Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins is a book intent on bringing readers into the inner reaches of the world of international finance. Written as a memoir designed to enlighten, the book is in many ways controversial. The author wrote what appears to be an honest portrayal of both the good things and bad things that took place while he was working for one of the most powerful financial institutions on the planet. The idea was to present something shocking to people who might not have understood the reality of this particular industry. The book does leave the reader wanting more, but more than that, the book provides the reader with insights on life that the reader might not have had before.
Timing is critically important for this particular book, and the author chose to write the book in 2004 because of some of the trends taking place around the world. At that particular time, many of the countries around the world were looking to excuse the debt of some of the world’s smallest and least powerful countries. This forgiveness came with strings attached, though. Smaller countries only received debt forgiveness if they were willing to accept certain conditions, which the author found to be nothing short of legalized extortion. This is one of the reasons he decided to finally publish his take on the situation. He wanted to show that this kind of treatment of underdeveloped nations is nothing new, but rather, a part of a plan put together by the world’s largest corporations to further consolidate their power in a legitimate and seemingly noble way.
The author seems to expect the world to learn about the inner workings of the consultancy business. In addition, he wants the world to learn the extent to which the economic game is rigged. While many people suspect that the government has nefarious motives when dealing with smaller nations, he wants this to take on a more specific tone. By calling himself an “economic hitman,” he seeks to communicate to the world that the agenda is no different than what one might experience in an organized criminal ring. Important to this is his portrayal of major international financial institutions like the World Bank and the US’s foreign aid arm. He argues the inherent corruption in these organizations, and he describes them as being highly organized. These organizations have their agendas given to them by their corporate masters, and they stop at nothing to inflict those agendas on the smaller countries around the world. He intends to communicate that the effects are not an accident.
He discusses many controversial topics, revealing how those organizations worked on the inside. For one, he notes that the organizations would rig financial reports in order to win key support. Likewise, he argues that these world organizations played an important role in rigging elections in smaller nations. He also argues that international institutions would put tremendous pressure on leaders to privatize everything in exchange for funds. At times, he was asked to pay off various figures around the world to secure the proper result. He discusses how world organizations are largely in bed with the large consultancy firms like the one where he worked, as he felt he was vetted by the NSA before getting his own job. On the more controversial side, he describes the way in which murder played a role in the organizations’ dealings. When they could not use money and influence to get the proper result, these organizations were not at all above resorting to tactics most often seen in the mafia. He also describes the people involved in these dealings as being reckless and sex-crazed.
One must analyze why the author wrote the book in order to determine whether he is credible. It would be foolish not to admit that the author has a profit motive. A man with a history of taking less than nice jobs for many, it is likely that this book is an attempt to garner attention and cash after the fact. Likewise, he seems to have a personal vendetta against some of the members of these organizations. These things do not completely discredit the author, but they should make the reader wonder whether some of the claims in the book are trumped up for the purpose of selling books. It feels, at times, like the author is trying to make the book more exciting. Still, it is likely that his take on the big picture is the truth, while some of his details may have been shifted to fit his narrative.
After reading this book, it is apparent that the world is somewhat different than I have understood it before. For one, this influenced the way that I look at foreign aid. It should not have surprised me to learn that America engages in politically manipulative tactics with its foreign aid. After all, America rarely spends money unless that spending helps to further its purposes and place in the world. This book has made me much more cynical about the financial world. I understood that some corruption was there, and I knew that corporations were largely involved in influencing global resource consumption, but I was unaware of the extent to which these corporations could influence major institutions like the World Bank. This was a truly shocking revelation that forced me to confront the naivety that I brought into this book.
- Perkins, John. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: The shocking story of how America really took over the world. Ebury Digital, 2011.