The Multinational Monitor


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The Workplace Toll

WORKERS IN THE UNITED STATES SUFFER from 6,500 job-related deaths from injury, 13.2 million non-fatal injuries, 60,000 deaths from occupational diseases and 862,000 non-fatal occupational diseases every year, according to a study published in a July issue of the academic journal Archives of Internal Medicine. J. Paul Leigh of the economic department of San Jose State University, the lead author of the study, and his collaborators estimate the total annual direct and indirect cost of workplace injury and death in the United States to be $171 billion. Their estimate of the costs of workplace injury and disease do not include the cost of pain and suffering.

"No prior study uses national data to generate estimates of the burden and costs of occupational injuries and illnesses in the United States," according to the authors of the study.

The cost estimates are important, the authors explain, because it enables comparisons of the significance of workplace illness and injury -- a low priority public health issue -- with other diseases. "The medical costs of occupational injury and illnesses appear to be much larger than those for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome," they write. "The total costs of occupational injuries and illnesses appears to be considerably larger than those for Alzheimer disease and are of the same magnitude as those of cancer, of all circulatory disease and of all musculoskeletal conditions."

The most deadly occupational disease categories are cancer, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease.

Tallying the national workplace injury and death toll entails making a wide variety of assumptions in interpreting multiple sources of data. The authors of the study made numerous assumptions and estimates that bias their figure downward. For example, the authors explain, "Our counts of the numbers of occupational injuries and illness tend to be low because they exclude injuries and illness among military personnel, use a conservative estimate (55 percent) of the degree to which workers' compensation undercounts occupational fatalities, restrict occupational cardiovascular and cerebrovascular morbidity and mortality to events among people younger than 65 years and use data from a year of high unemployment."

McBoeing Approved

IN A TORTURED DECISION issued in July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it would not challenge the Boeing-McDonnell Douglas merger. The agency's failure to block the merger marks the "most portentous collapse of antitrust enforcement in a generation," says consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

The four commissioners supporting the merger explained that their decision did not rest on an assessment that Boeing's sole remaining rival, the European Airbus, would offer sufficient competition, but on the conclusion that McDonnell Douglas has ceased to function as a viable market competitor. The commissioners acknowledged that McDonnell Douglas remains a viable company -- the company maintains an approximate 4 percent global market share, has $7 billion worth of backlog orders, is operating profitably and already subcontracts production for Boeing -- but argued that its future prognosis is weak.

"Our decision not to challenge the proposed merger was a result of evidence that (1) McDonnell Douglas, looking to the future, no longer constitutes a meaningful competitive force in the commercial aircraft market and (2) there is no economically plausible strategy that McDonnell Douglas could follow, either as a stand-alone concern or as part of another concern, that would change that grim prospect," wrote the four commissioners

The Boeing decision is likely to turn the narrow "failing firm" legal exception (permitting a merger of a dominant company with a failing firm) into a gaping justification for horizontal mergers.

The widening of the failing firm defense is especially worrisome because, as Mary Azcuenaga, the sole dissenting commissioner, wrote, "One problem with accepting a `failing firm' or `exiting assets' claim is that it creates an incentive for strategic action to avoid competitive overlaps and government challenge."

The merger approval appeared to send a clear message to corporate America: two days after the decision, defense giants Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman announced a proposed merger of their own.

As if to prove the claims of critics that approval of the Boeing-McDonnell merger would provide Boeing with excessive political influence, President Clinton followed the FTC's approval announcement with an intensive personal lobbying effort of European government leaders in which he encouraged the Europeans to drop their objections to the merger.

In exchange for minimal concessions, the European Union approved the merger later in July.

Making History

IN MAY, THE WHITE HOUSE website had four "historical national documents" posted. The website informed visitors, "You can also browse some historic national documents: The Declaration of Independence; The Constitution of the United States of America; The North American Free Trade Agreement; The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade."

After a mocking mention in the Washington Post, the White House has removed two of those documents from the list. Yes, in answer to the cynics, it removed NAFTA and GATT.

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