When someone writes and speaks out to expose a system of injustice from the perspective of a former insider, every effort is taken to discredit such a person. The more controversial the information they bring forward, the more their character is attacked, their motives questioned and their words responded to with labels.
John Perkins, with his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004), has been so attacked. Yet his book has enjoyed immense popularity for what it promises: an insight into the murky world of extortion and exploitation that exists under the facade capitalism tries to construct for itself. It is this a hunger for the truth behind the actions of power, and a fear of the implications of such revelations, that elicit such varied and extreme responses to exposes like this one.
The Concept of an “EHM”
Perkins begins the preface of his book with his definition of the term “Economic Hit Man”:
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 foregin “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. (Perkins xi)
Essentially, what Perkins describes here is a facilitator for imperialist exploitation, working in the role of encouraging “developing” nations to take on loans and debt which cannot be paid back, which will chiefly benefit US Corporations and a select number of the power elite in those countries, and will force those nations to surrender access to their natural resources to colonizing powers.
A Life Lived in the service of Imperialism
Throughout Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Perkins describes how he was encouraged to provide inflated estimates of economic growth and development to encourage bigger and bigger loans for infrastructure. The money from these loans would be returned to US construction and engineering firms, leading to higher profits for them and higher debt for those countries subjected to the loans, which ultimately opened up those countries for plunder by energy companies and other corporations who could benefit from their resources.
Traveling from Ecuador to Indonesia, Panama to Saudi Arabia, and even to the Shah’s Iran, Perkins worked to advance the cause of imperialism using overly-optimistic economic models, predictions for power grid use and other infrastructure use that would necessitate more and more loan dollars to be used in employing construction firms. In one instance, Perkins describes how he facilitated a sexual relationship between a Saudi Prince and a woman he hired from Boston during the 1970′s for the purpose of opening Saudi Arabia’s oil to the west.
Dirty Deeds for a Dirtier System
A strength of Perkins’ work is that it endeavors to expose a multi-faceted system of exploitation, highlighting the role of intelligence agencies and the military, as well as the role of corporations and Economic Hit Men.
When the EHMs are unable to encourage a bad deal, the CIA “jackals” (as Perkins describes them) take over through means of assassination, coup d’etat and other clandestine crimes. Perkins references the likelihood of President Torrijos of Panama and Jaime Roldos in Ecuador, citing the suspicious nature of their plane crashes and their resistance to certain ambitions of the US government and corporations. In a chapter on oil companies infiltrating Ecuador, Perkins even exposes the role of evangelist missionaries working in the Summer Institute of Linguistics colluding with oil companies working to crush indigenous peoples in the name of profit.
Can It Be Trusted?
Perkins’ book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man has been responded to with attacks on his character, with rebuttals and apologies aimed at defending the very exploitation Perkins describes. Nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that this account comes from someone whose job it was to deceive, to feed information designed to elicit a response that benefited the cause of imperialism, that he has admitted to taking a bribe and has, as well, been in the position of a bourgeois company owner and high-paid consultant. Some may ask “if this is true, then how are we supposed to trust his story as he’s written it?”
The answer to this lies in the narrative behind the narrative. The truth is, Perkins’ story is, as he is quoted as saying, as old as empire. His story is the story of imperialism.
Whether or not Perkins has lied about this or that, had this or that motive in mind, is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. To this effect, the essence of his confession is true to the broader pattern of capitalist exploitation.
Conclusion: Useful, But Not News
John Perkins’ exposé in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man makes for excellent reading, as it is written much like a spy novel. It is also a useful insight for those who are unaware of the everyday crimes of capitalism, of the shady underworld created by capitalism’s predatory aid, of assassination, genocide and the creation of horrible poverty.
Perkins’ work has the potential to be an essential eye-opener, an important first step, for those who have not yet found the consciousness to understand that capitalism and imperialism are the problem. Other than that, his conceptualization of what the problem is (a “corporatocracy” — rather than the overall system itself), his proposed solutions and the actual depth of his revelations of what is done in capitalism’s name will not be much of a revelation to a veteran activist. Nevertheless, Perkins is to be commended for his contribution, and reading his work would not be unhelpful for any who wish to expand their experience with the crimes of imperialism.