Sunday, May 22, 2005

Economic Hit Man

John Perkins wants us to wake-up and “shape-shift” our world.
When you look around, you know that this world of human societies was created by sleeping people, because awake, aware, conscious people would create a very different world. (Perkins,
Perkins is the author of the best selling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (EHM for short), published in 2004 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. EHM purportedly chronicles Perkin’s early life and career with the Boston based engineering firm Chas. T Main, Inc. (MAIN). It tells the tale of a man who, at least in his early life, was wracked with insecurity and conflict and seemingly very little backbone.

After several years with the Peace Corps, Perkins joins MAIN as an economist. His basic role is to produce economic forecasts for less-developed countries (e.g. Third World, or LDCs) that exceed reality. The purpose of these reports is to allow the LDC to qualify for loans from the World Bank, IMF or other large international lending organization. The reason this is important for his company, MAIN, is that one of the restrictions of this money is that engineering firms from the developed countries (DCs) like the USA have to be hired to do the work.

In the case of MAIN the projects were all focused on US engineering firms and we see this type of scenario is very common as in Iraq and Afghanistan today. MAIN is a similar company to Halliburton, but where Halliburton largely focuses on logistics and oil field engineering, MAIN specialized primarily in power generation projects, like hydroelectric dams for instance.

The subject matter Perkins covers is well documented in other sources. Some reviewers have suggested that Perkins is a conspiracy theorist. One point he continued to highlight in the book separates him from the conspiracy crowd quite specifically, as shown by the following excerpts:
Some would blame our current problems on an organized conspiracy. […] Members of a conspiracy can be rooted out and brought to justice. This system […] is driven not by a small band of men, but by a concept that has been accepted as gospel: [that] economic growth benefits humankind and [produces] widespread benefits. (Perkins, EHM pp xii) […]

The corporatocracy is not a conspiracy, but its members do endorse common values and goals. [Its] function is to perpetuate and continually expand and strengthen the system. (Perkins, EHM pp xiii) […]

This [is] a close-knit fraternity […] with shared goals, and the fraternity’s members moved easily and often between corporate boards and government positions. (Perkins, EHM pp 26)
Perkins is describing something well know to us all, and although he labels it the corporatocracy it is in fact simply capitalism or the capitalist system or simply Capital. Many people confuse the idea of someone being rewarded for hard work with capitalism. If this where what capitalism was, a sort of meritocracy, it would probably not be so bad.

In a meritocracy people would be rewarded for being hard workers and developing their talents over time. Those with more talent and who work harder would rise to the top of society. However, anyone who possesses any senses at all (you most certainly don’t need all of them) can plainly detect that it is quite the opposite case under capitalism. The most talentless, banal, and corrupt people rise while many others fall. In fact, the people at the very top, who we rarely hear about, are among the most indolent, being paid for doing no work at all based on their accumulated capital through the continued exploitation of labor.

In his book, Perkins describes a portion of the mechanisms that make this possible, specifically focusing on how the Third World is exploited through a process of neo-colonialism (though he rarely if ever used this term). Over the past 50 years, the forces of Capital dominant in the US have used economics as a key tool of empire building. Perkins tells this story from a personal, albeit simplistic, viewpoint that is informative if not compelling.

Perhaps the most effective feature of the book is that, like Machiavelli’s Prince, it personalizes the experience of the players in the game of geopolitics. Perkins gives a personal glimpse into the lives of Omar Torrijos, Jamie Roldós and the Saud family of Saudi Arabia. He shows how personal desires and weaknesses are part and parcel to keeping the system running. He also shows that the basest motives are what drive and fuel the system.

John PerkinsReading EHM, and knowing about Perkin's background, I found myself wondering about the veracity of the narrative. I have come to understand that that issue is irrelevant. Regardless on whether this is a non-fiction narrative, or instead a well thought-out parable, the underlying truths are right on target. Considering the amount of cultural currency the book has at this time, this is indeed a very good thing.

Confessions of An Economic Hit Man can be found at (union friendly) or your local library.

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