Twelve years ago, John Perkins published his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and it rapidly rose up The New York Times’ best-seller list. In it, Perkins describes his career convincing heads of state to adopt economic policies that impoverished their countries and undermined democratic institutions. These policies helped to enrich tiny, local elite groups while padding the pockets of U.S.-based transnational corporations.
Perkins was recruited, he says, by the National Security Agency (NSA), but he worked for a private consulting company. His job as an undertrained, overpaid economist was to generate reports that justified lucrative contracts for U.S. corporations, while plunging vulnerable nations into debt. Countries that didn’t cooperate saw the screws tightened on their economies. In Chile, for example, President Richard Nixon famously called on the CIA to “make the economy scream” to undermine the prospects of the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.
If economic pressure and threats didn’t work, Perkins says, the jackals were called to either overthrow or assassinate the noncompliant heads of state. That is, indeed, what happened to Allende, with the backing of the CIA.
Perkins’ book has been controversial, and some have disputed some of his claims, including, for example, that the NSA was involved in activities beyond code making and breaking.
Perkins has just reissued his book with major updates. The basic premise of the book remains the same, but the update shows how the economic hit man approach has evolved in the last 12 years. Among other things, U.S. cities are now on the target list. The combination of debt, enforced austerity, underinvestment, privatization, and the undermining of democratically elected governments is now happening here.
I couldn’t help but think about Flint, Michigan, under emergency management as I read The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
I interviewed Perkins at his home in the Seattle area. In addition to being a recovering economic hit man, he is a grandfather and a founder and board member of Dream Change and The Pachamama Alliance, organizations that work for “a world that future generations will want to inherit.”
Sarah van Gelder: What’s changed in our world since you wrote the first Confessions of an Economic Hit Man?
John Perkins: Things have just gotten so much worse in the last 12 years since the first Confessions was written. Economic hit men and jackals have expanded tremendously, including the United States and Europe.