Foxconn Suicides, E-Reader Price Wars: Think About It

Over the past two months, the Western media have probed the stories of the apparent wave of suicides at Foxconn, the gigantic electronics maker in southern China.

Over the past month, most Western outlets have publicized the apparent wave of labor unrest and demand for higher wages in Chinese factories.

Over the past 18 hours, American tech and retail media have discussed the implications of the radical price cuts in the Barnes and Noble Nook and Amazon Kindle e-reading devices -- and this on the very day on which the Chinese RMB began its new rise in value against the dollar.

 ---> This same Foxconn, scene of the suicides, is where the newly discounted Nooks and Kindles come from -- plus iPads, iPhones, and lots of other stuff. <---

A reader in China wrote just now to ask: Do Americans even think about the connection? Relentless price pressure on Chinese suppliers, all the more so now that, largely in response to U.S. government demands, the RMB is rising again? Relentless expectation of falling prices in U.S. stores? The Foxconn-suicide story is ambiguous, with many hypotheses about the cause. But the price pressure on these suppliers is unmistakable.

Barnes and Noble and Amazon each have an incentive to lower prices --- in hopes of attracting customers and establishing their rival e-reader formats as the standard. This makes sense, but is worth remembering when you read the next story about the unbearable pressures of Chinese factory life. Today is a day when the connections, and contradictions, of the global economy become unusually clear.

More later. Below, a Foxconn main gate, outside Shenzhen, in 2008. Two seconds after this picture was taken, the guard on the left was moving briskly toward the camera.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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