Former Economic Hitman John Perkins discusses the role of economic violence in global capitalism and the need to change the system
Poverty is the worst form of violence.” Gandhi made this observation 50 years ago, when the modern art of economic violence was in its infancy. This form of control has since been perfected by Economic Hitmen (EHM) like John Perkins who have gone to countries like Panama and Iran to strong-arm governments into taking huge loans from financial institutions like The World Bank.
In the book, “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” (2004) Perkins revealed his spy-like lifestyle and how he was recruited to be chief economist for a consulting firm that served as surrogate for the National Security Administration (NSA). He realized the loans he was pushing caused poverty and not prosperity in developing nations, benefiting only the ruling class of those countries and the United States contractors hired to complete projects like building dams in South America. As the old story goes, the rich got richer. Perkins is the author of seven other books including “The World is As You Dream It” and his latest, “Hoodwinked,” which offers a blueprint for a new form of global economics.
Perkins will speak on “The American Empire, the Future, and You: A Call to Action” at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 at Cabrillo College’s Crocker Theatre. GT recently spoke with Perkins about capitalism, shamanism and the occupy movement.
Good Times: As an EHM, how did you use economic violence to affect governments and people?
John Perkins: Economic Hitmen have created the world’s first truly global empire and for the first time in history have done it primarily without the military. We’d identify a country that has resources our corporations covet—like oil—and arrange a huge loan to that country from the World Bank or one of its sisters. The money never goes to the people of the country. It goes to one of our own corporations to build big projects in that country that benefit a few wealthy families and our corporations. And the people are left holding a debt that they can’t repay. Then we go back and say, “Well, you can’t pay your debt, so sell your resources real cheap to these corporations. Or let us build a military base on your soil.”
In the few cases where we fail, the jackals (CIA) go in and overthrow governments or assassinate leaders. I talk in my books about how I failed with Jaime Roldós of Ecuador and Omar Torrijos of Panama. Both of those men were assassinated because I couldn’t corrupt them; I couldn’t bring them around. In the few cases jackals also fail, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the military goes in as a last resort. The current president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has said, “My people don’t owe this money. The people never had a choice. Go find the military dictators and get them to pay!”
Is this form of economic domination still going on?
It’s happening in the United States, where it’s come home to roost. It’s sort of the same system when the banks were telling people who could only afford a $300,000 house, “Buy a $500,000 house. In five years it’ll be worth a million!” And then the market collapsed. This model is very old; it’s the feudal system of medieval Europe. There’s a castle and a lord and he’s got a bunch of knights. Outside the city are the bourgeoisie who have land at the lord’s permission and have to give him 80 percent of their crops. We’re living in that sort of system now, just a little more sophisticated.
It seems that the center of power has shifted, yes?
We’ve moved from a time when religious organizations called the geopolitical shots. Then it moved into governments. Now it’s the big corporations. In a way, they own the government. They have one goal: to maximize profit regardless of environmental and social cost.
Do you envision a better model than Capitalism?
The U.S. economy is based on killing people. The next level down is based on passing paper; mergers and acquisitions. Below that is producing a lot of trinkets. Five percent of the world’s population living in the U.S. consumes 30 percent of the world’s resources while half the world is starving or on the verge. That’s a failure. You can’t call it a model. We need to help people produce food more efficiently, clean up the terrible pollution and create better means of transporting ourselves. The system we have I call predatory capitalism. We need to change the system.
Tell me about the process of waking up to your role in this and how you got out.
I’d been in the Peace Corps (1968) and had seen the people down river from the dams. I lived in the Amazon with the Shuar people. As time went on it became more and more disturbing to me. But the job was very seductive; travel first class, the best hotels, wine and dine with presidents and beautiful women. Even when I began to see the truth, it was still tempting to listen to Robert McNamara, president of the World Bank, when he patted me on the back and said, “You’re doing a great job. You’re saving the world.” I was in for 10 years. I eventually had to admit that what I was doing was a modern form of slavery.
Tell me about what you learned from indigenous people in South America.
The shamans teach us that we are all energy. When we feel fear or anger, the important thing is how do you channel that energy into action? I’m very angry at my country and the corporations. I channel that energy into writing books and giving lectures.
What advice would you offer future whistleblowers?
I started writing a book and contacted other ECM and jackals to get their stories. I started receiving anonymous phone calls that were threatening me and my daughter’s life. I didn’t write the book. But on 9/11 I was looking at the smoldering pit and I knew I had to write “Confessions” and tell the world what I had done and how it’s a reason there’s so much resentment and poverty around the world. I decided I wouldn’t tell anyone what I was writing. I knew once it got published it would become my best insurance policy; any jackal knows if he shoots me, my book sales will skyrocket. I would advise anybody considering being a whistleblower to do it. But don’t threaten to do it first.
What’s your impression of the occupy movement?
This crashed economy is forcing people to see how we’ve been screwed by those who claim to be superior. The occupy movement is a huge expression of discontent. I think they’re accomplishing a great deal. And we need to take another step and come up with a new system.
John Perkins will speak at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 at Cabrillo College’s Crocker Theatre on “The American Empire, the Future, and You: A Call to Action.” Tickets for the talk are $15-$50 and are available at rcnv.org or 423-1626. For more information, see johnperkins.org and dreamchange.org. John Malkin is a local musician, writer and host of “The Great Leap Forward”at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on Free Radio Santa Cruz, 101.1 FM and freakradio.org.