Confessions of an Economic Hit Man By John Perkins Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.; $24.95 Word of mouth really is the best publicity. It’s one thing when one person says you have to listen to a certain band, see a particular movie or read a special book. But when someone else tells you the same thing, for some reason the effect isn’t just doubled, it’s squared. This is especially true when the work in question arrives with little or no hype or fanfare. I experienced this phenomena recently in connection with a book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. First, the book arrived on my desk via the mail. Then, in the space of a couple of weeks, two people I respect, unbeknownst to one another, called and told me the same thing: “You have to read this.” So I did. Confessions is the true story of how, in the late 1960s, a bright if rather naïve and disaffected young man allowed himself to be recruited into the global corporatocracy also known as the American Empire. As a teen-ager, Perkins dreamt of being an international man of wealth and taste, James Bond without the ultraviolence. After doing a stint in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, Perkins met a vice president for a private “consulting firm” known cryptically as MAIN. Before long, Perkins was offered a job with MAIN, a job that would, on the surface, make his jet-setting dreams come true. According to Perkins, MAIN served as a bridge between the U.S. government, international financial institutions like the World Bank and an array of governments in developing or Third World countries. Although Perkins only had a BA from a liberal arts college, MAIN anointed him an economist and sent him to countries with valuable natural resources — places like Indonesia, Panama and Saudi Arabia — to write reports estimating how much and how quickly infrastructure could be created in order to make those countries modern industrial players. Perkins was ordered to inflate his projections, thus building in exorbitant profits for U.S. contractors like Bechtel and Halliburton, riches for the ruling classes in these places and saddling their governments with debts they could never repay. In effect, Perkins was abetting loan sharking on a global scale, locking developing nations into the U.S. sphere of influence through exploitative deals that, once offered, could not be refused without attracting extreme prejudice. Hence the term “economic hit man,” or EHM. “Ecuador is typical of countries around the world the EHMs brought into the economic-political fold,” Perkins writes. “For every $100 of crude taken out of the Ecuadorian rain forests, the oil companies receive $75. Of the remaining $25, three-quarters must go to paying off the foreign debt. Most of the remainder covers military and other government expenses — which leaves about $2.50 for health, education and programs aimed at helping the poor.” Perkins’ point is that this way of doing business stirs resentments that eventually boil over into guerilla wars and acts of terrorism. His plea is that Americans recognize the destructive habits that our imperial lifestyle engenders and that we begin the process of changing the way we live. This is a crucial message for these times, and Perkins’ experience is sobering. Unfortunately, he’s a tediously self-absorbed messenger. Not only that, he writes like an ingenue, constantly raising hand to mouth, shocked by the skullduggery of the capitalists for whom he works … and works and works. Time and again, we’re treated to the image of this EHM, stuck in another four-star hotel and racked with guilt to the point of tears over what he’s done. Turns out he assuaged these feelings by hiring himself out as a New Age guru. That’s a twist that begs for satire, or at least irony. John Perkins is capable of neither.

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