Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

This non-fiction account of a contractor for the World Bank could best be filed under Rants Against US Imperialism in the Third World. Perkins worked from 1962 until 1982 as an economic analyst, whose job it was to create projections which provide rationale for Worldbank and IMF to give huge loans to third world countries.
According to Perkins, there’s a shell game going on, by which these giant loans are made to countries like Ecuador, for giant infrastructure projects (dams, refineries, etc.) Apparently, giving these projects to US companies like Bechtel or Haliburton is a condition of the loan. Now, everyone knows that these countries will never be able to pay back the loans, and will have to default. And that’s great, because the US can then magnanimously agree to ‘forgive’ a small amount of the interest in exchange for, say, permission to build a military base (Saudi Arabia), or votes in a UN Security Council.

Perkins claims to have been involved in this insidious system for three decades, in Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Panama, and Pakistan. He claims that when world leaders, like Torrijos in Coloumbia, refuse to agree, they are assassinated by the CIA. (He has some pretty convincing examples of this in South America in the years leading up to the Contra affair.)

Taken as a whole, Perkins book is persuasive, in that it certainly convinced me that the basic nature of the system he describes is pretty much the way things work. Do I believe this is all part of some giant conspiracy? No. But do the mechanics of world back loans tend to work this way and are US international agendas at play in the use of sanctions or granting of loans? Sure.

Perkins’ ultimate conclusion is what makes him come across as a bit of a new age whack-job, unfortunately. Because according to Perkins, the nature of loans, infrastructure improvements, globalization and modernization as a whole are just plain bad for the hardworking local peoples of wherever. Now, while this MIGHT be true on many occasions, I’m not sure that I can agree with the basic nature of the anti-progress argument. Electricity, schools, flood control, hospitals, and modernization of water treatment plants are GOOD things. Or at least, they can have good effects. Add Perkins status as a leader of something called the Dream Change group, which mostly takes rich white people to go live green among the natives of South America, and what you’ve got is a guy who sounds right, but then reveals a bit of his inner flake. Include still more pointless wailing and gnashing of teeth from Perkins about the moral implications of his job, throw in a dash of self-aggrandizement, (“hit-man”? Really?), and an overemphasis on Perkins’ extra-marital sexcapades throughout the years, and what you get is a fascinating autobiography of a very bright, once influential man, who now comes across as pretty self-absorbed and overly idealistic.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman is fascinating. It provides some valuable insight into the nature of global economies. But it’s not gospel, and its conclusions sound a bit naive.


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