Review: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

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I actually finished Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins when I was on vacation a while back. It’s an interesting book, but not only for the reasons you might think. The basic story (and I’m cribbing from Powell’s here) is that Perkins worked for an “international consulting firm that worked to convince developing countries to accept enormous loans and to funnel that money to U.S.corporations. Once these countries were saddled with huge debts, the American government and international aid agencies were able to request their pound of flesh in favors, including access to natural resources, military cooperation, and political support.”

It’s hard to know what to believe here. Either the US got a bunch of countries over the barrel thanks to Bechtel and other huge engineering firms, and engaged in the occasional third-party assassination, or coup (Guatemala, Chile, Indonesia) as he suggests.

Or, the US only invades countries (Panama, Grenada, Iraq), or attempts to overthrow foreign leaders and countries only if, you know, they’re behave really badly and attack freedom or something. Being somewhat cynical about US foreign policy (and its tendency to whack guys), not to mention corporate exemplars like the United Fruit Company, I have to think there’s something to his thesis. So in that sense, it’s good that this book is a bestseller.

But what’s not in doubt is that the “personal” aspect of this book is exasperating. He goes on and on about his conscience, and occasionally his love life, and even his piteous “lowly son of teachers at upper crust prep school” childhood, but the way he writes about himself is ham-handed and irritating. I got really impatient reading those bits, since I didn’t care about his tortured inner life. I just wanted the dirt on the US. It would have been a much better book if he left his confessions out of it.

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