Issue Date: December 21, 2007
Reviewed by BEN TERRALL
John Perkins Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was a wake-up call for many, an insiders account of doing dirty work for giant global companies in league with the U.S. government and international financial institutions. Though activists, investigative reporters and academics have been writing about many of the same aspects of global capitals ugly underside for years, Mr. Perkins tell-all, breezy narrative helped the book read like a snappy spy thriller rather than a footnote-clogged tome. On The New York Times bestseller list for more than a year, it reached a wide audience of readers eager to answer the perennial post-9/11 question Why do they hate us?
The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption continues Mr. Perkins story of his years as an economist and EHM (like less radical veterans of big business, the author is fond of acronyms) with an international consulting firm called Chas. T. Main. Mr. Perkins writes that his employer pushed infrastructure loans that benefited foreign construction companies and the local rich while leaving the poor with nothing, other than huge debts.
Mr. Perkins further explained his former profession in a recent interview:
We work many different ways, but perhaps the most common one is that we will identify a Third-World country that has resources our corporations covet, such as oil, and then we arrange a huge loan to that country from the World Bank or one of its sister organizations. The money never actually goes to the country. It goes instead to U.S. corporations, who build big infrastructure projects -- power grids, industrial parks, harbors, highways -- things that benefit a few very rich people but do not reach the poor at all. The poor arent connected to the power grids. They dont have the skills to get jobs in industrial parks. But they and the whole country are left holding this huge debt, and its such a big bet that the country cant possibly repay it. So at some point in time, we economic hit men go back to the country and say, Look, you know, you owe us a lot of money. You cant pay your debt, so youve got to give us a pound of flesh.
In addition to blatant power grabs, including what Mr. Perkins describes as assassinations of various leaders of developing countries who stood up to Washington consensus economics, this new book shows how more subtle forms of persuasion perpetuate U.S. empire building. Mr. Perkins tells the story of two idealistic Peace Corps volunteers who wound up in a USAID-funded project ostensibly intended to help farmers in Mali, which left one of his informants disgusted with its top-down approach and feeling like I had stolen money from Malians, who could have earned decent wages teaching the same things more effectively. Through contact with African dissidents, the young American discovered that USAID and chemical giant Monsanto were working to introduce language into Malis constitution that would allow the introduction, sale and patent rights of GMO crops. As Mr. Perkins observes, Farm families that had lived off the land for hundreds of years, saving seeds to replant their crops, were now becoming dependent on fertilizers, pesticides and seeds they had to purchase from foreign companies.
But this is the price the poor must pay for being part of the global economy. As one of the mentors in empire building tells Mr. Perkins, If you ever intend to have children, and want them to live prosperous lives, you damn well better make sure that we control the African continent. We need the Middle East. Yes. But we must have Africa too.
As with Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, at times I couldnt help be reminded of devout believers who describe their past sins in great detail while never failing to add of course now I know that was wrong after finishing each salacious anecdote. And there is a bit more information than necessary about the wiles of sexual seduction employed to keep EHMs and others in that world from breaking out to side with the poor populations taking a beating from Uncle Sam.
Mr. Perkins concludes with recommendations for readers who feel outraged by what he has described. These include plugs for a long list of nongovermental organizations that cover a vast array of territory. Likely its just as well that Mr. Perkins doesnt try to present one simple prescription for dealing with the horrific juggernaut of environmental destruction, assaults on worker and human rights, and immiseration of millions that Mr. Perkins former colleagues in what he calls the corporatocracy have helped create. There is plenty to do on many fronts to counter the damage done, and none of it will be easy.
And if some of his conclusions sound a bit too steeped in New Age mysticism, reflect on what Mr. Perkins has accomplished: outing his former compadres for what they really are, and making that truth clear to a broad global audience.
Ben Terrall is a freelance writer in California.
National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2007
|Copyright © The
National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd.,
Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.
TEL: 816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280 Send comments about this Web site to: firstname.lastname@example.org