Confessions of an economic hit man

This review is an analysis of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins. Perkins declares his role to be that of an “economic hit man” working to convince foreign countries to accept large loans for engineering or construction projects, acknowledging that the growth of the country will never be great enough to repay these loans. This procedure of manipulation and entrapment forces countries to become in debt and at their creditor's mercy. In this case the creditors are the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development and the International Monetary Fund which are all owned by the United States. The US government can call upon these companies to demand the indebted countries make repayments in the form of political favours ranging from a United Nations vote, military bases abroad or even oil. Perkin's practices underline the existence of imperial domination and demonstrate the way in which modern empire is conquering the world.

Throughout the book, the author makes frequent references to his conscience and how coincidence shapes life. Perkins states, “Life is composed of a series of coincidences and the choices we make within the boundaries of the twists of fate determine who we are” (p.5). However, in my opinion this statement is not a true and accurate reflection of Perkins' story: his coincidences were not based on fate, but rather based on plans of his seniors colleagues to which Perkins' personality traits drew him. Perkins argues that coincidental moments shaped his life forever. But it is questionable which events in our lives are assisted and shaped by the corporatocracy.  It is not merely by chance these events occur but it was driven by Perkins' greed which led him to believe that what he was doing was right or “somebody else will fill my boots to carry out these actions” (p.31). It was more essential to the firm that the benefits of new infrastructures be excessively inflated resulting in a more experienced consultant, Howard, to be fired. Howard refused to project an annual increase in demand for electricity of more than 8 percent but Perkins willingly projected an increase in demand of 15 percent or more annually throughout a twenty-five-year period. Although many of his fellow experts were sceptical, Perkins won them over, with the exception of Howard who bluntly surmised, “You're in it for the money”. (p.32)

Perkins recalls that he compensated for his limited expertise, training and knowledge with sheer audacity (p.55). Though young and inexperienced compared to senior colleagues, Perkins was quickly moulded into an “economic hit man” or “EHM” as the role was known. Though he knew his work meant that “the loans of foreign aid will ensure that today's children and their grandchildren will be held hostage” (p.56), Perkins continued in his role for fifteen years. This is why his confession makes it difficult to account for the role he claims was played by coincidence, when Perkins had choices to heed his conscience and stand up to corporatocracy.

Chapter 15 on Perkins' work in Saudi Arabia is particularly significant as his forecasts highlight fictions of developing  modernisation projects, while recalling he always kept focused on “the true objectives: maximising payouts to U.S. firms and making Saudi Arabia increasingly dependent on the United States” (p.87). The author believes his actions would aid towards the construction of huge plants and infrastructure that would benefit the United States by stabilising the relations between both countries. Later Perkins reconsiders his actions after witnessing the effects of 9/11. According to Vanity magazine, terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda was funded by the House of Saud with the aid of United States projects. Perkins relates that, “Electronic intercepts of conversations of US officials implicated members of the royal family in backing not only Al Qaeda but also other terrorist groups” (p.97). Partially Perkins blames himself for getting entangled in corporatocracy and evaluates the number of situations where the U.S. has used morally unethical activities to get achieve their aims. Perkins questions how many historically significant decisions which impact millions of people are made by those driven by personal gain (p.197). Reflecting on the immoral decisions made by Washington, Perkins recalls the assassinations of leaders Jaime Roldo and Omar Torrijos. Their story affected Perkins as he felt a special connection to those men, who stood for the rights of their people. Torrijos wanted the world to know that while he was pro-Panama, he was not anti-American. Throughout history, oppressed individuals have ascended against establishments to fight for their rights, believing that there is no other course of action. This raises the question of whether there can ever be a successful uprising that will stop the corporate empire. Mahatma Gandhi managed to lead India into independence in 1947 from the British rule, inspiring global civil right movements.

Numerous western political leaders, past and present, have frequently emphasised the ascendancy of values and ideals in their foreign policy. George W. Bush constantly referred to "freedom", "liberty" and "democracy", in his justification for the war on Iraq. Yet such words sound like imperialists, as it is impossible to overlook the iron hand inside the velvet glove. They want to establish their own ideologies even if it means taking matters into their own hands. As the world mourned Torrijos death, John felt “certain that Torrijos would have served as a role model for a new generation of leaders in the Americas, Africas and Asia - something the CIA, the NSA and the EHMs could not allow” (p.161). Politically, the U.S has always been passionate about spreading democracy. There have been several speeches prearranged by presidents about the need to make sure that every nation has democratically elected presidents, that people have basic rights and live well in prosperous societies. Perkins mentions his heroes being the Founding Fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence (1776). However, this spread of independence and democracy seems to be relatively weak in Latin America. While Latin America has been successful at voting for democracy, the U.S has been quick to oust someone who opposes their ideologies, values or resources to which Washington subscribes, or else nations that have conflicting views are suffered by invasions from U.S armed forces. The U.S. invasion of Iraq during the Gulf War was a fight for resources, while the invasion of Panama was a fight for the Canal. Even though Panama posed no threat, and even though its president was beloved and democratically elected, the U.S. still invaded. Washington went against its democratic ideals, shook the nation of Panama to a core, took back the Canal, and gave Panama a puppet president. When the puppet did not dance the way the U.S. wanted, he too was ousted. Thus the spread of democracy appears to be no more than a label with undertones of U.S. imperialism.

In the latter chapters, the reader is invited to balance the difference between Ying and Yang and reminded of a prophecy called "The Prophecy of the Condor and Eagle," (p.210) which Perkins applies to the current world situation. This story deals with indigenous thought and technology stating that people can use these different ways of thinking to raise their awareness of world issues and be a more "conscious species" (p.210). In Perkins' view, people, especially those living in the U.S., need to stop worrying about unimportant matters and re-evaluate their own identities including those of future generations. He believes we cease to ask these important questions at our own peril (p.248).

I believe Perkins intended to write further about how to take the first steps towards change. The U.S. invaded Iraq because the EHM's and “jackals”, defined by the author as means of orchestrating political protests or riots, had failed to get Iraq to comply. Would this invasion mean the end of The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its control of Middle East oil? There is always the issue that the OPEC member countries could raise prices to their highest, since they would have nothing to lose if they were invaded. The price hike would be enough for the U.S. to implode on itself, since oil is based on U.S. currency. In view of the excessive debt which the U.S is in, if these nations were to call in their debts, the U.S. would be in an extremely difficult position. Much like in 1973, when Saudi Arabia raised their oil prices, President Nixon was forced to convince Congress to expend a further two million dollars.

There are many aspects immoral with the U.S., but how are people supposed to change the nation or even aspire to change it? Perkins states “We cannot bring ourselves to bite the hand of the master who feeds us” (p.217). He wonders why anyone who is able to buy a car, a house, enough food and clothes, electricity and health care would ever want to rise up against the nation that makes it possible for them to possess these luxuries. He then realises that the only factor that can make people amount and fight for a better life are words. The author recalls when the British Empire had control over the Americans and how Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson's words “fired [the] imaginations of their countrymen, opened hearts and minds. They discerned the truth behind the patina, understood the way the British Empire had manipulated, deceived and enslaved them” (p.218) Words are powerful on paper and even more powerful when spoken. Words can alter perceptions, and that is why Perkins wrote this book. He repeatedly attempted to write his book on the workings of Washington but was bribed or threatened not to publish his side of the story. But listening to his conscience and reading how the Founding Fathers stood up to empires in history, he realised that change comes about through words. This led Perkins to reveal his confession, concluding “I made my decision to stop procrastinate, to finish finally what I had started so many times over all those years, to come clean, to confess--to write the words in this book” (p.219)

I found the author's interpretation a fascinating read, one that has opened my eyes and gave me insight into the nature of behind-the-scenes political affairs. A soldier is merely an actor obeying orders from his or her leader or government. Perkins was an economic soldier, simply following orders. But as he writes of conscience and coincidence, he wants the reader to identify how guilty he was when fabricating reports. He wants to elicit sympathy and soften public perceptions of the true nature of his work. Many people argue that the U.S. should ease its imperialistic goals justified through foreign policy and assist other nations. How can the U.S. be accepted when so many of its practices have existed for decades under numerous administrations? President Obama's recent speech in Egypt addressing the Islamic world was a sign of change and hope for equality. Yet, U.S. troops still remain in Afghanistan and Iraq to this day. Can nations ever trust and have confidence in America's strategy to help for the good, based on its history of exploiting developing countries?

Perhaps the concept of corporatocracy is not as grim as Perkins portrays? Without imperialism, there would never be great empires. Someone has to be top of the food chain, so why is it considered immoral to desire and take that position? Possibly the U.S. needed to act and regulate these “EHM” strategies as Russia was seen as the most dominant communist nation growing in terms in stature and power, particularly at a time when Perkins was undertaking his work. Eventually Russia collapsed and the need to invest in countries was no longer a priority. Perkins mentions “protecting [our] oil supplies had always been a priority, after 1973, it became an obsession” (p.83). This obsession was due to Saudi Arabia's rise in oil prices, the U.S. formulated a strategy that permits the same crisis ever materialising in the future. Is looking after number one such a bad strategy? If all societies would operate in this manner, it is possible the world will be more balanced, as it is up to the individual to take care of his or her destiny.

The United States is considered a powerhouse and it would take perhaps decades or centuries for the collapse of such an establishment, if ever. But if one looks back historically, one of the most dominating empires was the British Empire, who sought to exploit many countries' natural resources, notably India's salt and cotton. But due to economic reasons in the aftermath of World War II, the fall of Britain was proactively exercised. Britain had a captive market and became incredibly wealthy. However, a captive market can lead to the danger of complacency. Britain maintained the status quo as if it was a world power whereas other countries developed new ideas to stand up to imperialist practices. This was evident in the Suez Canal crisis (1956), where Egypt's President Nasser took back the canal from the British and without the aid of the United States who themselves had self-interests with their strong ally Saudi Arabia, neglected any participation in the conflict. Only through words can people become enlightened and aware of imperialistic activities. History has shown us how to react and stand up for just causes with leaders such as Gandhi and Mandela showing the way. By definition some may single out these idealists as freedom fighters, but these men were simply ordinary individuals looking out for their people.

In Perkin's defence, the book is only one person's experience of imperialism. Many similar lines of work and practices have occurred through history but have received less attention, having not been the subject of publication. But admiration is surely credited for how Perkins has elicited the truth of the country's operations. By enlightening the world and in particular the US citizens, his bold confession is meant to encapsulate a viewpoint from the East by exploiting western domination.

Despite Perkins motives, I would argue the book is not convincing enough for me to change my perception on U.S. imperialism as it is subjective in that it is an account of the author's feelings and contradictory story. Perkins was exercising these strategies while being handsomely rewarded for his actions through promotion and increased wages. The societal model of “survival of the fittest” suggests and promotes the concept of imperialism, whether we choose to be involved or adopt new strategies. As highlighted by Perkins, “words can play a part” or retrospectively have an adverse effect. Words may powerfully influence a change of ideologies but without action they are merely a means to say what one wants people to hear and moreover, words can also be used to manipulating the truth. There must be willingness to act and collective desire for change, not for greed but for good. Perhaps it is too late to change ones beliefs but if enough people adopt a strategy to objectively think about society as a whole, the issue of imperialism would be debated historically.

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