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Book Review 

Confessions of an Economic Hitman

By John Perkins

Throughout the 1970s, as chief economist for an international consulting firm, John Perkins' job was to convince Third World nations to accept enormous loans for building bridges, dams and power grids. Then, once a less developed country was trapped in the role of debtor, the U.S. government could move in and act like a loan shark.

In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Perkins accuses the "corporatocracy" (corporations, banks and governments working in loose confederation to advance consumerism) of advancing empire while rationalizing its actions as aid for the poor.

While he worked extensively in Panama, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Colombia and Ecuador, it was in Indonesia that Perkins once attended a satirical puppet show expressing deep cynicism about the current American military invasion. It would have been mere post-Iraq whining — except that the puppeteer was skewering Richard Nixon, the nation being invaded was Vietnam and the year was 1971.

Citing British historian Arnold Toynbee, the Indonesians claimed — even then — that America wasn't targeting Soviet atheists but Islamic fundamentalists. "Stop being so greedy," an Indonesian told Perkins that day. "Babies are dying of thirst, and you search the fashion magazines for the latest styles."

The corporatocracy may use the methods of the Mafia, but Perkins doesn't regard it as some right-wing conspiracy. It's easy to conjure conspiracies, he says — that way, the solution is simply to throw out the bad guys, because the system itself is basically sound. No, he says, the problem lies in the system: "The corporatocracy is ourselves — we make it happen.... How do you rise up against a system that appears to provide you with your house and car, food and clothes, electricity and health care — even when you know that the system also creates a world where 24,000 people starve to death each day and millions more hate you, or at least hate the policies made by representatives you elected?"

His list of what you can do is slim — raise your consciousness, make your own confession — but then the usual purpose of an expose like these Confessions is simply to gain entry to the marketplace of ideas. We have to recognize a problem before we can fix it.

Then again, some people refuse to recognize global warming. And some people refuse to believe that America is in pursuit of empire.

Publication date: 1/06/04

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Publisher's Note

long reads

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