on April 26, 2005
Many of the reviews here refute the truthfulness of this book because Perkins does not provide evidence for every one of his claims. But, this is precisely what makes the book an exciting and fast read. How can Perkins be expected to provide evidence for influencing events in other countries? Where should we expect to find documentation of these nefarious deeds? The inner workings of organizations like MAIN, Halliburtion, and Brown & Root are only ever known when a dissenter arises.
From my perspective, it all seems to add up. I lived in Ecuador in the 80s. I was young (18), and I didn't know much about politics at the time. I personally saw many of the projects that Perkins speaks of in this book. I heard the complaints from my Ecuadorian friends about how the U.S. was bankrupting their economy by "loaning" money for extensive construction projects. I saw the jungle along Rio Napo being deforested by unknown (to me) companies. I spent time in oil towns in the jungle -- like Shell. I saw the dam that Perkins speaks of in his book.
The only way to gather proof about the truthfulness of his claims is to see it first hand. Though I seriously doubt that most of us have the guts to travel to the places where these things happen. Denial, regarding these issues, seems terribly naive.
on November 20, 2004
It is often the personal stories that tell the bigger truths. As with Barbara Ehrenreich's intensely personal Nickel and Dimed, Perkins' story illuminates a larger picture in a way that more scholarly treatises cannot match. I value the perspective I get from Noam Chomsky and Chalmers Johnson and many others who have written about our modern empire. None of these works, though, explains it from the ground up. Perkins does that.
In this book, written in spurts since the early 1980s, Perkins really does tell it like it is. This is the book I have been waiting for, the book that fills in the blanks left behind by the writers of global theories, the book that tells us how it really happens. It is one thing to read that the United States engineered ousters of democratically-elected leaders who did not do the bidding of our corporations. It is another to read of the actual steps that led to these actions. As one who likes to be able to visualize all the steps, I found great comfort in reading a well-written personal story that allows me to do this.
In this rightly-named confession, Perkins puts on his hair shirt and chastises himself as he explains how he gave in to temptation again and again over several decades, while he worked to build an American corporation's profits at the expense of third-world countries. He does not describe in detail the benefits he accrued from being Satan's handyman. We do not hear stories of his exploits with women, of his flaunting his power, the meat of a LifeTime movie. These fruits of his labor are glossed over in favor of greater descriptions of the occasional pangs of conscience.
Take it as a given, then, that Perkins was right for the job of economic hit man because he was so easily tempted by material wealth, power, and adulation. There was, in his character, though, a little hint of conscience. He was interested in the world's people, happy to learn other languages and ways of living, open to old as well as new ideas. Thus he was able to make a more honest comparison of the world according to global corporations and the world as seen and lived by indigenous people. And he was able to see that his work only benefitted the few. There was in him, as well, the radical view that a benefit to the few was not much of a benefit.
I can see this story translated successfully to the big screen; either as a documentary or as the story of one man. Two very different films; either would be dramatic and informative. There are scenes in this book that could have come from a Graham Greene novel (and let's not forget that Greene tells the truth through fiction): clandestine meetings, sudden flights to escape uprisings, epiphanies on the beach. By its nature, a memoir of this type cannot fully be documented. To the extent that it could be, it is, with many pages of notes and references. These private memories, though, may never be proven to be either true or false.
It is my greatest wish that Perkins is telling the whole truth all the way through. Even the smallest of fibs could tarnish a work of great importance, given our media's inability to see bigger pictures.
The real message, though, is clearly written and inescapable: this is not the story of "they", a "they" that can simply be removed from power. It is the story of us.
John Perkins gives a first-hand account of a world in which US corporations wildly overpredict the growth that will follow big infrastructure projects in the developing world, convincing aid organizations to give big loans for these projects, resulting in big projects (and big money) for American firms and crippling debt for poor nations.
Part of the book tells of his own experiences, generating false predictions and both giving and receiving bribes. The other part is a history of the role that US corporations (and, more subtly, the US government) play in eliminating hostile but strategically important leaders of developing countries and co-opting their nations' resources. (Those same leaders, hostile to US business, are often the champions of the poor in their countries.)
The history this book provides opened my eyes and made me want to read more on the subject. Thankfully, Perkins also provides extensive references for those who would like to read more on this, both providing an avenue for the curious reader and showing that he isn't the only witness to the new imperialism. The last few pages of the book also provide some practical suggestions for a reader to "do something" (and refuse to absolve us of collective guilt).
On the other hand, while the book claims to be a confession, massive page space is dedicated to Perkins's misgivings about what he was doing as he was doing it, to the point that it really feels like he's trying to let us know that he's not that bad a guy. That tone and the amount of time dedicated to it really wore me down as a reader. (Okay, okay, you were really torn, I get it.)
But overall, this was well worth the time, and I only hope I can carry some of its lessons with me.
on November 8, 2004
John Perkins was interviewed by Leonard Lopate on WNYC Radio in New York. You can listen to the interview and make your own decision about John's book.
Note: Although many other books have been written about how U.S. aid policy has been used as a means of manipulating foreign countries, the fact remains that John Perkin's book is from an insiders perspective. It exposes the truth behind how corporate greed has hijacked U.S. Foreign Policy. You can find many more books on the facts and history but for a sound, engaging critique read it.
on November 17, 2004
I got Confessions of an Economic Hit Man yesterday and finished reading it today. It's a vital personal story that illuminates an entire global system. A system based on greed, power, and control. Others before Perkins have warned of this system, but usually not from an insider's perspective. If you're interested in more details David Korten has done the best job documenting how rich powerful corporations with the help of governments get richer at the expense of the poor who get poorer. This isn't a new idea. But in today's world, the major media refuse to report this story. Perkins understands the essence of the problem: empire, oppression, inequality, and greed can seem to bring benefits to some people in the short term ... but in the long term we all loose, even the rich. We are all spiritually harmed by the lies and rationalizations. We are all put at risk when the world becomes more polarized into haves and have-nots. Our humanity is undermined when we benefit from that which hurts others. Undoubtedly most perpetrators have convinced themselves that what they do is OK and even that they'll be able to avoid consequences. Their money and power will insulate them in their exclusive gated communities. John Perkins' real feat in this book is not exposing a corrupt system, but in providing an example of one person who was able to look into his life with a deep honesty and realize it was hurting him as well as prospects for the future of all people. All of us can learn from his awakening. Does driving a big SUV make us more secure? Happier? A better person? A better citizen?
on April 23, 2005
I was intrigued by this book inasmuch as I worked in the international export field for several major American corporations. I had the benefit of traveling to most of the countries that were discussed in Perkin's book. Also, I was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone with the US Army in the early 1960's. In addition, I was born in Central America, and my father worked for the infamous United Fruit Company. To say the least, I agree with Mr. Perkins in most of his expose. Export products that I shipped overseas were often financed by USAID, WorldBank, or some other international lending agency. And of course, the USA was the prime funder of these organizations. Eventually, I was sent into some of these third world countries, and I was exposed to the working class as well as to the upper crust of these societies. If you had to get to the nitty-gritty of this tale, you would have to think about Darwin's theory of "Survival of the Fittest." Ultimately, the USA will throw its weight around as long as it has the military muscle to do so. Unfortunately, history tells us that all world empires collapse, and the USA will follow that trend lend. There are no exceptions to this as history has recorded thus far. Surely, there must be a better way for capitalism to thrive, and the USA even with good intentions is like an elephant in a china shop. In all my years of growing up in America, I found that most Americans know so very little about their external world outside of their own country. While most Americans think of themselves as the "good guys in the white hat," Perkins book will dispel that notion. And, rightfully so!
on November 23, 2004
To begin, I should say that, basically, the title is actually fairly accurate - the book is the personal confession of one John Perkins, one time "EHM" and successful businessman, and now author of a plethora of new age spiritual guides, of the shadowy role he and other EHMs played in the economic/political construction of what is now the defacto American Empire. The tale is starkly allegorical, charting his torturous moral and spiritual decline from angry young man of New England Puritan stock with the requisite Jeffersonian ideals to slavish technocrat, all the while detailing the mechanism by which America's post W.W. II elites manipulated international economic/political development. From Indonesia in the early-mid sixties, through Latin America, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran in the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties, EHMs and their CIA muscle (referred to none-too euphemistically as the "Jackals" by the EHMs) traveled the world working ostensibly for engineering firms such as Halliburton and Bechtel etc. doing legitimate analyses of the developing world's infrastructure needs. The resulting economic forecasts however were consciously inflated, and ensured huge IMF and World Bank loans. These institutions structured the loans of course only to enrich American sub-contractors, and their partners the third world elites. In other words, the rich got richer and the poor got - well, you know the rest. But the real objective was to bankrupt the developing countries so that America - as the biggest creditor - could essentially run them as it saw fit. The only problem I had with the book is that the collusion between the NSA, the CIA, the IMF and World Bank, and other equally monolithic institutions, is hinted at but never quite substantiated beyond a reasonable doubt. But I suspect that will come, once other EHMs (or perhaps other conspiratorial acronyms we have yet to hear of) with the courage of Mr. Perkins, prompted no doubt by the same guilt and remorse, not to mention the very real after-effects of 9/11, crawl out from under their respective floorboards and into the light to confess their sins. However, I believe we as individuals should not scapegoat them, for a key subtext of the book suggests that the system functioned (and of course continues to function) because it was merely the logical extension/manifestation of our Western materialist values, values which Mr. Perkins comes to realize are in many ways at odds with (my example) President Bush's recent campaign platitudes of "freedom", "justice", and "democracy". The destruction of the American Republic therefore can be seen as a personal tragedy as well as a societal one, as it was not the result of a conspiracy or "plan", which had to be written down and disseminated through the ranks, something which could not be kept a secret for long in a democracy, but instead the inevitable result of our own individual failings and addictions. Mr. Perkins finishes his book reflecting on the world he will leave his daughter, a world in which many have legitimate reasons to hate America's guts. For me, this is the most important contribution Mr. Perkins makes to what I pray becomes a more public debate, that we as individuals - and not simply our corporate masters - are to blame for 9/11. Many reading this review will disagree with Mr. Perkins, if I may speak for him on this particular point. Nevertheless, one thing we cannot deny: leaving aside Bin Laden's Wahhabi insanities for the moment, the world is at a crossroads right now. Given the demographics, we can either help those more moderate voices in Islam (and elsewhere) by promoting economic justice for all; or we risk a global conflict with an enemy that will only continue to gain adherents while we grow fat (or should I say fatter?) and senile playing golf in Arizona. There will be no victory in that sort of conflict. There will be only victims, our sons and daughters. So buy this book. Read it. And take a moment to reflect upon what it means to be an American. I hope that you too will see that although God (or whatever you believe in) may indeed have blessed America, it is far from sure whether he/she/it will continue to do so.
on January 22, 2005
Years ago I worked in a gov't agency in my third world country. A lot of my work had to do with co-ordination and follow-up of projects being financed by the WB , the USAID ,IDB and others, some of them private banks . In this trade I met a lot of foreign consultants. Some of them very honest at their jobs and in their opinions, others (mostly working for private institutions) that we used to call the MAFIA were not as well intended. This was not only because we understood that their role was to push ahead loans and projets ( sometimes useful), but also because a lot of their reports and evaluations were cooked and fabricated...it was in great part stuff they re-wrote changing names and a few numbers and adding some pertinent info in order to make the report adjust or fit to the country of choice. A lot of these guys hold PHDs and Masters degrees..but that just made them a very highly educated MAFIA.
But ..I can understand , not justify, but understand their view..it was not their country. What I can not understand is how our corrupted politicians accepted and approved loan after loan , for a bribe , and all the time they knew that they were hurting their country and their people. Hurting us and our children for decades to come. But ..no surprise there. That is the way of the world.
on June 11, 2005
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
John Perkins "writes and teaches about achieving peace and prosperity by expanding out personal awareness and transforming out institutions". He uses the phrase "economic hit man" to describe his work as a confidence man in arranging loans that can never be repaid. Loan Shark? He says the presidents of Ecuador and Panama were deliberately killed in separate plane crashes, not by accident (p.ix). The events of 9-11-2001 caused him to publish a book he had been writing for years. Corporations, banks, and governments use their financial and political powers to spread their ideas and culture (p.xiii); but this is not a conspiracy, he says. Perkins says we must all help to change these policies.
The 'Prologue' explains how the scam of "foreign aid" works. Money is loaned to a foreign country. Most of it is given to Big Corporations in America. When this money can't be repaid, the debtor is forced to make policy changes to further benefit the global empire (p.xvii) by exploiting the country's people and natural resources (p.xviii). These modern conquistadors are disguised to look like normal people (p.xx). If they fail, men of action ("jackals") are brought in to overthrow or kill the leaders. As a last resort the US military is sent in (p.xxi), as in Afghanistan and Iraq. If all else fails, US taxpayers will be tapped for the funds. This book gathered various topics and news to present a tutorial on imperialist exploitation that is very readable and educational.
Part I tells of his youth, education, and early career. Perkins took courses on economic statistics, and learned that statistics could be manipulated to reach the desired conclusions (p.13). A country could be manipulated in a similar manner (pp.18-19). Perkins uses the word "corporatocracy" to refer to the corporate ruling class (p.26). [Not "corporatism"?] Part II tells of his job in Indonesia; he visited a puppet show (pp.43-44). Did Arnold Toynbee predict today's conflicts (p.45)? [Who did he work for?] Perkins summarizes Panama's history (pp.58-60); it has a wide-open banking system (p.63). OPEC was formed in response to the power of the oil refining companies (p.76), and their attempts to keep prices down (by shifting costs to producers). Perkins notes examples of the military-industrial complex (p.79). The high prices for post-1973 oil ended up in the pockets of Big Corporations (p.89). Did Reagan and Bush support Osama Bin Ladin (p.97)?
Part III notes how he used applied mathematics to create the desired results (p.102). Perkins supported the transfer of the Panama Canal, and tells how he benefited (p.104). Perkins went to Colombia to create massive developments and debt to exploit its gas and oil (p.122). The sweatshop factories in poor countries only increase their poverty (p.128)! Do some missionary groups work for oil companies (p.142) and swindle natives out of oil-rich lands? The firing of a superior led to Perkins resignation (pp.146-150). Part IV tells how he traveled and wrote. Then he rejoined his company for a higher wage. PURPA created laws that allowed utility companies to buy up smaller companies (p.168), and municipal water systems (p.169). Why was there an unprovoked assault on Panama (p.175)? Why was Noriega a prisoner of war (p.177)? Is globalisation the equivalent of the slave trade (pp.180-181)? After 9-11-2001, and the events in Venezuela, Perkins started writing again (p.198). Ecuador was looted and impoverished (p.203). Chapter 35 has his comments on the War on Iraq. If you bomb a country and then rebuild it, the biased "sciences" of econometrics and statistics will show great economic growth (p.216)! Perkins finished and published this book, comparing it to the warnings of Paul Revere's ride (p.218). [The vague description of events suggests smart caution; Perkins doesn't want to die in an "accident".]
on March 16, 2005
Perkins claims this to be a whistle blowing autobiography. If true, its content is explosive. He claims that in 1971, after Peace Corps work in Ecuador, he was recruited by the NSA to work undercover as an economist in a private firm of international engineering consultants (Chas T. Main Inc.) His recruiter/trainer "told me that there were two primary objectives of my work. First, I was to justify huge international loans that would funnel money back ..to US companies .. through massive engineering and construction projects. Second, I would work to bankrupt the countries that received those loans so that they would be forever beholden to their creditors.." He goes on to write about his involvement in the application of these deliberate policies to subjugate Indonesia, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ecuador, etc. In Indonesia's case he details how he produced a plan to finance electrical infrastructure that would enable a 19% growth rate when he knew that realistically the requirement was for a maximum of 5%. The US printed the dollars, the US controlled, international financial agencies lent the money. The vast proportion of the money went to the Bechtels and Halliburtons. Some of the money greased the palms of the developing countries' ruling elites. The huge mass of the populations received no benefit. They remain mired in perpetual poverty (and corporate pollution) as their nations struggle to keep up with the interest payments. Where leaders could not be suborned, as in the case of Torrijos of Panama or Roldos in Ecuador, they were eliminated and replaced with leaders more amenable to American interests.
It could be, and is argued by anti-globalisation campaigners, that this impoverishment of the developing world is a lamentable side-effect of American corporate "vigour." It is however a quantum leap to make the argument that this massive, global, humanitarian disaster, (resulting in premature deaths over the decades on a far greater scale than those resultant from Stalin's policies) is the intentional outcome of a policy of economic empire being deliberately pursued by decision-maker factions within successive American administrations. The key question is whether or not the author is writing a true report of events he participated in. Though supported by ten pages of references, the book is written in a fairly lightweight, populist style. This choice of style will not give much comfort to academic readers. It could, though support the author's claim that he is writing to gain maximum public traction for his arguments for a change in US policy towards developing countries and the environment. Descriptions of the author's going through the culture barrier and losing confidence in the vision of "his country right or wrong," ring true to a reader who once found himself in a mildly analogous situation. The facts quoted that lend themselves to relatively simple verification (such as the author meeting Graham Greene in Panama City - the dates check out) appear accurate.
Perkins claims that the US invaded Iraq because Saddam refused to succumb to the same inducements successfully offered to the Saudi royal family for US control over their economy in return for protection. An indication of the possible truth or otherwise of Perkin's claims can be found in a reading of the commercial legislation passed by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and which in effect handed over the Iraqi economy to the American corporates, (Orders #12, #17, #39, #40 being particularly relevant.) These early pieces of legislation would indicate that the USA, on taking control of its new conquest, though not prepared for fighting an insurgency, was fully prepared for a take over of the Iraqi economy.