Skip to content
Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Workers Health – OSHA World Bank

The monetized mind is working at fever pitch here in Washington, D.C.Over at the World Bank, the taxpayer funded institution whose employees pay no federal taxes, the chief economist, Lawrence H. Summers delivered of himself an “office memorandum” on December 12, 1991. “Shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (Less Developed Countries)?, asked Summers and proceeded to give three reasons why the answer should be yes: First, “the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable…” Second, “..the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost…underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted.” Third, where there is high mortality rates due to infectious diseases, pollutants are not going to be of much relative concern to the natives.

When the Summers memo leaked to the press, Mr. Summers said it was written in irony in order to sharpen the minds of his associates. There are three problems with this excuse: it is very seriously wirtten with technical jargon familar to that callous school of economists; the World Bank’s policies have not been adverse to this interpretation and third there are people like Summers all over the Reagan-Bush government who think the same way.

An example of this monetized mindset was hurled at the Occupatinal Safety and Health Administration earlier this month via a White House directive signed by one James MacRae, Jr. He suspended, in the name of George Bush, a key life-saving rule by OSHA that would have reduced the disease-causing risks of 357 airborne pollutants for the construction and maritime industries and 635 pollutants for the agricultural sector. Also the rule would set permissible exposure limits for asphalt fumes, fibrous glass, and mineral wool for all industries.

OSHA worked with these industries and its health data for a long time before moving this rule forward. But to George Bush’s MacRae, OSHA’s analysts did not go far enough. It seems that OSHA only analyzed the effects of the rule on company sales and profits. What the agency should have done, he wrote, was to study how less richer workers would then buy less leisure time, eat less nutritious, smoke and drink more and therefore reduce their life expectancy.

Why less richer workers? Because obviously, employers will keep wages down if they have to pay for complying with this rule and this will result in more workers smoking, drinking, and eating junk food.

Surprisingly, MacRae did not require OSHA to also calculate that lower-paid workers pay less to Washington in taxes and therefore his big pay raises might be at risk. If the government received less taxes, then government officials would be paid less and these bureaucrats would smoke and drink more and would eat more hostess twinkies and fried donuts. Then their longevity would decline.

MacRae also skimmed over a double-counting. The monetized mind assumes these safety costs will be passed onto the consumer. Now he wants to assume that the employer would pass onto the worker the costs by paying workers less.

Never accuse the monetized, corporate-indentured minds of any empiricism. For they are empirically and historically starved.

Empirically, it is questionable that these health standards cost the employers a net anything. The exposure levels proposed are so weak that many employers already meet them. Studies by the Council on Economic Priorities and others have shown that firms using newer, cleaner technologies make more profit because they are more productive and their workers’ compensation costs decline. When Washington banned vinyl-chloride in the chemical industry during the Seventies, companies roared it would cost them billions of dollars and thousands of jobs would be lost. What actually happened? Companies became more efficient, no jobs were lost and worker cancers were prevented.

Historically, applying the George Bush-MacRaw formula would have stopped the progress of worker health and safety throughout the centuries. Imagine improving safety conditions in the 19th century Welsh coal mines. Why according to MacRae’s formula, those poor laborers would have become even poorer and would not have been able to afford the sraps they eked out with their pitiful payments. They might have then resorted to crime to survive. And that would make such safety standards unacceptably expensive.

The monetized mind theories, estranged as they are from real evidence and real humanity, were bred at the University of Chicago’s Economics Department. They should be returned there for the Department’s archives of cruel illusion.