November 28, 2005
Lessons from the T-Shirt Industry
Pietra Rivoli on pro-poor pro-market global trade policies:
So over and over again, as I tried to understand something, I kept coming back to politics. I kept saying, okay, the way to understand why this happened is to understand how the politics works. The markets are really not central; they're not that big a part of the story.
Now, much of the debate over globalization is about markets. On the right you have people saying that unfettered markets will lift all boats. On the left you say unfettered markets are crushing the poor. Coming out of writing this book, one of my conclusions was that this particular debate on the virtues versus the evils of markets was misspecified, at least for this T-shirt. It wasn't whether markets were good or bad but about whether the politics were good or bad and what the effects of the politics were on various actors in the T-shirt story.
Now, this relates to a second point. Many activists—more broadly, people on the left—have a variety of proposals or ideas that kind of go something along these lines: we have to protect the poor, we have to protect those that don't have resources from the cruelty of market forces. That's not something I found in my T-shirt's life story. What I did find over and over again is that those people without power, those people that were poorer, those people that had fewer resources, didn't so much need to be protected as they needed to be allowed to play. And they needed to be allowed to play with the same deck of cards as everybody else.
Posted by DeLong at November 28, 2005 12:25 PM