Tuesday, January 04, 2005

No Hit Here

Okay, I can now post about Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins because I have thought of something nice to say. I'll get to that later though. John Perkins was an economic hit man, or EHM as he calls it. As an EHM he worked for a company called MAIN and then as a consultant and expert witness for a company called SWEC. As an EHM his job as he describes it, "was to convince third world countries to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development--loans that were much larger than needed--and to guarantee that the development projects were contracted to U.S. corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel. Once these countries were saddled with huge debts, the U.S. government and the international aid agencies allied with it were able to control these economies and to ensure that oil and other resources were channeled to serve the interests of building a global empire." This is bad stuff, horrible stuff, unconscionable stuff, but hardly a surprise, at least if you pay attention and get your news other places besides FOX. But Perkins writes the entire book as if he is revealing secrets to the ignorant masses. If that wasn't bad enough, this guy was an insider, someone involved in Panama, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, and he mentions hardly a detail that you couldn't have researched for yourself. I mean, I know and have known for quite some time that this kind of stuff goes on, but he is so far away from concrete details that I wondered what was the point? But then I'd see the title and I would remember. Ah yes, confession. This isn't a book whose purpose if to reveal the ugly underbelly of globalization and U.S. empire building, this book is just a confession, a means for Perkins to let out his guilt in hopes of receiving a little compassionate forgiveness. His guilt is evident throughout the book and he agonizes over it frequently. He worked as a "hit man" for MAIN from 1971 until 1980 and as he writes it he worried about what he was doing the whole time. But obviously it didn't worry him too much since he stuck with it for 9 years. After those 9 years he started his own alternative energy company with great success. He fully admits that he got loans and favors from people because of his former work. At this time he was also on a paid retainer with SWEC as a consultant. He was rarely consulted about anything, they just used his name and resume to push through loans and projects in third world countries. Perkins claims his conscious bothered him during this time too. But it didn't stop him from saying no to any favors or cashing that consultant check. He sold his energy company sometime around 2000 and at that time also quit SWEC. Only after the tragedy of September 11th did he decide that he had to write this book. One of the really annoying things about this book is Perkins' seeming innocence about the people he worked with at MAIN. He knew full well what he was doing and the impact it would have on the lives of people in poor countries but he seems to think that his staff was clueless. He claims that he "often felt jealous of my employees for their naiveté. I had intentionally deceived them and in so doing, had protected them from their own consciences. They did not have to struggle with the moral issues that haunted me." And then later in the book:

Some of them, like me, had been aware of what they were doing, but the vast majority had merely performed the tasks they had been taught in business, engineering, and law schools, or had followed the lead of bosses in my mold, who demonstrated the system by their own greedy example and through rewards and punishments calculated to perpetuate it. Such participants saw the parts they played as benign, at worst; in the most optimistic view, they were helping an impoverished nation. Although unconscious, deceived, and--in many cases--self-deluded, these players were not members of any clandestine conspiracy; rather, they were the product of a system that promotes the most subtle and effective form of imperialism the world has ever witnessed.
Perhaps there were some who didn't know what they were really doing, but to say that most of them were completely ignorant? Come on, these are not stupid people. Most of them knew, and know, exactly what's going on and their part in it. These days Perkins writes bad books and "teaches about achieving peace and prosperity by expanding our personal awareness and transforming our institutions." He is the founder of a "New Age" organization called Dream Change that works to "wake up the world." Yup. And now, the nice thing. I believe that in spite of Perkins' bad writing, New Age enlightenment and pervasive whining guilt, he is sincere. There, that was nice wasn't it? Now, don't bother reading this book. If you want to know more about this stuff, read Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy. They are accessible and don't pull their punches and they give you the nitty gritty details that Perkins doesn't. Oh and just for the record, this book was chosen by one of the people in my occasional book group. I did not freely pick up this book. Book group is going to be a hoot!