2006.07.01: July 1, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Ecuador: Writing - Ecuador: Development: Economics: Personnel Psychology: Gary B. Brumback reviews: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by Ecuador RPCV John Perkins

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ecuador: Special Report: Ecuador RPCV and Author John Perkins: 2006.07.01: July 1, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Ecuador: Writing - Ecuador: Development: Economics: Personnel Psychology: Gary B. Brumback reviews: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by Ecuador RPCV John Perkins

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Gary B. Brumback reviews: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by Ecuador RPCV John Perkins

Gary B. Brumback reviews: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by Ecuador RPCV John Perkins

Perkins' interview with the supersecretive NSA was over 30 years ago, but I suppose its approach remains generally unchanged. He was surprised by the line of questioning and the fact that answers that he thought would reject him led instead to his being offered a job "to learn how to spy." His declared opposition to the Vietnam War (he was looking for a draft deferment), his rebellion from his parents, "an obsession with women," his materialistic ambition, and his having lied to the police about a loyal friend in trouble were, he said, "exactly the types of attributes they sought."

Gary B. Brumback reviews: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by Ecuador RPCV John Perkins

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Jul 1, 2006

Personnel Psychology

John Perkins. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004, 250 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

Position description of an economic hit man: "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."

Critical incident of an EHM failure: "The other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind the EHMs and stepped in" when the latter failed (as was suspected in the case of the unusual deaths of two men Perkins knew personally, President Jaime Roldos of Ecuador and President Omar Torrijos of Panama).

Applicant interviews for EHM position: Applicant is wired to a polygraph while being interviewed. Scoring is upside down. An answer that would be disqualifying is valued because it shows the applicant is "seducible."

Position descriptions, critical incidents, and applicant interviews were my stock and trade years ago, but not once did I ever encounter the likes of the specific examples I just passed on to you from the book's author. I would dare say few if any others in my field ever encountered them either (come to think of it, though, a tight-lipped graduate school classmate was allegedly on leave from the National security Agency to do a classified dissertation).

Perkins' interview with the supersecretive NSA was over 30 years ago, but I suppose its approach remains generally unchanged. He was surprised by the line of questioning and the fact that answers that he thought would reject him led instead to his being offered a job "to learn how to spy." His declared opposition to the Vietnam War (he was looking for a draft deferment), his rebellion from his parents, "an obsession with women," his materialistic ambition, and his having lied to the police about a loyal friend in trouble were, he said, "exactly the types of attributes they sought."

He declined the offer and accepted a Peace Corps assignment, which got him deferred. Although on assignment in Ecuador he was approached by the vice president of MAIN, a secretive international consulting company of some 2,000 people that dealt with heads of state and other chief executives. The VP "sometimes acted as an NSA liaison," but the company's largest client was the World Bank. Perkins suspected that the man was sent by NSA to assess him in the field.

Perkins joined MAIN after his Peace Corps tour ended. He stayed with MAIN for 10 years, eventually becoming its chief economist and "heading major projects around the world" but all the while operating as an undercover EHM, the unofficial title that had been given to him by his on-the-job trainer.

His primary "tool" in persuading poor countries on his hit list to go heavily into debt to pay for engineering and construction projects was his inflated estimates of the economic growth and increased standard of living the borrowing countries would realize from the projects, although the hidden aim was to indenture the countries and to "ensure their loyalty." Moreover, except for the few elites along with corrupt government officials, the poor countries became even poorer and their environments were severely damaged.

The poor country of Ecuador, Perkins says, is a typical case. "Out of every $100 worth of oil torn from the Amazon, less than $3 goes to the people who need it the most, those whose lives have been so severely impacted by the dams, the drilling, and the pipelines, and who are dying from lack of edible food and potable water." Only recently, I clipped a news items about how "Chevron's lawyers are in Ecuador defending the company against charges it contributed to one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet" (Herbert, 2005).

Perkins never once mentions having to use the "tool of murder," but presumably he knew some EHMs who did (unless he was really referring to the "other type of hit men"). In one intriguing account he does mention having to rely on another "tool," that of sex, to pimp for a Saudi prince to secure his approval of a massive undertaking surreptitiously called the "Saudi Arabia money- laundering affair." Here is a wealthy, not a poor, country, so burdening it with debt would be out of the question. The objective instead was to provide a "cash cow" for U.S. contractors and to ensure the loyalty of the Saudi rulers.
They were persuaded to purchase U.S. securities with their petrodollars and use the interest to fund projects carried out by U.S. contractors to modernize and even build "entire cities throughout the Arabian Peninsula."

Perkins interweaves his insider story with insightful economic, political, and social commentary about the countries on his hit list and the role of the EHMs' employers and clientele who make up the "corporatocracy," his term for banks, corporations, and governments that "use their financial and political muscle to advance the global empire." The corporatocracy, he contends, is not driven by a conspiracy but by the fallacious belief that "all economic growth benefits humankind and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits." I would argue that the belief is just a great rationalization to justify building an American empire on the backs of third-world countries.
I think Perkins would agree with me.

Partly as a way of showing beyond a public confession his self- redemption, Perkins summarizes his career after leaving MAIN 25 years ago. Before retiring at the age of 45, he founded a very successful energy company "committed to producing environmentally friendly electricity" and later sold it in a "lucrative deal." Since then he has become a "champion for indigenous rights and environmental movements," founded and served on the board of several leading nonprofit organizations, and wrote numerous books. He waited until a few years ago to write this book because he had been both "threatened and bribed" not to write it earlier.


This book has become a sensation, having appeared on more than 20 bestseller lists, and Perkins is in wide demand as a speaker. In addition, the publisher tells me that a production company has acquired the movie rights to the book and plans on having Harrison Ford star in it. This is good news because what Perkins has to say needs greater public awareness. However, movie goers should be told that the gist of the movie is not make believe. The publisher, noting that some readers were "so shocked and troubled that they questioned whether his accounts are true," took the unprecedented step of writing and disseminating a lengthy "veracity memorandum" to readers (Piersanti, 2005).
In it abundant evidence is cited, such as numerous books (e.g., Henry, 2003), some of which I had already read that corroborate Perkins' principal allegations, including his contention that there are far more EHMs today with "euphemistic titles" who operate in similar roles.

On that latter point, for example, Perkins argues that the military intervention in Iraq was due to a failure of EHMs to achieve the same ends. As he puts it, "when the jackals fail, young Americans are sent in to kill and to die." The current administration surely would disagree with him, but to the best of the publisher's knowledge, no government agency or corporation has taken a public stand on the book, and I have not been able to find any indication of it in my research preparing for the review. Of course, Perkins' allegations may be harder to ignore once the movie hits the theaters.

I have a few criticisms of the book. First, I must take issue with his view, also held by some other writers (e.g., Estes, 1996), that the corporatocracy is not a conspiracy. I believe it is exactly that and that Perkins contradicts himself by saying that the "members do endorse common values and goals," by alluding to a "colluding government," and by describing the extensive revolving door of corporate executives and top government policymakers exchanging positions. Moreover, foreign and military policy is more than a sufficient basis for unifying the parties' values, goals, and activities, especially when huge profits can be made while expanding the American empire.
Under such circumstances, agreements among parties hardly need to be explicitly made for there to be a conspiracy.

Second, Perkins cops out at the end by not suggesting any substantial remedies. His explanation is that the book is a confession not a "prescription." But he could have expanded his brief discussion of the role of the World Bank into a blistering critique of it and either suggested how it and other international financial institutions could be abolished or at least be radically changed. He could have made suggestions as how to slow the revolving door or slam it shut. In addition, he could have explored the controversial idea of returning the dollar to the gold standard, which would end the money sluice from international banks.
But he did not, I wonder if he had decided that being prescriptive would have lessened the book's entertainme\nt value.

Third, Perkins does not adequately address the question of whether the American empire will eventually fall. He does acknowledge the obvious that no empire lasts forever and that if "another currency should come along to replace the dollar the U.S. would suddenly find itself in a most precarious situation," but he does not expand on that point nor does he explore the related possibility that sometime this century the United States could be on the hit list of the new giants on the world scene, China and India, or the possibility that a growing social movement within the Uniterd States could rise up to turn back the current "corporate regime" (e.g., Derber, 2004).

For some journals, a review of this book would be far beyond the fringe. For this journal, I realize that the book is far a field, but I believe our field is too narrowly defined. Moreover, because we I-O psychologists tout the importance of context as a factor influencing performance, I think we need to become more knowledgeable about the corporatocracy as a contextual factor. I thus recommend the book for your reading. I found it hard to put down once I started reading it.

REFERENCES

Derber C. (2004). Regime change begins at home: Freeing America from corporate rule. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Estes R. (1996). Tyranny of the bottom line: Why corporations make good people do bad things. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Henry JS. (2003). The blood bankers: Tales from the global underground economy. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.

Herbert B. (2005, October 22). A rain forest Jekyll and Hyde by environmental champions? The Daytona Beach-News Journal, 4A.

Piersanti S. (2005, March 7). Is John Perkinsfor real? Retrieved April 14, 2006 from http://www.economichitman.com/pages/ veracity.html.

Reviewed by Gary B. Brumback, Palm Coast, FL

Copyright Personnel Psychology, Inc. Summer 2006





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