The Shocking Inside Story of How America REALLY Took Over the World

By John Perkins

256 pages: Ebury Press; New Ed edition (2006)

ISBN-13: 978-0091909109


(Reviewed by Dada Jyotirupananda)

I first heard about this book from a friend. He’d read that when a new President took office in a developing country – a country that the USA wanted to use or maintain as a ‘client state’ – he or she would be visited by a representative, of either the USA or a large business concern. The visitor would present the president with 2 brief cases. One would contain a large sum of money and the other a gun.

The message would be clear: take the money for yourself and work with us, or end up with a bullet in the head (so to speak).

So I looked forward to this provocative passage in the book. Alas, it wasn’t there. My friend was exaggerating a bit.

But maybe not too much. For if the US doesn’t go this far, it is perhaps just a matter of degree.

What the US does do, with the government and business working together, is offer large loans to poor countries. Loans that can be used to develop their infrastructure or one or another industry. Loans that have to be used to buy the services of American companies. Loans that sooner or later become so large that the country has little chance ever to pay them back (when one includes the high interest that accumulates).

And if they can’t pay back the loan, they are perpetually beholden to the US, which may sometime ‘call in the loan’ by demanding favours from that country. And these favours – for example the exploitation of their mineral, agricultural or other resources by US companies – would not likely be given by the host country if they were not facing extreme pressure from the US.

Of course sometimes, as Perkins notes, the leader of the country has a strong independent streak, or a strong dislike of his country being exploited. Or perhaps he prefers to deal with another country.

In that case, it may well be that the US starts throwing its weight, or influence, with a bit more force than previously. There may be the death of the uncooperative leader (witness the deaths of Omar Torrijos of Panama or Jaime Roldos of Ecuador, both of whom defied the US). And if that doesn’t work, there may be a war. And most countries find it difficult to withstand the US military might, even if they can withstand economic or political pressures.

John Perkins lived in this world for much of his career. Although the term ‘economic hit man’ (EHM) was not on his job description, it is what he was trained to do.

In his profession ‘hit man’ has a different concept than it does in organised crime. In the latter case, the hit man (or woman) is contracted to murder someone else.

In business, the economic hit man, as described by Perkins, generally works in a non-violent manner, if ‘violent’ refers to physical injury or death. Their tools, as the book describes it, include fraudulent financial reports (which serve to inflate the costs of what the country will need to borrow), rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, etc.

Perkins got into this trade for a combination of reasons. He was intelligent enough and he had some connections in business and government. And he was ‘pliable’, meaning he was willing to compromise his principles for the long term benefit of his company and himself.

From the beginning he knew that his work didn’t give much benefit to the host country (except perhaps a minority of wealthy families and politicians). He was willing to ignore this. In a sense he was ‘just following orders.’

However, John Perkins eventually found that he couldn’t live with himself in this role. He got out, even though early on he’d been told that an Economic Hit Man is in it for life.

Perhaps he started leaving the profession in one of his first jobs, in Indonesia. Here he was employed to make extremely high estimates of the future need of electricity and of economic growth, so that Indonesia would borrow a lot of money from the USA. As a major part of this plan, American companies would come to dominate the Indonesian economy while the large majority of Indonesians would have little or no benefit from the county’s economic ‘growth’.

While engaged in this he also met some young local people who urged him to see that the USA saw the rest of the world as if it was a bunch of grapes: “You can pick and choose. Keep England, Eat China. And throw away Indonesia… After you’ve taken all our oil.”

As well as getting out of this seamy business (seamy in a moral sense, but luxurious in the material sense) John has tried to help us see the ‘big picture’ and to understand the global damage that is being done in the name of greed. He gives us a clear picture that the modern ‘corporatocracy’ is ruthlessly exploiting “desperate people and is executing history’s most brutal, selfish, and ultimately self-destructive resource-grab” and that “it has everything to do with us.” That is, we can change this situation, or we can sit back and say that we don’t really know what is happening.

This book is called a confession because the author, as he states, is coming clean with his role. He doesn’t seem to hide how he was groomed into being an EHM, and how he compromised himself many times in order to continue to reap the benefits of his lifestyle.

It can’t have been easy to write this book, but it is an important document in the literature of exposing fraud, wherever and however it happens.