.  With the obstacles that came with the ending
of the Civil War, cotton farmers still found ways to beat them. Although difficult,
farmers were able to avoid competing in the labor market through growth in cultivation
technology improvements. This new growth started with the creation of the cotton
gin by Eli Whitney. The cotton gin drastically reduced the prices of cotton
nationwide.

Chapter 3
states that manifest destiny, a philosophy in the 19th-century that
drove U.S. territorial expansion, is what drove cotton farms and growers, like
the Reinsche’s family, further and further west. Today, the territory in
Lubbock is filled with educated cotton farmers with an innovative sense. With the
expansion towards the west, cotton became easier to grow and easier to protect
against insects with the support from pesticides and herbicides. These Texas
farmers also benefit from research by Texas Tech University and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA): “The Lubbock West Texas area benefits from a highly symbiotic and
virtuous circle relationship between farmers, private companies, universities
and the US government” (26). The new
technological advancements, research help, and insurance are the advantages
that keep the U.S. cotton industry at a superior level compared to other cotton
growing countries. These three things are what bring ease to the farmers who are
growing cotton and exporting it to China where Chinese workers are sewing the
t-shirts.

Texas Cotton
Yield

Source: USDA

 

Chapter 4 is
where we get introduced to cotton making its way to China and how important
China is today to the U.S. cotton industry. 
Rivoli states, “During the past several years, I found that it was
impossible to get more than one or two minutes into a cotton conversation
anywhere in the world before someone mentioned China…” (78). The cycle of how
Americans want cheap clothes from China, but in order for China to do so, they
need to purchase cotton from the U.S. is astonishing. In this chapter, we are
also reminded how nothing is as simple as it seems. There are numerous
steps between growing raw cotton and having it made into a t-shirt. It was
discovered that cottonseeds contain high protein and are used to feed farm animals
and their oils are found in many products such as Pringles, Peter Pan peanut
butter, Girl Scout cookies, etc. The Reinsche Cotton Farm and many other
companies do not throw away their cottonseeds anymore due to the discovery of
putting them to different uses. Now while Reinsche’s seed truck is directed to
an oil mill, their cotton lint is trucked to the Farmer’s Cooperative Compress.

            Using a simple, everyday t-shirt, Part 1 of the book, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global
Economy, is able to capture multifaceted
issues. We learned, in depth, about political
and economic forces influencing the global economy through these 4 chapters.
The world is moving into a time where the two words “Textiles and China” are so
closely tied. I’ve found Part 1: King Cotton to be remarkably interesting, notable,
and practical.