Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Books, Books, Books 2

The Philippine Left has always insisted that America is hell-bent on total world domination thru economic imperialism (via USAID, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund). Their regular protest rallies are replete with colorful slogans like “Ibagsak ang Rehimeng US-(Whoever is the President at that time); “President (Fill in the Blank) Tuta ng Kano;”WB-IMF Imperyalista,” etc. I have always viewed their advocacies with a certain level of skepticism and maintained that their views are somewhat skewed. I, together with I assume many Filipinos, somehow find it hard to believe that there is a worldwide conspiracy to keep not only our country but the entire Third World poor. Now, someone has actually come out with a tell-all book to confirm their allegations. And this person is not some loony or some two-bit conspiracy theorist but at one time worked as a junior partner in one of America’s biggest international consulting firms.

John Perkins has come out with a real page-turner and his “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” should be a must-read not only for our economic policy planners but all our political leaders. His book’s dramatic opening lines is enough to hook you:

“Economic Hit Men (or EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillion of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the US 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. They play the game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.

I should know; I was an EHM.”

John Perkins, is your garden variety WASP-Eastern Establishment type. He went to all the right prep schools and Ivy League institutions and counts among his ancestors some of America’s Founding Fathers (like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen). After marrying a classmate from college, he met his wife’s “Uncle Frank” who worked for the National Security Agency. Perkins points to this mysterious “Uncle Frank” as the one who recruited him to be an EHM and he credits this same person as the “invisible hand” which guided and helped him fast-track his career. Here’s a passage from the earlier parts of “Confessions…” where “Uncle Frank” sent a woman codenamed “Claudine” to instruct John Perkins on the “EHM arts:”

“Claudine told me that there were two primary objectives of my work. First, I was to justify huge international loans that would funnel money back to MAIN and other US companies (such as Bechtel, Halliburton, Stone & Webster, Brown & Root) through massive engineering and construction projects. Second, I would work tobankrupt the countries that received those loans (after they had paid MAIN and the other US contractors, of course) so that they would be forever beholden to their creditors, and so they would present easy targets when we needed favors, including military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and other natural resources.

My job, she said, was to forecast the effects of investing billions of dollars in a country. Specifically, I would produce studies that projected economic growth 20 to 25 years into the future and that evaluated the impacts of a variety of projects. For example, if a decision was made to lend a country $1 billion to persuade its leaders not to align with the Soviet Union, I would compare the benefits of investing that money in power plants with the benefits of investing in a new national railroad network or a telecommunications system. The project that resulted in the highest average annual growth of GNP won.

The unspoken aspect of every one of these projects was that they were intended to create large profits for the contractors, and to make a handful of wealthy and influential families in the receiving countries very happy, while assuring the long term financial dependence and therefore the political loyalty of governments around the world. The larger the loan, the better. The fact that the debt burden placed on a country would deprive its poorest citizens of health, education, and other social services for decades to come was not taken into consideration.”

After a short stint in Ecuador working as a Peace Corps volunteer helping indigenous tribes living in the Amazon, John Perkins returned to the States and landed a high-paying job as an economist at MAIN, an international consulting firm (both jobs he got thru Uncle Frank’s “facilitation”). Like its more famous rivals Halliburton, Bechtel, Stone & Webster, etc., MAIN’s main business is with foreign governments. In 1971, Perkins was given his first assignment as part of an eleven-man team that will design the master energy plan for the island of Java in Indonesia. Since electricity demand is highly correlated with economic growth, the only way for the loan to be feasible was if Perkins, as the team’s lead economic forecaster, would come out with a study predicting Java’s economy skyrocketing in the next 25 years. According to most experts, a typical area’s electricity consumption never grew by more than seven to nine percent a year for any sustained period - six percent was the more reasonable figure. Applying the lessons he learned from EHM school, Perkins proceeded to bloat his 25-year forecast of Java’s economic growth. He predicted a whooping 17% growth rate for Java – an electric load growth rate last seen during the California gold rush! The people of Java got their electricity, the US consulting firms got their money, and the Indonesian leaders got their commissions. In short, everybody happy!

After Indonesia, John Perkins went on to head various “development” projects in countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, and Iran where the U.S. had vital interests. He hobnobbed with the rich and the powerful and was hugely successful in his career, becoming the youngest partner in MAIN’s 100-year history, conducting regular lectures at Harvard, and publishing a series of influential papers in the States. But although he was successful professionally, his personal life suffered and he eventually divorced his wife in 1979. Suffering from guilt and depression, he quit his lucrative job at MAIN in 1980 and proceeded to establish his own power generation company focusing on developing environmentally-friendly sources of electricity.

John Perkins published his “Confessions of an EHM” only in 2004 and he had allocated a chapter in his book explaining why it took him so long to come out. Now, Perkins is back where he first started – in Ecuador but this time helping promote the rights of indigenous tribes against the giant multinational companies looking to exploit their lands. In fact, when the 9/11 attack broke out he was deep in the Amazon jungle. He points to 9/11 as one of the main reasons why, despite threats to his life and reputation, he proceeded to publish his book to bring this message across: America must become compassionate and Americans must change their lifestyles. John Perkins is now an advocate of New Age ideas and what he calls a “sustainable lifestyle” (see his website for more details) He wrote:

“They have brought us to a point where our global culture is a monstrous machine that requires exponentially increasing amounts of fuel and maintenance, so much so that in the end it will have consumed everything in sight and will be left with no choice but to devour itself.”

“Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” is a fascinating read and John Perkins should be congratulated for his courage.

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