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Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

by John Perkins

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9 Hrs. 19 Min.
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  3.6  Stars Based on 4 ratings
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This is the inside story of how America turned from a respected republic into a feared empire. “Economic hit men,” John Perkins writes, “are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder.”

John Perkins should know—he was an economic hit man. His job was to convince countries that are strategically important to the U.S.—from Indonesia to Panama—to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development and to make sure that the lucrative projects were contracted to Halliburton, Bechtel, Brown and Root, and other United States engineering and construction companies. Saddled with huge debts, these countries came under the control of the United States government, World Bank, and other U.S.-dominated aid agencies that acted like loan sharks—dictating repayment terms and bullying foreign governments into submission.

This extraordinary real-life tale exposes international intrigue, corruption, and little-known government and corporate activities that have dire consequences for American democracy and world freedom.

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Reviewer Donald
 February 17, 2006
This Text Refers to the Hard Cover Edition:

Many of my friends and clients regularly travel to dozens of countries. Seldom does such a trip end without finding a weird example of a so-called economic development that has been funded by the World Bank or some other economic development agency. One of my favorite loony examples is a multi-hundred-million-dollar paper mill built high in the Andes far from any trees that can be used to make good paper and the water that is needed to make paper. What were they thinking about when this project was authorized and built? Perhaps the purpose wasn't to make paper.

In this memoir, John Perkins describes his covert role in expanding American economic influence by encouraging foreign governments to take on so-called development projects that they didn't need, couldn't afford and which wouldn't pay off for them. When the bill came due, the nations couldn't pay the loans and Uncle Sam was able to muscle the countries for concessions that independent countries probably wouldn't otherwise have made. Panama and Ecuador are the best developed examples in this scenario in the book.

Mr. Perkins performed this role ably on behalf of Boston-based engineering and construction firm by creating inflated estimates of the economic benefits of potential projects. In part, this wasn't hard to do because he didn't have the educational background to do the work correctly. But no one in his firm cared. His career advanced because he was so malleable in his upward estimates.

Who benefited? In the short term, such projects create lots of profits for U.S. manufacturers and engineering and construction firms like the one Mr. Perkins worked for and those that have employed so many people in the three Bush administrations (such as Bechtel, Halliburton and the rest of the usual suspects). These projects also help U.S. oil companies get access to new reserves. Wealthy families and politicians in the countries who do the projects often receive hefty amounts for their cooperation.

Who lost? Just about everyone else in those countries. The results described for Ecuador are particularly appalling. Indigenous peoples often suffer the most harm. It can be like when Europeans first moved to the Americas.

Mr. Perkins also makes unsubstantiated statements that if the economic "hit" didn't take the U.S. would follow up with assassins and/or invasions. That part of the case wasn't made effectively in the book. Conspiracy theorists will love the coincidences he describes though.

Mr. Perkins describes in the beginning of the book how he was recruited by the National Security Agency and assumes that either NSA or the CIA was responsible for his training in how to perform his role of overstating economic projections. He offers no verifiable proof that the training he received came from those quarters.

In fact, I found his argument a little strange in this area. In order to encourage him to be irresponsible in making economic projections, he was encouraged to think of himself as an "economic hit man." How is that really the way to encourage a young, idealist person to do the wrong thing? I don't think so. It probably would have made more sense to appeal to his patriotism. I wonder if Mr. Perkins may not have been set up instead by a foreign intelligence operation which wanted Mr. Perkins to eventually repent of his role and share this story. Although I have no proof that this scenario might have occurred, it seems more logical than the story Mr. Perkins assumes is true. If you read the book, decide for yourself what probably happened.

In any event, few readers will approve of the idea that the United States should overtly or covertly encourage countries to make bad public investments in infrastructure projects. This book will be an eye-opener for those who don't realize all of the harm that was done during the 1950s-1970s in this arena. The book itself doesn't provide a thorough look at the practices since then.

With the situation over energy in Ecuador in the balance now, I hope that readers will ask their representatives to look into the role the U.S. has been playing there.

The book isn't a particularly well written one (one of the reasons that I graded it at three stars). The book spends much too much time relating Mr. Perkins' hand-wringing about the ethics of his work over the years. I came away unconvinced about parts of his story. In the places where he describes what's going on as being a short-sighted attempt by his company to make more money, it reads convincingly. Where he ascribes motives to others, the book often doesn't have the proof to make the charges stick. His reasons for waiting so long to protest also seem inadequate to me.

But the real lesson of this book is that we should each examine our consciences about our work . . . and follow the advice of that frontier philosopher, Davy Crockett: "Be sure you're right, then go ahead."

Donald Mitchell

More Details

  • Published: 2005
  • LearnOutLoud.com Product ID: C006673
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