Friday, August 14, 2009

Confessions of an Economic Hitman

John Perkins

Today I finished reading "Confessions of an Economic Hitman," by John Perkins. Perkins, who started out his international career as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon in Ecuador, wound up becoming a large factor in U.S. foreign policy that helped shape our world today. But not for a good reason, as the title might suggest.

Perkins details in his memoir about his involvement with a now defunct company, MAIN, working out of Boston. MAIN was an engineering company that secured projects all over the world for such things as electrical plants and dams. Basically, Perkins job was to travel to developing countries and "trick" international banks with inflated profit margins. With these bogus projections, he was able to secure enormous loans, knowing that the countries would never meet those goals and never be able to repay the loans. But that was the point all along.

In essence, this was another form of slavery or feudalism, currently known as Globalism. These companies, and by association the U.S. government, wanted these countries to fall behind on their loans so that they could exploit their natural resources when needed or call in favors at the U.N. Mostly, these natural resources dealt with oil. Perkins does not try to hide his own involvement, talking about how he had to lie to representatives, pimp for Saudi princes, and mislead people with his resume and expertise. Perkins worked with MAIN in countries like Indonesia, Panama, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, as well as having knowledge of Ecuador, Venezuela, and Iraq and Afghanistan.

This book can come off pretty technical, and for someone like me who never really studied economics, it was at times a bit confusing and dry, but the author also tries to put it in a context and language that everyone can understand. It's an incredibly revealing read, and an eye opener indeed. For the last few days I've been feeling a bit down and finally realized today that it was mostly after reading in this book that I felt worse. What is revealed in the pages is a scheme that the United States has been pulling off for the last half century, forcing its hand in the politics of other sovereign nations, and removing democratically elected leaders when they refused to give in to corporate demands. It's a hard thing to learn.

However, before we go patting Perkins on the back for being such a thoughtful whistle blower, we have to remember that he was in fact an Economic Hitman who helped in furthering that system of corruption and drawing countries into tremendous debt and trouble. He should be lauded for finally quitting his job and speaking out against it, but he is also guilty of some crimes, if not legally than morally. But, there is something to be said about admitting wrongdoing and trying to make amends, which he seems to be doing with his non-profit organization, Dream Change.

Perhaps I find this so interesting because I have just spent 11 months in Ecuador myself. I have driven over the very dam he describes by Ambato and have been through the town of Shell, named after the oil company. Having lived in this country, the words take on a new meaning, just as the parts on Indonesia or Panama would mean more if I'd lived there. Perkins writes about how he started out in a volunteer organization and convinced himself that he was still doing these countries good by putting in projects in their countries. As I'm interested in a career in international relations, and having just finished a year of volunteering, I'm going to use this book as a guide and hope that I don't fall into the same trap, and to see to it that I'm actually helping a country, rather than exploiting it.

I highly recommend reading this book even if you've never heard of these places or have no concept of economics. In the 11 months in Ecuador many other volunteers had recommended it and I had to wait until I got home to get a copy, but the wait was worth it. If nothing else, it will enlighten you to some of the things that our nation does in the name of progress.

Above: Photo of John Perkins, by Daniel Miller, from Dream Change.

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