John Perkins: The Shadow World Of The Economic Hitman
If you're hoping to have a 'feel good' day today, we're about to owe you an apology.
John Perkins, author of The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is someone we've been trying to get on the program for some time. He tells a dark story of an elite cabal working in the shadows to subjugate governments as it pursues ever-greater control of the planet's resources.
What's most frightening about this story is how credible it is. Anybody paying attention to world developments will have a hard time dismissing Perkins' claims out-of-hand; and a harder time not being sickened at how on the mark his claims may likely prove to be:
Economic hitmen – I'm a former one, actually – created the world's first truly global empire. It's really a corporate empire, not an American empire although the U.S. government certainly supports it.
We work many different ways, but perhaps the most common is that we will identify a country that has resources that corporations want, like oil. We arrange huge loans of that country from the World Bank or one of its sisters. Yet, the money never actually goes to the country. It is primarily there to make the our companies — that build the infrastructure projects like the power plants, and the industrial parks, highways, and ports — very rich.
In addition, a few wealthy families make a lot of money off of these programs. They own the industries and commercial centers.
But the majority of the people do not benefit at all. They do not have enough money to buy much electricity. They cannot get jobs in industrial parks because the industrial parks do not hire many people. They lose out because a lot of money is diverted from healthcare, education, and other social services to try to pay the interest on the debt.
In the end, the principal is never paid down. We go back and say Since you cannot pay your debts, sell your resource real cheap to our corporations without any environmental restrictions or social regulations. Or privatize, and sell off your electric utilities;,your water and sewage systems, and your schools, your jails — all of your public sector businesses — to our corporations.
These leaders are very aware that if they do not accept these deals; if we economic hitmen fail to bring them around, the jackals are likely to show up. These are people that will either assassinate those leaders or overthrow their governments.
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John Perkins: The Shadow World Of The Economic Hitman
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Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. The signs of global distress are piling up. Increasingly chaotic financial markets, refugee crises, the hottest year on record, ocean phytoplankton disappearing, unrest in the Middle East, and crashing emerging markets are among the many alarming changes we see around us. Disturbingly, the response from those in charge appears to stretch well past denial, possibly into something darker and more sinister even as they double down on failed policies.
Their answer to the obvious and grotesque predicaments caused by economic growth is: more growth. The treatment for a system loaded with too much debt is: more debt. If lower interest rates are killing the financial system and creating perverse corporate incentives, then the answer is even lower rates, obviously. If reasonable people cannot get through the membrane of political parties, then only hopelessly out of touch hacks and demagogues become our polarized choices.
There is clear pathology apparent in the human experiment here in 2016. There is no heart, no connection to the natural world, to our roots, or to our souls anymore. Everything seems to be about money and power.
To help us understand the extent to which this is all by design, and not accident, is John Perkins, prolific author and human activist. Among his many excellent works was the groundbreaking book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man that really rocked my world when I read it. It details the system of Western control and domination that treats weaker countries and their resources as prey to be stalked and consumed. That book has been expanded and updated. We are here to discuss that new work today. Welcome John, it is a real pleasure to have you on our show.
John Perkins: It is great to be here with you, Chris.
Chris Martenson: Briefly, tell us how the economic hit man program works.
John Perkins: Well, I think it is fair to say that we economic hit men – I am a former one actually – created the world's first truly global empire. It is really a corporate empire and not an American empire. Although the U.S. government certainly supports that. We work many different ways. But perhaps the most common is that we will identify a country that has resources that corporations want, like oil. We'll arrange a huge loan to that country from the World Bank or one of its sisters.
Yet, the money never actually goes to the country. It is primarily there to make our companies that build the infrastructure projects, like the power plants, the industrial parks, highways, ports, very rich. Or the company that builds them makes a lot of profits. In addition, a few wealthy families make a lot of money off of these programs. They own the industries and commercial centers.
But the majority of the people do not benefit at all. They do not have enough money to buy much electricity. They cannot get jobs in industrial parks because the industrial parks do not hire many people. Yet they lose out a lot because money is diverted from healthcare and education and other social services to try to pay the interest on the debt.
In the end, the principle is never paid down. We go back and say "since you cannot pay your debts, sell your resource real cheap to our corporations without any environmental restrictions or social regulations. Or privatize, and sell off your electric utilities—your water and sewage systems, your schools, your jails, all of your public sector businesses to our corporations."
Chris, these leaders are very aware that if they do not accept these deals—if we economic hit men fail to bring them around, the jackals are likely to show up. These are people that will either assassinate those leaders or overthrow the governments. I talk in The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, the book that just came out, about my own experiences with the democratically elected president of Ecuador, Jaime Roldos, and the Head of State of Panama, Omar Torrijos. They had integrity. They would not accept the deals I was trying to convince them to take and they were both assassinated.
Chris Martenson: This is something that is an unfortunate part. I wrote a fairly detailed piece on Libya recently as a recent example of something where I noted that Muammar Gaddafi had turned Libya from the time of his coming into power until the time he was taken out—he had converted it from the poorest nation on the planet to one that had a higher standard of living than Russia, Brazil, and a number of places. He was really taken out, was he not?
John Perkins: Absolutely. He had been a thorn in our side for a long time. I know that story quite well. Then when Russian aid went away from Libya when the Soviet Union was demolished, he made overtures back to us and the British. He actually admitted to playing his role in the downing of the Pan American Airline jet over Lockerbie, Scotland. We sort of forgave him and began to resume relations with him. Then in response, he offered to sell oil back to us. This really upset the French because they were not part of the deal. They began to side with some of the tribal factions that were opposed to Gaddafi. In the process, also managed to embarrass us and the English by saying "How can you side with this guy that you have been so deeply critical of for so many years?"
We were then convinced that we had to come around and take him out. I think it is very unfortunate. He is one of those examples of a leader that could be brutal, there is no question, but also did a lot of good for his country. He got very bad press because we did not like his ways. We did not like the fact that he was trying to keep our oil companies out for a long time. He became this public enemy.
Chris Martenson: I have so many questions from that. But I want to dial back just a second. Because this idea of the United States or rather the corporations having this first truly global empire. It is really an empire of debt, I guess. I want to get your views on debt. Now, one of the things we do at my site in my work is we just talk about how money is created. Once you peel back the veil on that, G. Edwards Griffin's Creature from Jekyll Island would open my yes and said, "look, money, it is an idea. We create this idea out of thin air."
The question is really about how though is debt any different from slavery in concept? Because it is really a system of control. It takes one person or one country's output and it transfers it to another. Debt seems to me – it seems like black magic. Because it is conjured out of thin air, right? It is literally printed up out of thin air. Yet, everyone believes it has real power. So it actually does have enormous power. How is it that the system really operates this way?
John Perkins: Well, that is fascinating. You are talking about one of my favorite subjects that I discuss in some detail in The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man how things are getting so much worse since I wrote the original Confessions of an Economic Hit Man in 2004. That is why I have written the new one. Because things are getting so much worse, the whole economic hit man system has spread from the developing world to the United States, Europe, and the rest of the world. It has really created a failed global economic system, a death economy that is based on death, fear, and the destruction of resources. At the same time, around the world, people are really waking up to this fact. We are really beginning to understand that we live on a very fragile space station without any shuttles. That we must change and create a life economy. We can go into that in more detail later.
But this idea of creating a reality. I think it is fascinating that we humans are probably the only living creatures as far as we know who live in two realities. There is the objective reality. There is the telephone or the computer screen, or the computer that we are talking on right now. Then there is the imagined reality, which is really in a way the most important reality to human societies. The imagined reality are the things that we are discussing right now. Country borders are imagined.
There is no such thing as the United States, or Canada, or Russia, or China. The borders are something that we have created out of imagination and then codified into law so they actually become very important. You can say the same for culture, or for religion, for so many things including economics and money.
Money is an imagined reality that we have codified on an economic level; and in fact, on a legal level. Therefore, it has tremendous power. That also gives us the hope—as I mentioned just a few minutes ago, people are waking up around the world, understanding that we live on a fragile space station without any shuttles. We are creating a new imagined reality. But we understand that the old one does not work.
Revolutions always happen—and they can happen pretty quickly—because people drop one imagined reality for one that is more appealing to them. As an example, back in the 1700s, there was a believed and imagined reality that American hunters, and farmers, and fisherman could never possibly beat the British military, the most powerful in the world at the time. But George Washington saw something different during the French and Indian War.
Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and others wrote that we could defeat them by simply hiding behind trees like Indians and firing out at these lines – rigid lines of red coated targets. The imagined reality very quickly changed. It rallied everyone to say "yeah, well, let us take on the British." This is true throughout history. Right now, we are at one of those pivotal times where people are understanding that the imagined reality of this economic system that has failed us, this death economy, needs to be replaced by a new reality of a life economy that is based on cleaning up pollution, regenerating destroyed environments, and alleviating the causes of terrorism.
Chris Martenson: Very well said. This brings to mind, there is a passage I wanted to read out from your book and get your response to it. Because you write beautifully by the way. This book, New Confessions, like the old one, very full of easy-to-relate-to stories, and very wonderful use of imagery.
You start Chapter 34 in New Confessions with this passage:
The situation has gotten much worse since Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was first published. Twelve years ago I expected that books like mine would wake people up and inspire them to turn things around. The facts were obvious. I and others like me had created an EHM system that supported the corporatocracy. Together the EHMs, corporate magnates, Wall Street robber barons, governments, and jackals, and all of their networks around the world had created a global economy that fails everyone.
It is based on war or threat of war. Debt, an extreme form of materialism that pillages the earth's resources, and is consuming itself into extinction. In the end, even the very rich will fall victim to this death economy.
Now, it is not just the rich who are going to fall victim to this, is it?
John Perkins: No. But even the rich will. I mean, and that is…. A lot of people think that the rich are just getting richer and they are going to protect themselves against the collapse. But they cannot. Because the collapse we are looking at is so systemic that everybody will suffer. This space station, Earth, is headed for calamity. If it crashes, we are all going to crash. The Earth itself will survive but most life forms as we know it will be gone. We must not let that happen.
Chris Martenson: Well, I completely agree. Really I guess I came into this work was as somebody who spent a lot of time outside in my youth and then in my early young adult stage—a lot of time outside. Also, I am trained in the biological sciences so I understand systems. I understand biological systems to some extent.
But I understand the extent to which humans are just another organism on a planet. There are a number of rules that organisms live by. One is that you do expand into your available food source. Oil became our food source. We are literally eating oil, if you can follow the steps along from pumping it out of the ground, to turning it to fertilizers. It becomes food, which I eat. Back to this idea of this imagined reality.
I feel like humans have really gotten out of touch with that primal connection—the extent to which we are dependent on this little sphere. Fantasies of getting off the planet to Mars aside. Or fantasies of finding some new magic technology aside, the larger idea here for me is that we spend all of our time inside and food magically shows up so we think that is how everything works. There is almost like an entitlement to that, right?
You talk about this sense of hope then. How is it that we are going to get from this imaginary world we are inhabiting back to reality? How do we begin that process?
John Perkins: Well, I think that you hit on a point there that our imagined reality is that we are somehow separate from nature, or above nature. That we can pollute the oceans, and the air, and the soil the way we want and somehow the earth will manage to take care of all of that, absorb it, and continue to provide us with food even though we are destroying the earth with our pollution, which includes yeah, fertilizers, and insecticides, and all of the other biological things that we put into the creation of foods.
It is actually destroying the resources upon which it depends. That is a mindset. It is an imagined reality that we have bought into. It seemed to work for a long time. I remember back when I was working as an economic hit man. My actual title was Chief Economist at this Boston based consulting firm. I sailed a lot in the Atlantic_____ [00:15:11] of Boston. Even back in those days, people who thought they were going environmental thought you could throw just about everything into the ocean including soda and beer cans if you just put a little hole in them before you threw them in, and made them sink, the ocean would take care of everything. We discovered that is not true. That was an imagined reality. Now we are understanding that. We know that the oceans are rising and the glaciers are melting.
How do we get out of this? It is becoming pretty obvious to the large numbers of people that this system is not working. It is becoming very obvious to leaders of big corporations and CEOs. They too are concerned. They just do not know what to do about it.
I speak at a lot of the events of corporate executives. I hear continually, "gosh, I would like to be greener. I would like to make my company greener. But I know that if I lose half a percentage of market share, my main stockholders will fire me. They will replace me with someone who does not care about being green. Who just cares about market share."
What I want for you to do is tell all of your people, tell all of your readers and your listeners that I want to be flooded with e-mails and tweets and so forth saying "I love your product, Mr. Monsanto or Mr. Nike, or Mr. Wal-Mart," or whatever it is. Do not make them the bad guy. "I love what you are doing. But I am never going to support you or buy your products anymore unless you stop using fertilizers and stop creating petroleum based insecticides, and fertilizers, and toxic chemicals. Or, unless you start paying your workers in Indonesia a fair salary," and so on, and so forth.
These corporate executives want to hear from us. Because we have got to understand that although corporations pretty much run the world and control the U.S. government, and most other governments, they are totally dependent on us, we the people, to buy their goods and services, to support them with our tax dollars and our government policies, and to invest in them. They are totally dependent on us. We have to recognize that and know that we have tremendous power because of that.
Chris Martenson: Now, this thing you talk about of this wanting to be greener. It really goes further than that I hope for some people, right? There is a sense that our larger narrative is breaking down. Anybody who is my age—I am 53. I also grew up in the New England area. I grew up on Long Island Sound. The amount of change, of ecological change in terms of the fish that are not there anymore, other things like that, is just absolutely profound for me to see. But I think that even if somebody was fairly disconnected from the natural world, you cannot open up a newspaper… How can you read about a 40 percent loss in major megafauna, or a 90 percent loss in large pelagic ocean fish, or the sixth great extinction as being underway, or glaciers disappearing at the rates they are. Any of these things without getting that feeling of dread down there. I mean, are you saying—are you detecting that there is this awakening that is beginning to happen? Even though people do not know what to do yet, they are getting close to really being—what would I say—activated?
John Perkins: Absolutely, in the last 12 years since the original Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was published, I have traveled all over the world speaking in places like Romania, and China, and all over Europe, and the Middle East, and Latin America, North America. I have been on a lot of Russian programs and so on, and so forth. Everywhere I go, Chris, I find that people are getting it. They are waking up to this fact that we can no longer continue like this. The question is: What do we do?
A few years back, I spent some time with the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, India._____ [00:19:15] was leading a group of about 30 people to that part of the world. He invited us all up to spend an afternoon with him in his living room. One of the things he said was you know… Somebody asked what he thought about praying for peace and getting everybody in the world to pray for peace at a certain time on a certain day? He said well, that is – praying for peace is a good thing unless that is all you do, and then it is a waste of time and perhaps even a diversion. You have to take daily action for peace every single day.
I think that is where we are at now. People around the world are waking up. They are understanding that this system is broken. It just plain is not working. It is going to destroy us. But now, we have got to take daily action every day. It is not enough just to understand it.
We have got to each commit to taking action, whether that is as small or as seemingly simple as sending an e-mail out once a day to these various corporations and telling them they have got to change, or going and demonstrating at their headquarters and maybe being put into jail. I mean, there is a whole level of actions we could take. But the important thing is for everyone, all of your listeners to take some action every day towards creating a life economy, a better world for our future generations as well as for ourselves.
Chris Martenson: Absolutely, and one of the concepts we work with is to take our financial capital and plow it back into creating more living capital and other things like that where we are using the stored energy in our money to actually create abundance. Here is one of the narratives that I grew up with: When humans move into an area, they will ruin it, right? That is just a story I believed. When the bulldozer shows up next door, something ugly is about to happen. Or, people will show up and all of the plants and animals will slowly begin to suffer.
I held that story for a long time, John. Then visiting places where people are engaged in really intelligent farming practices, permaculture, really deep. I learned that humans can actually be incredible agents of abundance. We can work either for destruction or for regeneration. It is really a choice, honestly. It is really something that is within our power. But I think that the system that you were part of that you described—I think that we are all complicit in it, I am not saying you—but that economic hit man system, it is about money. It is about power. It really feeds on this idea that it is all about being rapacious and destructive. It holds that as its core. Do I have that wrong? Is it not that malicious? Or is there something here we really have to open our eyes up to and understand better?
John Perkins: Well, it is malicious. It is what I call predatory capitalism. When I went to business school in the late '60s, that is not what we were taught. We were taught that a good CEO makes a decent rate of return for investors. But also, he takes good care of his employees. He will take a cut in salary before laying anyone off. Imagine that. And a good CEO takes good care of his suppliers and his customers. He is a good community citizen wherever his corporation happens to work or sell its products. He pays taxes. Imagine that. Beyond that, also, he donates money to local school systems, and recreational facilities, etcetera.
That all changed in the '70s when Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in economics by stating that the only responsibility for business is to maximize profits regardless of the social and environmental costs. Everybody bought into that. It is a very insane idea. It is a new idea. But it gives license to CEOs. In fact, it basically mandates CEOs to do whatever it takes, including bribing politicians or creating new laws where what used to be considered bribery like in the huge campaign funds is no longer bribery.
It is totally legal. Suddenly in the '70s, everything changed. Corporations suddenly get this marching order to do whatever it would take to maximize profits. That has created this predatory form of capitalism that is destroying us. We need to turn that around and change that. Because we have seen that it just plain does not work.
Chris Martenson: But unfortunately it seems to work for a very select few people who generate tremendous wealth in this wealth disparity that has popped up, which is now the most magnificent on record where you cannot…. I think Oxfam came out and said, "hey, there are 65 people that have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion." That is an extraordinary imbalance. Plutarch way back when said that the oldest and most fatal ailment of all Republics is an imbalance between the rich and poor. We are really in a kind of imbalanced point here, are we not?
John Perkins: We are. It looks as though it has succeeded for those 60 some odd people. Yet, like I said, as the system fails, they will be part of the failure. That is part of what has been happening. One of the reasons that the economic hit man system has expanded from the developing world into the United States and Europe in the last 12 years and the rest of the world is that the people who run this system had understood that they have pretty much maxed out in the developing country. They have exploited them to a very large degree. They continue to do it for resources and markets. But they have also seen that in order to keep expanding, they had to move into the United States, Europe, and everywhere else.
The frontier has gotten much smaller—talking about the economic frontier here—for exploitation. Before long, that is going to run out, too. Even though it seems as though this handful of people benefits—and they do at the moment—in the long run they have got to recognize—and I think they are beginning to recognize that they too are going to be part of the failed system. They, like the rest of us, are confronted with the challenge of figuring out how to change it.
We need to lead that way, you and I, your listeners, my readers, the people in the United States that still has a leadership role in the world. We need to recognize that the system we have created where less than five percent of us live in the United States and consume 30 percent of the gross resources while half the world is starving or on the verge of starvation—that is not a model. It cannot be repeated. China cannot do that with 19 percent of the world's population. Brazil cannot do it, Russia, India. Nobody else can do it. We have got to recognize that it is not a model. It is a failed system. We have got to create a new model.
Chris Martenson: That really brings to – it puts a sharp point on this whole idea of the United States exporting Democracy. A long story there by the way. Lots of territory to cover. But this by the numbers, the model of five percent consuming 25 percent only works for the first 20 percent. Then you are up to 100 percent, right? That is it. People cannot follow the United States model in terms of consumption and all of that. But I am intrigued with this idea that we have touched on a number of points here. I would like to expand on it, this idea that there were marginal returns to be found across the world so that the same systems of exploitation and domination were turned inward against the self.
Let us talk about some of these practices that are being deployed right now, maybe just in the United States, to focus it even more, being practiced right here at home against U.S. citizens. What are these EHM practices that are being waged here?
John Perkins: There are so many. Like I said at the beginning, the death economy is based on fear, death, and the destruction of resources. Fear has certainly been brought home here. I mean, 9-11 was a watershed moment for that. That happened about the same time I was just putting finishing touches on the original Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I say everything has changed since that book came out in 2004. But in a way, the real marking point was 9-11 in 2001.
This fear that has always been used by empires. It used to be the fear of communism. Then the Soviet Union was destroyed. Now, it is the fear of the extremists, of terrorists, of Muslim extremists, of immigrants, and so on, and so forth. We have really brought that fear home. Constantly in the United States being hammered by this idea that they are the problem. If we can just take care of them. If we can just stop the immigrants. If we can just get rid of Al-Qaida, or ISIS, or whoever, everything will be okay.
At the same time, we have put a lot more debt on ourselves. Part of that debt goes to feed this war machine, this fear. But other debt is credit card debt, which has skyrocketed; and education debt, which is outrageous. Obviously homeowners' debt, and health insurance debt because we do not have good health insurance. People have to go deep into debt to take care of themselves when they are sick. Huge amounts of debt that have occurred in the last 12 years in this country.
We have got fear, debt, and the resource destruction, which has just been increasing and increasing as you pointed out earlier. The Big Ag businesses are destroying the earth with their insecticides, and fertilizers, and other chemicals. This has come home to roost in the United States in the form of new forms of economic hit men. We have now got a situation where we have got over 100,000 people who serve as lobbyists. Only 13,000 actually registered as lobbyists, but the others call themselves political consultants, and government advisors, etcetera.
Many of these people come out of the Senate or the House of Representatives once they leave those organizations. They join big corporations at huge salaries. We have got jackals in the form of drones, and police surveillance, and FBI trying to break into our telephones and our e-mails, etcetera. I go into great detail in The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man about how this system is coming home to roost in the United States now. Those are just a few of the more generalized subjects. But there is a lot of detail in the book.
Chris Martenson: Well, that is what I really did like about The New Confessions; so much is brand new. You do go into all of these things that have transpired since 2004. It has been astonishing. The Snowden revelations about what the NSA has really been up to. Just how little privacy actually exists. The overall program, once I see the dots lined up the way you lined them up, it is hard not to feel like a farm animal. I have to be honest about that.
John Perkins: That is an interesting analogy. Yeah, I agree.
Chris Martenson: I understand—listen, my background, I worked for Pfizer in R&D for a while. I worked for a company called SEIC in a commercial division side. I understand big corporations. The people I worked with at Pfizer are not bad people, right? They were good people. But incentives are what they are. What I now notice being outside of that system and watching what is happening, Pfizer prices—not to pick on Pfizer—drug companies in the United States price things here in a way that is absolutely predatory that nobody else in the world puts up with, right? Here in the United States, we pretend as if it is normal and reasonable and it makes sense and all of that. But it feels extractive to me, like the corporations are doing everything they can to extract what little remains.
The story you are saying is that system of control and domination only gets a little bit more desperate as things get tighter. The competition really locks up. There is not enough bare surplus to go around. Because there are no fresh continents to exploit. There are no fresh countries.
People are onto the game as well. They resist a little bit more. I am particularly seeing how the oil companies get resisted in other areas now, to pick another example. But that is my sense when I read your book. It just confirms for me this growing sense of feeling like that farming, of really, I feel exploited at this point.
John Perkins: Yeah. The sad fact is that if you talk to people at Pfizer or any of the pharmaceuticals and any of the executives, they, like people throughout the industry, will probably tell you that they are frustrated by this system, too. Like you said, there is a lot of really good people working for corporations. I know a lot of top corporate executives, CEOs. The ones that I know are not bad people. They are good people. They are very frustrated by the system, too.
I know there are sociopaths out there running some of our corporations. I personally do not think I know any of them. But even sociopaths come around if we can let them know that the way they are going to be successful is by changing this system. In any case, when you have talked to people in the pharmaceutical industry, they will tell you well, yes, the United States pays more. That is justified because there is more money here and it costs an awful lot to bring a drug to market, the medicine to market. Somebody has got to finance it. The system here is in a way a socialistic system where those who have the money in the United States pay for the research so that those who do not have the money can get it.
Of course, that is spurious, too, because a lot of those people who do not have the money, do not get it either. It is still too overpriced for them. Or the products just do not reach them. But there is always these justifications. That is this mindset.
I think Chris, the difference between you and me, and the rest of us, and the farm animal is that we have this concept of imagined reality. The farm an
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