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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Contortions of an Economic Hit Man

I just finished reading Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. I read the first 120 or so pages because I had gotten several recommendations through e-mail or on other blogs. I read the last 100 pages only because I wanted to write a scathing review, and didn't want to do it on incomplete information. Now that I've finished it, I can write the scathing review without qualms.

Shorter scathing review: This book sucks. The only useful information comes in the first couple of chapters, where he describes the globalist agenda and his role in it. I can summarize it much more concisely than he did. Here goes:

Private consulting firms go into third-world countries like Indonesia and make outlandish growth estimates. They develop huge plans for "development," which mainly means building dams, power plants, roads, airports, and other infrastructure. They work with corrupt political leaders (or make them corrupt or replace them with someone who is), who agree to take on huge loans from the World Bank or IMF to build these projects. The money actually goes to large American corporations (Bechtel, GE, Enron, Halliburton, etc.), providing little real economic development in the target country. Instead, the main impact on the country is to be saddled with huge debt that it will be unable to pay, allowing the IMF to impose "structural adjustment" measures which make it even easier for corporations to exploit the labor and resources of the country. The corrupt leaders get fabulously rich, while the vast majority of the population gets even poorer. This outcome was intended from the start, and it was the job of "economic hit men" like Perkins to get the ball rolling.

That's really it. The rest of the book could easily be titled "I've been a scumbag all my life, but at least I've known it." It's really all about John Perkins. The chapter titles give it away:

1. An Economic Hit Man Is Born
2. "In for Life"
5. Selling My Soul
6. My Role as Inquisitor
9. Opportunity of a Lifetime
25. I Quit
29. I Take a Bribe

and my favorite,
32. September 11 and its Aftermath for Me, Personally
(he was in Ecuador at the time)

He gets these personal insights (which greatly traumatize him but don't cause him to alter his behavior for decades) while yachting in the Virgin Islands with beautiful women or while sharing a drink with novelist Graham Greene in a seedy Panamanian bar. Things which could be interesting, but aren't the way he tells them.

Perkins concludes the book with a bunch of suggestions that I certainly support--drive less, shop less, pay more attention to world and local affairs, get involved, etc. Unfortunately, he has failed completely to make any connection between his economic hit man activities and why we should take these suggestions.

It is unfortunate, because Perkins seems to have been involved in enough projects in enough countries to have written a much better book. He could have focused on those countries--Indonesia, Ecuador, Panama, Iran--where he was personally involved. Instead of dealing almost exclusively with himself, he could have discussed what the impacts of all of the global imperial efforts over the years have been. His personal stories could certainly have been used to reinforce his points, but they shouldn't have been his points. Perkins writes many times throughout the book about how he's been planning to write a book exposing the imperial corporatocracy for 25 years. By the time I got to the end of this book, all I could ask him would be, "Why don't you?"

It has been a few years since I read it, but I think that David Korten's When Corporations Rule the World does a much better job of accomplishing what Perkins claims to be doing. For a very effective one-country look at the negative impacts of the global corporate agenda, I recommend the film Life and Debt. The scene where Jamaican dairy farmers are dumping their milk, because they can't afford to sell it at a price matching that of subsidized powdered milk imported from the U.S., is a much more powerful image than anything Perkins came up with in 225 pages.

I see in the Amazon reviews that right-wingers are attacking Perkins' conclusions (which are correct IMHO) because he utterly fails to support them (which is also correct). It often seems that making a bad case is worse than making no case at all.