Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

by John Perkins, Plume Books, 2004, 303 pages.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

After repeated and passionate reference to this book by a close friend, I finally borrowed it from him and read it. One side of me wishes I had not done so. Reading this book has changed me like few others have. Gone forever is a self-imposed naivete about the sinister machinations of the leaders of our Western World. Having lived in South America in earlier decades and observed global political and economic dynamics closely in this one, I had developed an innate sense of mistrust of Western principalities and powers, especially those rooted in the United States of America. In a sense I always held out the hope that I might be wrong. But, having read this book, my worst fears have been verified.

I wish this gripping book had been a novel instead of a confession. A good writer can always hatch sinister plots to keep us turning the pages. But Perkins’ repeated references to real times, people and places I know to be true forced me to place this story within the realm of real history – a history encompassing my own life time. Indeed, Perkins is about my age. This means that during most of my years of public service within the church and its institutions, John Perkins was circling the globe as an Economic Hit Man.

In the preface to the book, Perkins writes as follows: 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 include 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. I should know; I was an EHM.

Throughout the book, Perkins sites example after example of how the system works. The basic story line goes like this: EHMs travel the globe encouraging poor countries to take out huge loans from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or Multi-national Banks. To convince them, they produce bogus economic forecasts of the benefits that such countries will derive from the projects such loans will finance. Once such loans have been signed by poor countries, the money is funneled to large American corporations to construct the projects envisioned. It is known from the outset that these projects will not benefit the poor and that these loans can never be repaid. In such countries the poor just continue to get poorer.

But, according to plan, when poor countries then fall behind in servicing this debt, the IMF forces austerity measures on them which draws much needed financing from social programs toward servicing this impossible international debt that hangs over them. Then, once poor countries have been thus pounded into a state of vulnerability, the American government and international aid agencies request their “pound of flesh,” including access to natural resources, military cooperation, and political support. Even in recent years, as world-wide pressure has mounted to forgive such debts to the poorest countries, a sinister twist has emerged. Invariably, in cases where loans have been forgiven, “conditionalities” are attached that allow the cycle of exploitation to continue unabated.

I had difficulty finishing the book. It is hard to read through tears of anger, disgust and shame. It is now clearer than ever to me that the affluent lifestyles we enjoy in the West are not only a result of our ingenuity and our adherence to naked capitalism, as people like J. D. Lees – a regular columnist in our local paper – keep suggesting. At least a large part of our North American affluence is besmirched with the blood of the world’s poor.

This book is a bombshell – a must-read for anyone who cares about the world.