An ‘economic hit man’ tells his story

I read CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN by John Perkins on the recommendation of a fellow blogger known as Holden.

Perkins wrote this memoir in 2004 about his work as an international economics consultant in the 1970s.  He said his job was to intentionally make bogus projections of economic growth for Third World countries such as Indonesia, Ecuador and Iran.

The idea was to encourage developing countries to borrow heavily to finance economic development projects using U.S.-based contractors.  The countries’ leaders were promised that these projects would bring about rapid economic growth, and make their countries prosperous and modern.

14273_johnperkins_nWhen the countries became unable to finance their debt, this created opportunities for American and international companies to buy up their national assets at bargain prices.

And even when the economic development plans worked, they only benefited tiny elites while leaving the majority of the people just as badly off or even worse off.

To stay in power, the elite accepted U.S. military aid in return for supporting U.S. foreign policy or hosting U.S. military bases or both.

Perkins said he was in on U.S. negotiations with Saudi Arabia following the 1973 oil embargo, which led to the U.S.-Saudi alliance which endures to this day.

The Saudi royal family agreed to manipulate oil production in order to protect the U.S. economy from big fluctuations in world oil prices.  The Saudis further agreed to invest their revenues in U.S. Treasury bonds

In return, the U.S. Treasury Department invested the income from those bonds in infrastructure projects, all carried out by U.S. contractors, to give Saudi Arabia the appearance of being a modern country.  The U.S. Defense Department provided a military shield for this weak, thinly-populated country against enemies such as Iraq and Iran.

The problem, as I see it, is that it has made the United States hostage to Saudi ambitions to dominate the Middle East.


I think Perkins accurately described U.S. policy during that era.  Some of the supporting details are hard to believe.

He claims that he applied to join the National Security Agency, and could have been accepted on the strength of personality traits that would have made him a good spy, and also his experience in the Peace Corps in Ecuador.

But the NSA’s mission is electronic surveillance.  If it duplicated the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, this would be big news.  Perkins takes this as a matter of course.


John Perkins

He said he was indoctrinated by a mysterious beautiful woman who used the name “Claudine Martin”.  She told him he had signed up to be an “economic hit man”, whose missions was to reduce countries to a state of economic dependency.  She further told him that, once he had signed up to be an EHM, he could not quit.

Why would a secret intelligence agency reveal this?  By Perkins’ own account, he was easy to manipulate through greed and ambition, and he always put money before conscience when he had to choose.

In country after country, he wrote, local people would bring him into contact with the opposition, and give him inside information in the vain hope that this would prick his conscience.  It did, but not enough to make him give up his job and income.

He finally quit his consulting firm, Charles T. Main, in 1981, because of a change in management.  He made a good living for the next few years as a bogus expert witness for hire, then started an alternative energy company, then arranged tours to bring wealthy Westerners into contact with the wisdom of the indigenous people of the upper Amazon.  He said the 9/11 attacks inspired him to finally write his book.

I think the basic theme of the book is true, and the unlikely-seeming details could be true.  I have learned enough in my life not to rule anything out in human affairs because it doesn’t make sense.

One advantage of the book is that it is much more readable than some of the others on this topic that I’ve mentioned on this blog.  Since 2004 Perkins has written another book, The Secret History of the American Empire, which I haven’t read.


Confessions – or Fantasies – of an Economic Hit Man? by the U.S. Department of State.

The Facts Behind the ‘Confessions’ by Sebastian Mallaby for The Washington Post.

The Veracity of John Perkins’ Accounts by Steven Piersanti, president and publisher, Berrett-Koehler Associates.

Review: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by Nicholas Lezard for The Guardian.

Global Intelligence Gate: From Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to the Stratfor Corporation by Nicholas Kozloff for Huffington Post.

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