John Perkins and his peers described themselves as economic hit men. He wrote a memoir describing their work called “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” which I found thrilling to read and chilling to think about its consequences.
What do economic hit men do? According to him
Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools included fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.
This interview of the author describes it in more detail. I recommend reading the book for a first-hand, insider portrayal. I’ll summarize some of the system he described.
The book described their process like this: a country has a valuable resource the U.S. wants, usually oil or minerals, but it sounds like a UN vote could suffice. The goal is to make the country owe the U.S. more money than it can repay. Then the U.S. can ask for repayment in access to the resource. If this sounds like the Godfather, the book makes the comparison.
How do you get the country to borrow more than it can repay? The economic hit man does it in two main ways. He proposes a public works project like a dam, highway, power plant, or the like that he says will grow the economy enough to pay back the money, but never would. At the same time he makes sure the rich elite of the country get enough of the money to support the proposal.
Why would the U.S. lend so much money to a country than can’t repay it? First, the amounts are small compared to the U.S. economy. Next, the money never makes it to the smaller county. Almost all of it goes to U.S. companies like Halliburton, GE, Bechtel, and so on, who support the members of the U.S. government supporting the scheme. Members of the Reagan and both Bush cabinets are the same population as those company’s top executives.
So what’s the problem? The public works project doesn’t help the country, but rather generally destroys the environment. Since the rich elite get money while the rest of the country gets almost nothing, the gap between rich and poor increases, creating social unrest, leading the elite to maintain power non-democratically and violently, with U.S. support. They call opposition communist and terrorists, but this process is the picture of a planned economy and terror, at least to the local people, founded in authoritarian rule, according the book.
When it works, the system looks something like this:
The net results, roughly,
|United States Citizens||Insider Corporations||Small Country||Rich Elite||Small Country Citizens|
|Gain||Access to small country’s resource through insider corporation||90% of loan value, access to new market||1% of loan value||9% of loan value||Benefit from 1% of loan value|
|Lose||Relatively small part of nation’s economy||Obligation to build public works project and support rich elite||100% of loan debt||Obligation to support plan, often requiring violent, anti-democratic force||Obligation to repay loan, environmental destruction, non-democratic leadership enforced through violence|
When the economic hit men fail to get the nation’s leaders to agree—say they leader is dedicated to helping the country or to democracy—the next step is to bring in what they call “jackals,” which include actual hit men and others to foment revolution or assassinate, leading to new leadership, as in Iran in 1953. If the jackals fail the U.S. falls back on its military, as in Iraq or Panama.
From the outside, the process looks like the U.S. gave a huge, helpful loan but the country couldn’t get its act together to act on. After reading this book, it looks like the U.S. government and insider corporations cook the numbers to look that way, but ultimately just get a lot of money at the expense of the people whose land gets pillaged. It looks like a systemic scam that doesn’t need a conspiracy to keep it running. Those who can influence it benefit from it and those who lose can’t influence it. It’s at a Nash Equilibrium.
The book’s Wikipedia page described some criticism and linked to a Washington Post article whose focus on fine points that missed the big picture enough ended up supporting the book more than discrediting it.
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