In preparing my OLLI talk on free trade that I discussed yesterday, I read large parts of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli. It’s very good. Rivoli, a professor at Georgetown University, does what the title implies: traces all of the steps in the production process that lead to a delivered T-shirt at a low price. She goes around the world to see the various production processes.

One passage in particular caught my eye and I read it to the audience. She tells of meeting Patrick Xu from Shanghai, who comes to the United States a few times a year. She writes:

“Come to China,” Patrick said. “I’ll show you everything.”

I wanted the whole story, I explained. Could he show me where the shirts were sewn? No problem. What about where the fabric is knit? Yes, of course. I pushed my luck: What about the yarn the fabric is made of? The spinning factory? Yes, he could arrange it. But this wasn’t quite the beginning. What about the cotton? To tell the life story of my shirt, I had to start at its birthplace. I knew that China was one of the world’s largest cotton producers. Could I go to the farm and see how the cotton is produced?

Patrick looked at the T-shirt. “Well, that might be difficult. I think the cotton is grown very far from Shanghai. Probably in Teksa.”

“Teksa? Where is Teksa? How far away?” I asked. There was a globe on my desk and I spun it around to China. Could he show me Teksa on the globe?

Patrick laughed. He took the globe and spun it back around the other way. “Here, I think it is grown here.” I followed his finger.

Patrick was pointing at Texas.