You don’t have to be a full-on economic policy wonk to dig this book. I got my copy from InBubbleWrap, and I wasn’t really sure whether I really wanted to read it. I skimmed a few pages and was hooked.
The premise is pretty simple. A classically trained economist (what does that mean?) stops to listen to a student protest and hears someone talk about t-shirts made by kids chained to sewing machines. This is news to the author, so she goes and buys a $5 t-shirt, then proceeds to track down it’s journey from cotton to consumer product.
A lot of the economics books I’ve picked up over the years are pretty dang dry reading. This one is an exception. Sure, there are charts and graphs (ugly ones, at that–Tufte would gag), but the book’s title promises a story and the author delivers. I learned a ton about the history of cotton in the US, as well as a whole bunch of eye popping statistics about the governmental subsidies of the cotton industry. I also learned about the history of Chinese textile mills, the ins and outs of importing and exporting textiles around the world, and the second hand clothing market in Africa. All this in a book that’s about a third the size of Friedman’s The World is Flat.
Despite ample opportunity take a position either for or against free trade, the author manages to keep her opinions mostly clear of the text. I appreciated the evenhandedness of the writing–she exposes light and dark on both sides of the free trade issue and serves well in telling some of the backstory about how we got where we are.
I love finding things that aren’t getting the attention they deserve. This book is one of them. Friedman’s book got lots of press, and rightfully so. Somehow, this book never quite made it to the radar, but it’s well worth your time.