Politicians in Washington say the economy did well in 1998, citing such
facts as these:
** The stock market continues to return phenomenal profits to
investors. As 1998 came to a close, the S&P 500 (an average of 500
large firms) had returned an average of 29% per year to investors for
the fourth year in a row.
** Executive salaries have never been higher. The NEW YORK TIMES
reported recently that Michael Eisner, chairman of the Walt Disney
Company, was paid $471.5 million for his work in 1998; Sanford Weill,
chairman of Citigroup, received $227.3 million for his year's effort;
Eugene Isenberg, chairman of Nabors Industries, received a paycheck of
$209.7 million in 1998; Eckhard Peiffer, chairman of Compaq Computer,
was paid $192.5 million in 1998; Mark Ruben, chairman of Colgate-
Palmolive received $170.6 million; Eli Broad, chairman of Sun America,
$149.8 million; Charles Heimbold, chairman of Bristol-Myers Squibb,
$146.6 million; General Electric's chairman, John Welch, made do with
$138.6 million in 1998. For his efforts (notably unsuccessful) to
expand the sale of sugar water worldwide, Summerfield Johnston, Jr.,
chairman of Coca Cola, received $132.4 million in 1998... so life is
good in the executive suites.
For real people doing real work, on the other hand, the situation in
1998 was somewhat different, according to the NEW YORK TIMES:
** Despite strong hiring since 1993 and record-setting low unemployment
rates, the number of Americans living in poverty is now just where it
was in 1990. People have jobs, but many of those jobs pay poverty wages.
** The middle class has not gained either. Despite a steady expansion
of the economy for 8 years, says the TIMES, "While wealthier families
enjoyed big gains, particularly from the booming stock market, most
households find that their incomes, adjusted for inflation, are no
higher today than they were in 1989, when the last expansion ended.
Americans, for the most part, have been running in place for 25 years,"
says the TIMES.
** "As the Federal budget deficit has turned into a surplus, private
indebtedness, particularly for consumers, has risen to record levels,
giving the economy the sort of boost that Government deficits did in
"But that debt accumulation has come at a cost," says the TIMES. "By
one estimate, 5 percent of all the nation's households have filed for
bankruptcy protection [during] the last five years."
** In 1990, 16.1% of the non-elderly lacked health insurance coverage.
Today the figure has risen to 18.3% -- a 14% increase in the medically
uninsured in the past 8 years.
** After adjusting for inflation, the median family income (half earn
more, half earn less) was $37,005 in 1997, just about where it was in
1989, and only $1260 higher than it was in 1973. In other words,
purchasing power grew 0.14% per year, 1973-1997. The NEW YORK TIMES
says, "Many households in the 1960's added more to their incomes in a
single year than their counterparts today have added in 25 years. And
they did it with one wage earner, not two or three, working fewer hours
than the average jobholder does today. Such changes hurt. Even in good
times, the long working hours strain family life."
Even conservative, market-oriented economists are now saying that the
performance of the '90s economy demonstrates that government action is
needed to alleviate poverty and inequality.
Robert Lucas, the Nobel prize winning economist at the University of
Chicago, told the TIMES, "We are living through a period of sustained
economic growth without inflation, and the unemployment rate has come
down to levels I never thought I would see again in the United States.
But there are obviously plenty of problems. Poverty and income
inequality are two. These are problems that cannot be addressed by the
markets. They have to be addressed by specific government programs
offering specific solutions," Lucas said.
Unfortunately the so-called "conservatives" (of both parties) who
control this Congress have their minds elsewhere.
"A VAST DELUSION OF DENIAL"
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced in March that the
incidence of cancer (all types combined) decreased during the period
1990-1997 at an annual rate of 0.7%. The cancer death rate (all types
combined) also declined during the period, NCI said. This was the first
multi-year decline in cancer rates ever reported.
The NCI's upbeat report said incidence rates declined for both males
and females and for most ethnic groups. Two exceptions to the trend
were black males and Asian and Pacific Islander females; in these two
groups, the incidence of cancers (of all types) continued to increase.
Unfortunately all this good news was thrown into question by a study
published in the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION in
October, showing that more than 40% of cancers are never diagnosed
among people who die in hospitals. Thus, many cancers are never counted
in the nation's cancer statistics.
The study, of 1105 autopsies (654 men and 451 women) over a 10-year
period, found 250 malignant cancers in the 1105 cadavers but 103 of the
250 cancers (41%) had not been diagnosed prior to autopsy. Furthermore,
of the 103 undiagnosed cancers, 57 (or 55%) were the immediate cause of
death, so cancer incidence and cancer deaths are both seriously under-
reported. The average age of the 1105 cadavers was 48.3 years; the
average age of the people who died with an undiagnosed malignancy was
This study examined autopsies completed during the period 1986-1996 at
the Medical Center at New Orleans, a major teaching hospital for
medical students at Tulane and Louisiana State universities.
Importantly, the study pointed out that autopsy rates have declined,
nationwide, from an average of 50% in the mid-1960s to about 10% today
in teaching hospitals and 5% in community hospitals. The "autopsy rate"
means the percentage of people dying in a hospital who are autopsied.
If we accept that the average autopsy rate in the U.S. is now somewhere
between 10% and 5% (say, 7.5%), then we can calculate that the autopsy
rate has declined at an annual rate of 5.2 percent per year for the
past 35 years. Since autopsies are needed to discover 40% of the
cancers in those who die in hospitals, it seems entirely possible that
the decline in the autopsy rate completely explains the recently-
reported declines in both cancer incidence and cancer deaths in the
U.S. Indeed, one might legitimately ask whether U.S. cancer rates are,
in actual fact, continuing to climb steadily, with the trends hidden by
misdiagnosis and the absence of autopsies.
Commenting on the Louisiana study, the editor of the JOURNAL OF THE
AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, George D. Lundberg, says, "The autopsy
rates for hospital deaths at nonteaching hospitals nationally now
average below 9%; many hospitals have autopsy rates at or near 0%
despite many deaths." Dr. Lundberg points out that in 1965 Chicago-
area hospitals ("a reasonable sample for urban areas") autopsied 50% of
those who died. Now they autopsy about 10%.
Why has the autopsy rate declined? The autopsy has fallen by the
wayside, Dr. Lundberg says, because it provides an uncomfortable truth
about disease -- a truth that contradicts the medical community's
wishful thinking about the ability of high-tech medicine to diagnose
"The autopsy is not dead, but it slumbers deeply, apparently the victim
of a vast cultural delusion of denial," Dr. Lundberg says. "It is not
exactly a conspiracy of silence or necessarily a massive intentional
cover-up, but it is a movement with millions of players, all in
complicity for widely varying reasons with the final result of 'do not
bother me with the truth' on the sickest patients--the ones who die."
Dr. Lundberg recommends that the government require at least a 30%
autopsy rate for any hospital wishing to participate in the Medicare
program, and that the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care
Organizations require at least a 25% autopsy rate as a condition of
hospital accreditation. He says these measures are needed to return to
a "hospital culture that values medical truth rather than values hiding
GOING AFTER A CORPORATE CHARTER
In September, a coalition of 30 citizens' groups petitioned the
Attorney General of California to begin proceedings to revoke the
charter of the Unocal Corporation (Union Oil Company of California).
The 127-page petition charged that Unocal has consistently broken the
law, devastated the environment in California and around the world,
committed hundreds of violations of occupational safety and health
regulations, violated human rights in Afghanistan and Burma,
and "usurped political power."
California's attorney general, Dan Lundgren, a so-
called "conservative," took less than a week to reject the petition in
a 3- sentence letter: "we decline to institute legal proceedings at
this time," he said without offering any reasons.
The petitioners say they were not surprised and they will continue to
try to revoke the charters of recidivist corporations.
To keep abreast of activism about corporations, join the E-mail list
corp-focus. Send E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org containing the
following information on a single line: subscribe corp-focus
--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 Data from INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY December 23, 1998, pg. B1. The
S&P 500 returned 24.2% in 1998; 33.4% in 1997; 23.0% in 1996; and 37.6%
in 1995, a four-year geometric mean of 29%.
 Geraldine Fabrikant and Shelby White, "How the Other Half Gives,"
NEW YORK TIMES December 20, 1998, Section 3, pgs. 1, 10, 11.
 Louis Uchitelle, "Muscleman, or 98-Pound Weakling?" NEW YORK TIMES
October 18, 1998, Section 3, pgs. 1, 11.
 Phyllis A. Wingo and others, "Cancer incidence and mortality, 1973-
1995: a report card for the U.S.," CANCER Vol. 82, No. 6 (March 15,
1998), pgs. 1197-1207.
 Elizabeth C. Burton and others, "Autopsy Diagnoses of Malignant
Neoplasms," JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION Vol. 280, No.
14 (October 14, 1998), pgs. 1245-1248.
 George D. Lundberg, "Low-Tech Autopsies in the Era of High-Tech
Medicine," JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION Vol. 280, No. 14
(October 14, 1998), pgs. 1273-1274.
 Russell Mokhiber, "De-Chartering Unocal," MULTINATIONAL MONITOR
(September 1998), pgs. 6-7.
Descriptor terms: economy; wages; poverty; inequality; executive pay;
cancer; cancer underreporting; statistics; george lundberg;