Economic Hit Men

We economic hit men have managed to create the world’s first truly global empire, and we’ve done it through economics, not through the military … therefore it’s been done quite secretly so that most Americans aren’t aware that it’s gone on.

John Perkins on Open Source
[Scheduled for Aired Tuesday 21 February 2006.]

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Debtor beware [robotson / Flickr]

John Perkins says he was trained to call himself an “economic hit man” — an EHM — and he thrived in the role for about a decade until his conscience got the better of him.

What does an EHM do for a living? He builds the American empire the way a dope dealer builds a network of dependency. The drugs an EHM sells are aid agency loans to developing countries — loans that bind the country to hiring American companies to build the highways or design the power plants. Most of the real benefits therefore stick with American contractors and corportions. The loans, by design, are also too big to repay on time so that the country effectively becomes a pawn the U.S. can use for military or political or economic convenience. And one more thing: these loans enrich a tiny minority in the debtor country (usually including a corrupt head of government) and impoverish the masses by increasing the national debt. Perkins says he’s witnessed this cycle over and over again. He was part of what drives it.

There’s lots more to this, but it’s for Perkins to tell. As Chris says, he’s sort of the Matt Damon character in the movie Syriana — albeit less naive — and his story is explosive and addictive. But do we buy it? Among the many things we’ve been wondering: Do EHMs really exist? Who’s telling them what to do? What exactly are their links to Washington? Is it really possible to make a World Bank (or other) loan conditional on hiring American companies to do the development work? Who within the WB et al. knows this is going on? Are countries that have received large development loans really worse off than they were before?

Does John Perkins’s argument ring true to you? What would you like to ask him? And who should mix it up with Perkins on the air?

(Thank you to cheesechowmain, Nikos, and A little yellow bird for suggesting Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.)

John Perkins

Author, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

James Boyce

Professor of economics at UMass Amherst.

Directs the Program on Development, Peacebuilding & the Environment at the Political Economy Research Institute at UMass Amherst.

Lived in and wrote about development in India, Bangladesh, El Salvador, and the Philippines.

Ross Levine

Professor of economics at Brown University.

Worked at the World Bank for seven years.

Co-author, Rethinking Bank Regulation: Till Angels Govern.

Sebastian Mallaby

Columnist, the Washington Post.

Author, The World’s Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations.

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