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.