Few non-fiction authors can entertain like fiction writers, but John Perkins is a rare breed. His tell-all books about his experiences as a former economic hit man (EHM) for the global establishment are compelling page-turners that are at least as entertaining as most spy novels. Perkins hits deep by unveiling dark truths that provide more enlightenment on world affairs than the corrupt corporate news media will offer all year. The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, therefore. may be the most important book of 2016, since reading it is like getting a top secret state department debriefing on world affairs.
The new book is an updated version of Perkins’ 2004 classic Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, where the author revealed how the United States’ allegedly altruistic attitude of helping poorer nations with development loans was really a con for corporate schemes to put those nations into debt they could never repay and swindle them for trillions of dollars. The original book sold over one million copies and spent 73 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The new edition features 14 additional chapters covering 2004 to 2015, including an exposé of how the EHM system has come home to roost in the US, as well as an eye-opening 30-page section listing EHM activity during the past decade.
Both books detail Perkins’ former life as chief economist and EHM for a major international consulting firm that was a peer of companies like Bechtel and Halliburton. Perkins stalled on the original book for many years due to a combination of bribes and intimidation, until the events of September 11, 2001 convinced him he had to expose the system. The exposé on “the global problem of predatory corporate capitalism” struck a global chord. This led to great demand for Perkins on the speaker circuit, to a 2009 song titled “EHM” from jamtronica rockers STS9 and to a 2012 Lennon Ono Grant for Peace.
Not all were thrilled with the publicity about the shady way Uncle Sam conducts global business to serve the corporate empire. In the new book, Perkins details a 2005 incident that seemed like an assassination attempt by poisoning. Perkins was past the point of no return and was moved to update the book due to how “the deadly EHM cancer has spread far more widely and deeply than ever in the United States and everywhere else to become the dominant system of business, government and society today.”
PopMatters recently talked with Perkins wherein he spoke out on a variety of current global affairs and what people can do to help “bury the death economy and birth the life economy”. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, for example, has many observers wondering how the summit’s non-binding goals will be able to triumph over a marketplace still wedded to fossil fuels. While Secretary of State John Kerry left Paris evangelizing that the market would solve the climate crisis due to how the summit increased political demand for green energy solutions, Perkins says that’s not the way the global economy really works.
“If you read some of the most celebrated economists in the world today, two Nobel prize winners, Krugman and Stiglitz, you’ll hear both of them saying the market really doesn’t determine much from a standpoint of supply and demand. Supply and demand curves are meaningless, the market is driven by politics,” Perkins explained, “And politics is driven by big corporations and so therefore big corporations drive the market. The old economic theories are basically BS. They’re beautiful wonderful theories but they don’t really have any relationship with the reality of global economics today.”
Even following the possible assassination attempt, Perkins writes in the new book that he still doesn’t believe in a “grand conspiracy theory… of individuals who get together to plot illegal, world-dominating strategies”. He does however, acknowledge that “part of the power of the EHM system is that it foments many small conspiracies… focused on specific objectives”. He cites the 1953 CIA coup in Iran, the 1963 CIA-supported Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and the 1981 assassinations of Ecuadorian President Jaime Roldos and Panama’s General Omar Torrijos (both of whom resisted EHM attempts to control their nation’s economies).
A modern example cited in the new book is the Honduran coup of 2009, in which democratically elected leader Manuel Zelaya was overthrown. Perkins writes of how Zelaya advocated for a 60 percent increase in the minimum wage, infuriating Chiquita Brands International and Dole Food Company. “American CEOs know that if Honduras’s hourly wage rate rises, so will that of all the other Latin American countries. Honduras, along with Haiti, sets the minimum wage benchmark”, a source told Perkins. The US press, Perkins notes, limited their reporting to accusations the coup was triggered by Zelaya’s attempts to introduce constitutional changes enabling him to run for another term.
Perkins goes on to note how one of the Honduran coup government’s top advisors was lobbyist Lanny Davis, who served as White House counsel for President Bill Clinton. Chiquita, meanwhile, was represented by the Washington DC law firm Covington & Burling, where Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder had been a partner and defender of Chiquita when the company was accused of hiring “assassination squads” in Colombia.
Perkins also cites the modern wave of free trade agreements that push corporate supremacy above all else: “Among the most striking are conspiracies to implement ‘free’ trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA, and the more recent Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which empower corporations to assume de facto sovereignty over governments in countries around the world; to convince politicians to pass laws that permit the rich to avoid paying taxes, to control the media, and to use media to influence politics…” Perkins writes, undercutting the popular notion that Obama is a progressive champion when he and Kerry have been working overtime to push the TPP.
Perkins’ global travels give him deep insight into international events that are either barely covered by the American media and/or framed for a particular narrative by corporate media gatekeepers. The 13 November 2015 ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris created a state of emergency in France that led to a ban on public protests at the climate summit, squelching a climate justice protest gathering of what environmental activist/journalist Naomi Klein has estimated was likely to be a million people in the streets. Perkins was in Latin America at the time and said the mood there was one not reflected in American media.
“I have no inside information, I will say… that there’s a very strong suspicion amongst them [Latin Americans] and probably a lot of other people in the world, that the timing of the terrorist attacks certainly distracted attention from what was really going on at the Paris climate change meetings. Beyond that it’s hard to say”, Perkins said.
The former EHM also pointed out another angle on international affairs relating to time he’s spent in Colombia, voicing suspicions that there was more than meets the eye with the Secret Service scandal that surrounded President Obama’s visit for the Summit of the Americas in 2012.
“Obama was pretty strongly attacked by many of the leaders from Latin American countries for US policies on drugs, that we don’t do enough to alleviate the drug problem in the US and instead we send paramilitaries and train policemen in Latin America to stop the production rather than dealing with the consumption at this end. He was also strongly criticized for NAFTA and CAFTA and the WTO by the Latin American leaders, and for our gun policies because they don’t have the violence problems that we do, despite the fact that we’re always reading about how violent Latin America is,” Perkins said, before relating how the media was manipulated into covering a more sensational story instead.
“But none of that made the American press in the US… Instead what made the press in the US was that about a dozen Secret Service agents had an orgy with prostitutes at the Caribe Hotel in Cartegena, a hotel that I know very well, I used to spend a lot of time there. And that’s what we read about in the US. It was a total distraction from what was really going on. People in the US did not learn about how upset Latin American leaders were over US policies toward Latin America. Instead they just learned about a scandal. And Latin Americans are totally convinced that that was planned, at least a lot of them are”, Perkins explained.
In the new book, Perkins points to a similar distraction in the form of the 2015 FIFA soccer scandal that took headlines away from other financial fraud. He notes that the perpetrators employed EHM tactics like bribes and money laundering in collaboration with the big banks. “The corruption was unchecked for nearly two decades and cost the communities and taxpayers of many nations fortunes while making a small number of elites wealthy”, Perkins writes. He goes on to describe how he was at first relieved to see the Justice Department taking action but then saw that “the soccer scandal was a smoke-and-mirrors diversion” as the media focused attention on FIFA “at a time when the real criminals were stealing the global economy.”
In a chapter exploring “today’s economic hit men”, Perkins cites a discussion with renowned historian Howard Zinn, who told him to study politicians like Tom Daschle and Christopher Dodd. Both served as long-term US Senate leaders from the Democratic Party before exiting for lobbying roles as political advisors. Perkins’ research would add Republicans like John Ashcroft, Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm, Chuck Hagel and Trent Lott who have euphemistic titles like counselor, consultant or advisor in government affairs.
“Their real job, as mine was, is to con governments and the public into submitting to policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. They are EHMs, paid to support the corporatocracy, expand the the corporate empire, and spread the tentacles of the death economy across the planet”, Perkins writes. He goes on to cite Boeing’s manipulation of the state of Washington for tax breaks with “site location consultants” threatening to move the company’s production facilities to another state if politicians did not deliver. The state legislature complied by passing a tax break with an estimated lifetime value of $8.7 billion to Boeing.
“It was a spectacular victory for Boeing’s EHMs and a huge loss for Washington State taxpayers”, Perkins writes, noting that this American scheme is even more effective than the international ones using loans since no one has to put up the funds. “Instead, the money is simply removed from the tax base and handed to the corporation; in essence, the money is stolen from the US taxpayer. Funds that had been earmarked for health care, education, and other social services are diverted to the coffers of greedy corporations — gifts from the lobbyist EHMs and corrupt politicians”.
When asked about the current American election year, Perkins emphasized the importance of recognizing the limitations of the presidency.
“More important than anything, is for all of us to recognize that the president doesn’t have a lot of power… and so what we have to get from this is that the president is a very vulnerable person, open to being taken down by vicious rumors and skeletons in the closet, and who doesn’t have skeletons”, Perkins said, “So we have to recognize that it’s we the people that have to do it. Great, participate in elections, vote for the right person, but realize that that’s just a very small part of what each of one of us should do. That each of us have to take it upon ourselves to make things happen. And to recognize that the corporations have the control, and yet ultimately we control corporations. By buying from them, by investing in them, we support them, or by refusing to buy from them or invest in them, we take some of their power away. I think it’s fair to say that the marketplace is a greater democracy than the political arena these days.”
Speaking to the issue of just six corporations now controlling roughly 90 percent of the American media, Perkins asks Americans to remember where real change comes from: “In a way, those six corporations are being more and more recognized as at the best, entertainment and at the worst propaganda… but let’s remember that change doesn’t come from necessarily the majority, it comes from critical mass, it’s always been the case,” Perkins said. He cited examples such as resistance to apartheid, the anti-Vietnam war movement and the right wing being able to stop gun control on semi-automatic assault guns with the NRA.
“It’s really important for people to recognize that we all have tremendous power. And in this day of social networking, it’s easier than ever to organize these campaigns. Companies are very aware of what their clients and customers want from them and it has a big impact,” Perkins pointed out.
He reiterated that the consumer vote is a citizen’s most valuable weapon for change: “I think it’s so important for people to understand that we the people have the power and we have to exercise it. And the way to exercise it is consumer movements to force corporations to do the right thing… Your dollar is a vote, whether you use it in the marketplace to buy something or not buy something,” Perkins said, adding that it’s also important to send emails to let companies know why you’re buying or not buying from them. Perkins also emphasized the importance of supporting a regenerative economy, such as more holistic approaches to supply chains, water use and economic development.
Perkins’ message is summed up in the book with an anecdote about a chance meeting in India with the Dalai Lama when they were both on the same flight. The Dalai Lama wanted to meet the author of Shapeshifting, a book Perkins had written about indigenous shamans (with shamanic studies being the author’s other longtime area of expertise) and invited Perkins to sit next to him for a lively discussion. Praying for peace is good the Dalai Lama said, but added, “If that is all you do, it’s a waste of time. It may even be a distraction. You need to take appropriate daily action. You must act. Every day.”
At the end of the day, Perkins again emphasizes the importance of conscious consumerism and harkens back to the message of the socio-cultural revolution from the ’60s, writing that, “Today’s revolution is much bigger than the American Revolution. It is bigger than the agricultural or industrial revolutions. It is nothing less than a consciousness revolution.” Such a revolution of higher consciousness does indeed seem like the key to transforming the political paradigm of predatory corporate greed serving only a small elite into a regenerative life economy that serves all of humankind.