Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
The book provides Perkins' account of his career with engineering consulting firm Chas. T. Main in Boston. According to Perkins, his job at the firm was to convince leaders of underdeveloped countries to accept substantial development loans for large construction and engineering projects. Ensuring that these projects were contracted to U.S. companies, such loans provided political influence for the US and access to natural resources for American companies,: 15, 239 thus primarily helping local elites and wealthy families, rather than the poor. According to Perkins, he began writing Confessions of an Economic Hit Man in the 1980s, but claims "threats or bribes always convinced [him] to stop."
Suggesting a system of corporatocracy and greed (rather than a unilateral conspiracy), Perkins claims the involvement of the National Security Agency (NSA), with whom he had interviewed for a job prior to joining Main. According to the author, this interview effectively constituted an independent screening that led to his subsequent hiring as an 'economic hit man' by Einar Greve, vice president of the firm (and alleged NSA liaison).
The book was a commercial success, but critics expressed doubts about the accuracy of the claims Perkins made in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
The book heavily criticizes U.S. foreign policy and the notion that "all economic growth benefits humankind, and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits.": xii Perkins suggests that, in many cases, only a small portion of the population benefits at the expense of the rest, pointing to, as an example, an increase in income inequality, whereby large U.S. corporations exploit cheap labor, and oil companies destroy local environments.: xii
Perkins describes what he calls a system of corporatocracy and greed as the driving forces behind establishing the United States as a global empire, in which he took a role as an "economic hit man" to expand its influence.
Perkins' function, according to the book, was to convince the political and financial leadership of developing countries to accept enormous development loans from institutions like the World Bank and USAID. Saddled with debts they could not hope to pay, such countries would then be forced to acquiesce to political pressure from the United States on a variety of issues. Perkins argues that these nations were effectively neutralized politically, with their wealth gaps driven wider and their long-term economies crippled. In this capacity, Perkins recounts his meetings with some prominent individuals, including Graham Greene and Omar Torrijos. Perkins describes the role of an economic hit man as follows:
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 included 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 affirms the existence of a "conspiracy" between the U.S. government, its covert apparatus, private corporations used as cover, and individuals employed by them to the government's bidding, in such activities as overthrowing democratically elected foreign governments:
I was initially recruited while I was in business school back in the late sixties by the National Security Agency, the nation’s largest and least understood spy organization; but ultimately I worked for private corporations. The first real economic hit man was back in the early 1950s, Kermit Roosevelt Jr., the grandson of Teddy, who overthrew the government of Iran, a democratically elected government, Mossadegh’s government who was Time magazine's person of the year; and he was so successful at doing this without any bloodshed—well, there was a little bloodshed, but no military intervention, just spending millions of dollars and replaced Mossadegh with the Shah of Iran. At that point, we understood that this idea of economic hit man was an extremely good one. We didn’t have to worry about the threat of war with Russia when we did it this way. The problem with that was that Roosevelt was a C.I.A. agent. He was a government employee. Had he been caught, we would have been in a lot of trouble. It would have been very embarrassing. So, at that point, the decision was made to use organizations like the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. to recruit potential economic hit men like me and then send us to work for private consulting companies, engineering firms, construction companies, so that if we were caught, there would be no connection with the government.
— John Perkins, November 4, 2004, Democracy Now!, interview
Reception and criticism
Columnist Sebastian Mallaby of The Washington Post reacted sharply to Perkins' book: "This man is a frothing conspiracy theorist, a vainglorious peddler of nonsense, and yet his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is a runaway bestseller." Mallaby holds that Perkins' conception of international finance is "largely a dream" and that his "basic contentions are flat wrong." For instance, he points out that Indonesia reduced its infant mortality and illiteracy rates by two-thirds after economists persuaded its leaders to borrow money in 1970. He also disputes Perkins' claim that 51 of the top 100 world economies belong to companies. A value-added comparison shows that 29 countries are in the top 100, while the rest are companies.
Other sources, including articles in The New York Times and Boston Magazine, as well as a press release issued by the U.S Department of State (DOS), have referred to a lack of documentary or testimonial evidence to corroborate Perkins's claim that the NSA was involved in his hiring to Chas T. Main. In addition, the author of the DOS release states that the NSA "is a cryptological (codemaking and codebreaking) organization, not an economic organization" and that its missions do not involve "anything remotely resembling placing economists at private companies in order to increase the debt of foreign countries."
Economic historian Niall Ferguson addresses some of Perkins's claims in the 2008 book The Ascent of Money (2008). Perkins contended that the leaders of Ecuador (President Jaime Roldós Aguilera) and Panama (General Omar Torrijos) were killed by U.S. agents for opposing the interests of the owners of their countries' foreign debt. Both men died in airplane crashes in 1981. According to Ferguson, Perkins's allegations "seems a little odd." Ferguson notes how in the 1970s, the amount of money that the US had lent to Ecuador and Panama accounted for less than 0.4% of the total U.S. grants and loans, while in 1990, exports from the US to those countries accounted for approximately 0.4% of total U.S. exports (approx. US$8 billion). Ferguson contends those "do not seem like figures worth killing for." Perkins, however, maintains that the motives for such actions, rather than loans, would have been the securing of the Panama Canal as a permanent United States asset, and gaining access to Ecuadorian oil.
Basically his story is true.… What John's book says is, there was a conspiracy to put all these countries on the hook, and that happened. Whether or not it was some sinister plot or not is up to interpretation, but many of these countries are still over the barrel and have never been able to repay the loans.
On being asked by another reporter about Perkins' account, however, Greve re-read the book and denied some aspects of Perkins' claims, such as the NSA having any links to Main, or that Perkins was seduced by Claudine Martin.
Perkins continued with writing four other books on the 'economic hit man' topic, focusing on other aspects:
- A Game as Old as Empire: the Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption (2007);
- The Secret History of the American Empire: The Truth About Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World (2007);
- Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded – and What We Need to Do to Remake Them (2009); and
- The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2016).
The epilogue to the 2006 edition provides a rebuttal to the current move by the G8 nations to forgive Third-World debt. Perkins charges that the proposed conditions for this debt forgiveness require countries to privatise their health, education, electric, water and other public services. Those countries would also have to discontinue subsidies and trade restrictions that support local business, but accept the continued subsidization of certain G8 businesses by the US and other G8 countries, and the erection of trade barriers on imports that threaten G8 industries.
In 2009, Stelios Kouloglou directed a Greek–U.S. co-produced documentary titled Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, featuring interviews with Perkins filmed between 2007 to 2008. The film was shown at movie festivals around the United States.
- Perkins, John. 2006 . Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. New York: Plume. ISBN 0452287081.
- Perkins, John. 2005 . Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Ebury Press. ISBN 9780091909109.
- Piersanti, President and Publisher, Steven (March 7, 2005). "Veracity of John Perkins' Accounts" (PDF). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 1, 2010.
- Perkins, John, interviewee. 2004. "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions" (video + transcript), interviewed by A. Goodman. Democracy Now!. [45:02–1:00:00]. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
- Landon Jr., Thomas (2006-02-19). "Confessing to the Converted". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 2015-11-03.
- Mallaby, Sebastian. "The Facts Behind the 'Confessions'". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 17, 2014.
- Anderson, Sarah; Cavanagh, John. "Top 200: The Rise of Global Corporate Power". Global Policy Forum. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
- Chowla, Peter. "Comparing Corporate and Sovereign Power" (PDF). Retrieved 14 January 2016.
- "Confessions – or Fantasies – of an Economic Hit Man?". US Department of State. 2006-05-10. Retrieved November 4, 2015.
- Ferguson, Niall. 2008. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-311617-2. pp. 294–95.
- Revere, C. T. 17 January 2005. "Tsunami aid may line US pockets." Tucson Citizen. Retrieved 13 May 2020. Archived January 16, 2017, at the Wayback Machine.
- Tkacik, Maureen. 15 May 2005. "Economic Hit Man." Boston Magazine. Boston: Metro Corp.
- Perkins, John. 2007. The Secret History of the American Empire: The Truth About Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World. London: Penguin. ISBN 9781101213735 (ebook).
- Perkins, John. 2009. Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the Global Economy IMPLODED -- and How to Fix It. Currency Press. ISBN 9780307589934 (ebook).
- Perkins, John. 2016. The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN 9781626566767 (ebook).
- Van Gelder, Sarah. 18 May 2016. "More Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: This Time, They’re Coming for Your Democracy." YES! Magazine. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
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