In this shocking memoir, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins tells of his own inner journey from willing servant of empire to impassioned advocate for the rights of oppressed people. Covertly recruited by the United States National Security Agency and on the payroll of an international consulting firm, he traveled the world—to Indonesia, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other strategically important countries.
"The selfish spirit of commerce knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain" - Thomas Jefferson, 1809
"You show me a capitalist, I'll show you a bloodsucker" - Malcolm X, 1965
“Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot coexist in the same man or in the same society" - Ayn Rand, 1961
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His job was to implement policies that promoted the interests of the U.S. corporatocracy (a coalition of government, banks, and corporations) while professing to alleviate poverty—policies that alienated many nations and ultimately led to September 11 and growing anti-Americanism.
Within a few weeks of its release , Confessions of an Economic Hit Man landed on The New York Times Bestseller List, then 19 other bestseller lists including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.
The author has been interviewed repeatedly on national radio and television shows, including Amy Goodman's Democracy Now, CSPAN's Book TV, and PBS' Now with David Brancaccio. And now the book is being published in 9 languages around the world. According to John Perkins, "It is accomplishing an important objective in inspiring people to think and talk and to know that we can change the world."
What follow are excerpts from the book "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins (Barrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2004).
"The chief business of America is business" - President Calvin Coolidge, 1925
"The glory of the United States is business" - Wendell L. Willkie, 1936
Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign "aid" organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet's natural resources. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization. I should know; I was an EHM.
... Jaime Roldós, president of Ecuador, and Omar Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just)died in fiery crashes. Their deaths were not accidental. They were assassinated because they opposed that fraternity of corporate, government, and banking heads whose goal is global empire. We EHMs failed to bring Roldós and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in.
... on the day in l971 when I began working with my teacher Claudine, she informed me, "My assignment is to mold you into an economic hit man. No one can know about your involvement -not even your wife." Then she turned serious. "Once you're in, you're in for life?' After that she seldom used the full name; we were simply EHMs [economic hit men].
Claudine's role is a fascinating example of the manipulation that f underlies the business I had entered. Beautiful and intelligent, she was highly effective; she understood my weaknesses and used them to her greatest advantage. Her job and the way she executed it exemplify the subtlety of the people behind this system.
... My job, she said, was "to encourage world leaders to become part of a vast network that promotes U.S. commercial interests. In the end, those leaders become ensnared in a web of debt that ensures their loyalty. We can draw on them whenever we desire - to satisfy our political, economic, or military needs. In turn, they bolster their political positions by bringing industrial parks, power plants, and airports to their people. The owners of U.S. engineering/construction companies become fabulously wealthy."
Today we see the results of this system run amok. Executives at our most respected companies hire people at near-slave wages to toil under inhuman conditions in Asian sweatshops. Oil companies wantonly pump toxins into rain forest rivers, consciously killing people, animals, and plants, and committing genocide among ancient cultures. The pharmaceutical industry denies lifesaving medicines to millions of HIV-infected Africans. Twelve million families in our own United States worry about their next meal. The energy industry creates an Enron. The accounting industry creates an Andersen. The income ratio of the one-fifth of the world's population in the wealthiest countries to the one-fifth in the poorest went from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1995. The United States spends over $87 billion conducting a war in Iraq while the United Nations estimates that for less than half that amount we could provide clean water, a equate diets, sanitation services, and basic education to every person on the planet.
And we wonder why terrorists attack us?
Some would blame our current problems on an organized conspiracy. I wish it were so simple. Members of a conspiracy can be rooted out and brought to justice. This system, however, is fueled by something far more dangerous than conspiracy. It is driven not by a small band of men but by a concept that has become accepted as gospel: the idea that all economic growth benefits humankind and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits. This belief also has a corollary: that those people who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes are available for exploitation.
The concept is, of course, erroneous. We know that in many countries economic growth benefits only a small portion of the population and may in fact result in increasingly desperate circumstances for the majority. This effect is reinforced by the corollary belief that the captains of industry who drive this system should enjoy a special status, a belief that is the root of many of our current problems and is perhaps also the reason why conspiracy theories abound.
When men and women are rewarded for greed, greed becomes a corrupting motivator. When we equate the gluttonous consumption of the earth's resources with a status approaching sainthood, when we teach our children to emulate people who live unbalanced lives, and when we define huge sections of the population as subservient to an elite minority, we ask for trouble. And we get it.
In their drive to advance the global empire, corporations, banks, and governments (collectively the corporatocracy) use their financial and political muscle to ensure that our schools, businesses, and media support both the fallacious concept and its corollary. They have brought us to a point where our global culture is a monstrous machine that requires exponentially increasing amounts of fuel and maintenance, so much so that in the end it will have consumed everything in sight and will be left with no choice but to devour itself.
The corporatocracy is not a conspiracy, but its members do endorse common values and goals. One of corporatocracy's most important functions is to perpetuate and continually expand and strengthen the system. The lives of those who "make it," and their accoutrements - their mansions, yachts, and private jets - are presented as models to inspire us all to consume, consume, consume. Every opportunity is taken to convince us that purchasing things is our civic duty, that pillaging the earth is good for the economy and therefore serves our higher interests. People like me are paid outrageously high salaries to do the system's bidding. If we falter, a more malicious form of hit man, the jackal, steps to the plate. And if the jackal fails, then the job falls to the military.
... EHMs ... build a global empire. We are an elite group of men and women who utilize international financial organizations to foment conditions that make other nations subservient to the corporatocracy running our biggest corporations, our government, and our banks. Like our counterparts in the Mafia, EHMs provide favors. These take the form of loans to develop infrastructure - electric generating plants, highways, ports, airports, or industrial parks. A condition of such loans is that engineering and construction companies from our own country must build all these projects. In essence, most of the money never leaves the United States; it is simply transferred from banking offices in Washington to engineering offices in New York, Houston, or San Francisco.
Despite the fact that the money is returned almost immediately to corporations that are members of the corporatocracy (the creditor), the recipient country is required to pay it all back, principal plus interest. If an EHM is completely successful, the loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years. When this happens, then like the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh. This often includes one or more of the following: control over United Nations votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources such as oil or the Panama Canal. Of course, the debtor still owes us the money -and another country is added to our global empire.
... Ecuador is in far worse shape today than she was before we introduced her to the miracles of modern economics, banking, and engineering. Since 1970, during this period known euphemistically as the Oil Boom, the official poverty level grew from 50 to 70 percent, under- or unemployment increased from 15 to 70 percent, and public debt increased from $240 million to $16 billion. Meanwhile, the share of national resources allocated to the poorest segments of the population declined from 20 to 6 percent.
Unfortunately, Ecuador is not the exception. Nearly every country we EHMs have brought under the global empire's umbrella has suffered a similar fate. Third world debt has grown to more than $2.5 trillion, and the cost of servicing it - over $375 billion per year as of 2004- is more than all third world spending on health and education, and twenty times what developing countries receive annually in foreign aid. Over half the people in the world survive on less than two dollars per day, which is roughly the same amount they received in the early 1970s. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent of third world households accounts for 70 to 90 percent of all private financial wealth and real estate ownership in their country; the actual percentage depends on the specific country.
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. Thus, out of every $100 worth of oil torn from the Amazon, less than $3 goes to the people who need the money most, those whose lives have been so adversely impacted by the dams, the drilling, and the pipelines, and who are dying from lack of edible food and notable water.
... if we fail, an even more sinister breed steps in, ones we EHMs refer to as the jackals, men who trace their heritage directly to those earlier empires. The jackals are always there, lurking in the shadows. When they emerge, heads of state are overthrown or die in violent "accidents". And if by chance the jackals fail, as they failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, then the old models resurface. When the jackals fail, young Americans are sent in to kill and to die.
Part I: 1963-1971
... we met in Claudine's [Claudine Martin, and her title, Special Consultant to Chas. T. Main, Inc.] Beacon Street apartment, a few blocks from MAIN's Prudential Center headquarters. During our first hour together, she explained that my position was an unusual one and that we needed to keep everything highly confidential. She told me that no one had given me specifics about my job because no one was authorized to - except her. Then she informed me that her assignment was to mold me into an economic hit man.
The very name awakened old cloak-and-dagger dreams. I was embarrassed by the nervous laughter I heard coming from me. She smiled and assured me that humor was one of the reasons they used the term. "Who would take it seriously?" she asked.
I confessed ignorance about the role of economic hit men.
"You're not alone," she laughed. "We're a rare breed, in a dirty business. No one can know about your involvement - not even your wife." Then she turned serious. "I'll be very frank with you, teach you all I can during the next weeks. Then you'll have to choose. Your decision is final. Once you're in, you're in for life." After that, she seldom used the full name; we were simply EHMs.
I know now what I did not then - that Claudine took full advantage of the personality weaknesses the NSA profile had disclosed about me. I do not know who supplied her with the information - Einar, the NSA, MAIN'S personnel department, or someone else - only that she used it masterfully. Her approach, a combination of physical seduction and verbal manipulation, was tailored specifically for me, and yet it fit within the standard operating procedures I have since seen used by a variety of businesses when the stakes are high and the pressure to close lucrative deals is great. She knew from the start that I would not jeopardize my marriage by disclosing our clandestine activities. And she was brutally frank when it came to describing the shadowy side of things that would be expected of me.
I have no idea who paid her salary, although I have no reason to suspect it was not, as her business card implied, MAIN. At the time, I was too naive, intimidated, and bedazzled to ask the questions that today seem so obvious.
Claudine 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 MAIN and other U.S. companies such as Bechtel, Halliburton, Stone & Webster, and Brown & Root) through massive engineering and construction projects. Second, I would work to bankrupt the countries that received those loans (after they had paid MAIN and the other U.S. contractors, of course) so that they would be forever beholden to their creditors, and so they would present easy targets when we needed favors, including military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and other natural resources.
My job, she said, was to forecast the effects of investing billions of dollars in a country. Specifically, I would produce studies that projected economic growth twenty to twenty-five years into the future and that evaluated the impacts of a variety of projects. For example, if a decision was made to lend a country $1 billion to persuade its leaders not to align with the Soviet Union, I would compare the benefits of investing that money in power plants with the benefits of investing in a new national railroad network or a telecommunications system.
Or I might be told that the country was being offered the opportunity to receive a modern electric utility system, and it would be up to me to demonstrate that such a system would result in sufficient economic growth to justify the loan. The critical factor, in every case, was gross national product. The project that resulted in the highest average annual growth of GNP won. If only one project was under consideration, I would need to demonstrate that developing it would bring superior benefits to the GNP.
The unspoken aspect of every one of these projects was that they were intended to create large profits for the contractors, and to make a handful of wealthy and influential families in the receiving countries very happy, while assuring the long-term financial dependence and therefore the political loyalty of governments around the 'world. The larger the loan, the better. The fact that the debt burden placed on a country would deprive its poorest citizens of health, education, and other social services for decades to come was not taken into consideration.
Claudine and I openly discussed the deceptive nature of GNP. For instance, the growth of GNP may result even when it profits only one person, such as an individual who owns a utility company, and even if the majority of the population is burdened with debt. The rich get richer and the poor grow poorer. Yet, from a statistical standpoint, this is recorded as economic progress.
Like U.S. citizens in general, most MAIN employees believed we were doing countries favors when we built power plants, highways, and ports. Our schools and our press have taught us to perceive all of our actions as altruistic. Over the years, I've repeatedly heard comments like, "If they're going to burn the U.S. flag and demonstrate against our embassy, why don't we just get out of their damn country and let them wallow in their own poverty?"
People who say such things often hold diplomas certifying that they are well educated. However, these people have no clue that the main reason we establish embassies around the world is to serve our own interests, which during the last half of the twentieth century meant turning the American republic into a global empire.
One afternoon some months later, Claudine and I sat in a window settee watching the snow fall on Beacon Street. "We're a small, exclusive club' she said. "We're paid - well paid - to cheat countries around the globe out of billions of dollars. A large part of your job is to encourage world leaders to become part of a vast network that promotes U.S. commercial interests. In the end, those leaders become ensnared in a web of debt that ensures their loyalty. We can draw on them whenever we desire - to satisfy our political, economic, or military needs. In turn, these leaders bolster their political positions by bringing industrial parks, power plants, and airports to their people. Meanwhile, the owners of U.S. engineering and construction companies become very wealthy."
Claudine described how throughout most of history, empires were built largely through military force or the threat of it. But with the end of World War II, the emergence of the Soviet Union, and the specter of nuclear holocaust, the military solution became just too risky.
The decisive moment occurred in 1951, when Iran rebelled against a British oil company that was exploiting Iranian natural resources and its people. The company was the forerunner of British Petroleum, today's BP. In response, the highly popular, democratically elected Iranian prime minister (and TIME magazine's Man of the Year in 1951), Mohammad Mossadegh, nationalized all Iranian petroleum assets. An outraged England sought the help of her World War II ally, the United States. However, both countries feared that military retaliation would provoke the Soviet Union into taking action on behalf of Iran.
Instead of sending in the Marines, therefore, Washington dispatched CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt (Theodore's grandson). He performed brilliantly, winning people over through payoffs and threats. He then enlisted them to organize a series of street riots and violent demonstrations, which created the impression that Mossadegh was both unpopular and inept. In the end, Mossadegh went down, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. The pro-American Mohammad Reza Shah became the unchallenged dictator. Kermit Roosevelt had set the stage for a new profession ...
... Kermit Roosevelt was a CIA employee. Had he been caught, the consequences would have been dire. He had orchestrated the first U.S. operation to overthrow a foreign government, and it was likely that many more would follow, but it was important to find an approach that would not directly implicate Washington.
Fortunately for the strategists, the 1960s also witnessed another type of revolution: the empowerment of international corporations and of multinational organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF. The latter were financed primarily by the United States and our sister empire builders in Europe. A symbiotic relationship developed between governments, corporations, and multinational organizations.
By the time I enrolled in BU's business school, a solution to the Roosevelt-as-CIA-agent problem had already been worked out. U.S. intelligence agencies - including the NSA - would identify prospective EHMs, who could then be hired by international corporations. These EHMs would never be paid by the government; instead, they would draw their salaries from the private sector. As a result, their dirty work, if exposed, would be chalked up to corporate greed rather than to government policy. In addition, the corporations that hired them, although paid by government agencies and their multinational banking counterparts (with taxpayer money), would be insulated from congressional oversight and public scrutiny, shielded by a growing body of legal initiatives, including trademark, international trade, and Freedom of Information laws.
We were promoting U.S. foreign policy and corporate interests. We were driven by greed rather than by any desire to make life better for the vast majority of Indonesians. A word came to mind: corporatocracy. I was not sure whether I had heard it before or had just invented it, but it seemed to describe perfectly the new elite who had made up their minds to attempt to rule the planet.
... in many cases helping an economy grow only makes those few people who sit atop the pyramid even richer, while it does nothing for those at the bottom except to push them even lower. Indeed, promoting capitalism often results in system that resembles medieval feudal societies.
John Perkins: Jerk, Con Man, Shill
Posted By Greg Palast On July 5, 2007 @ 2:59 pm In Articles 55 Comments
by Greg Palast5 July 2007
I remember John Perkins. He was a real jerk. A gold-plated, super-slick lying little butthole shill for corporate gangsters; a snake-oil salesman with a movie-star grin, shiny loafers, a crooked calculator and a tooled leather briefcase full of high-blown bullshit.
This was two decades ago. The early 1980s. I wore sandals, uncombed hair down to my cheap collar and carried a busted ring-binder filled with honest calculations and sincere analysis. It was Economic Hit Man Perkins vs. Economic Long-Hair Palast. I didn't stand a chance. The EHM was about to put a political bullet hole through me wider than a silver dollar.
Hit Men have "clients." Perkins' was a giant power company, Public Service of New Hampshire. PSNH was trying to sell New England lobstermen and potato farmers on the idea that they desperately needed a multi-billion dollar nuclear plant. The fact that this bloated atomic water kettle, called "Seabrook," would produce enough electricity for everyone in the Granite State to smelt iron didn't matter. That the beast could add a surcharge to electric bills equal to home mortgages was simply smiled over by Perkins and his team of economic con artists.
To steal millions, you need a top team of armed robbers. But to steal billions, you need PhD's with color charts and economic projections made of fairy dust and eye of newt. Perkins had it all - including a magical thing called a computer-generated spreadsheet (this was well before Excel).
I was an expert witness for some consumer groups, trying to explain to state officials that Perkins' numbers were bogus as a bubble-gum bagel and his financial projections were from some New Hampshire on another planet.
But this was the key point: Perkins slept in a suite at the Omni. I had truck-rumble insomnia at the motel off exit 68. He glared and grinned and glad-handed. I tried to keep my eyes open.
Here's how it ended. The local Joe's jumped head-first into the Perkins fantasy and bought his client's power plant boondoggle. Within a couple years, the local electric companies had all gone bankrupt, the state treasury was drained, electric bills went from lowest to highest in the nation causing factories to close and dump, I figure, about 11,000 jobs.
Perkins' clients walked away with barrelfuls of billions.
And Dr. Perkins pocketed plenty for his mortal soul.
But, as in every moral tale, Perkins, the modern Dr. Faust, found redemption in confession.
And we're lucky he did. Because, in Perkins' confessionals, "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man," and his latest, the just-released "Secret History of the American Empire," we find out what makes these guys tick. By "these guys" I mean the vultures who suck up development aide, the sharks who use the World Bank as their enforcers, the corporate marauders, power pirates and hedge fund hogs with their snouts in the economic trough.
In "Secret History," Perkins, from the inside, gives the details of the weird moral emptiness and pitilessness of men who waylay the riches of the planet from the people to whom it rightly belongs.
In New England, the pain imposed by the clients of the economic hit men were financial; but, as Perkins wants us never to forget, in much of the planet, the slick sales pitch of the economic hit man is enforced by squads of hit men with less subtle weaponry.
"Three men toting AK-47s stood at attention outside. They saluted as we drove past. One of the three opened the front door opposite the driver. Leather Jacket and I climbed in. He spoke into a walkie talkie. Tinted windows made it impossible to see inside."
In lines heavy with Hemingway, Perkins takes us to Indonesia, Bolivia, even tiny Diego Garcia and other victim-states where doctorate-armed "consultants" put an academic gloss on militarized plunder.
In the story of the guys with the AKs, Perkins is on assignment in Guatemala for an outfit called SWEC, a Bechtel twin trying to foist another mad power plant horror show on the natives of Guatemala. (About the same time, I convinced the state of New York to bring racketeering charges against SWEC and its partners in a massive power plant building fraud. SWEC and co-defendants settled the civil charges for a payment of nearly half a billion dollars.)
Unlike the yokels of New Hampshire who fell for the smooth Perkins line, the Guatemalans were no pushovers. Skeptical locals, suspicious indigenous shamans and a couple of improbably courageous politicians simply wouldn't roll over to the corporate conquistadores.
The resisters, we are led to presume, will be dealt with accordingly. As Perkins explains it, if his pie-charts don't make the sale, the little men in his darkened car know a little explosive wired to an ignition could be persuasive.
However, by time he got to Central America on the corporate assignment, Perkins was already ill at heart with the SWECs of this world. Ultimately, he refused to back their destructive scheme.
Perkins had switched sides - and, in "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" gets his soul back from Satan only a little soiled. In Secret History, the personal confession turns into an illuminating, world-spanning jeremiad. From Latin America to Africa to the Middle East, Perkins leaps from his own story to the widespread misery caused by the greed armies sent marching from the boardrooms of New York and London.
Today, Perkins is my confrere and colleague. He wears his hair longish and I wear mine . . . well, I've stopped wearing hair altogether.
And in his writings today, Perkins heart goes out to the Third World targets of this new empire ruled by shock troops and spread sheets. His empathy extends to those in the occupied territory known as the USA. Because, says Perkins, when the wretchedly ripped-off of the Earth rise in rebellion, the lash of the backlash is felt by the children of the lobstermen of New Hampshire, shivering under Humvees in Falluja, and never the EHM's clients' fortunate sons, frolicking in their Ferraris.
Greg Palast is the author of Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans - Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild.
Source: URL to article: http://www.gregpalast.com/john-perkins-jerk-con-man-shill/