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Book Review
Last Updated: 02/15/2006
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
Rebecca Harned

Title: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
Author:John Perkins
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (November 9, 2004)
Pages: 264 Perkins, John. 2004. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

As much hath been said of the advantages of reconciliation, which, like an agreeable dream, hath passed away and left us as we were, it is but right that we should examine the contrary side of the argument…

These are just a few of Thomas Paine’s remarks on the sovereignty of America that were carefully woven into the rhyme, riddle and reason of Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, 1776. Paine conveys his vision through this series of pamphlets, a vision that wrestled with the divided ideologies of America past and present.

In a sense, John Perkins, a distant descendent of Paine, offers us a new generation of Paine’s pamphlets in his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, but it is not exactly a pamphlet or a rational for American sovereignty. Rather it is the testimony of one man’s experience through personal reconciliation of the vile repercussions of contributing to the hegemonic leadership that has constructed American imperialism. Perkins presents his testimony - or confessions, as he refers to it - through the complexly woven fabric of modern world history, focusing on Latin American and Middle Eastern geo-politics. The historical landscape carefully intertwines current events, and as a result he creates a geo-political landscape that is not overly focused on strategic and chronological dates. And so Perkins unravels the critical historical events of these two regions for the reader. Not only are the events themselves largely unknown to most Americans but their significance is most often previously misunderstood. In many cases, Perkins sheds light on the facets of modern history that were frequently “blacked-out” by mass media. This unique landscape is important to his testimony because it helps the reader to understand the interconnectedness of events from past to present.

Through these pages he brings to life the heroic vision of former Panamanian President Omar Torrijos, the cavalier Jackals who shrewdly took Torrijos’ life, and subsequently came the tragic dissolution of hope for Latin America. He craftily illustrates the Latin American predicament and how the deliberate development of American imperialism simultaneously constructed “slave states” in the global South – which the Empire itself essentially relies upon. Perkins explains the nature of these power dynamics through economic development (as imposed by a corporatocracy led by the United States), the social ills it implies, and the guilty conscience of a man in the North who fosters these star crossed relationships.

Since these complex dynamics are woven into a book only slightly larger than Paine’s pamphlets, it is often difficult for the reader to follow how the critical historical events and those of his life actually come together, if they do at all. Furthermore, although Perkins mentions vital elements of the economic development policies that facilitate the rise of American Imperialism (namely “big loans”), he does not once provide the reader with the nuts and bolts of these economic policies. It is as though he assumes that every reader has an undergraduate degree in economic science and understands the perils of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s recipe for structural adjustment. If everyone already knew how these loans work and their grave implications he would never have needed to write this book and the American Empire of today would be wildly different.

The information gaps scattered throughout his confession are evidence that too much vision was concentrated into one manuscript. The author recognizes this only in the last chapter when he reminds the reader, and haphazardly himself, that this is merely his life’s confession - the first step towards his journey for redemption and reconciliation. After reading page upon page of a “new” modern history, a reader is likely to feel the effects of a strong cocktail of the following: positively enlightened by their new understanding, enraged by past deception, inspired to take action, and committed to make positive change. Much to my dismay, Perkins leaves readers with no suggestions as to what to do with themselves, for if the reader is an economic hit woman, how can she get out, and what can she do as an alternative?

Aside from its shortfalls in information and lack of alternative solutions, Perkins’ confessions offer us with a unique opportunity. When Perkins begins to tell us a critical blurb of Iran’s controversial relationship with the US or a depiction of a contaminated river in Bali, we find that he carefully goes within himself to gain a sense for his place within the landscape. As the reader is brought to that precise moment and place they are also brought within themselves, almost superimposing themselves in the exact situation. Perkins’ ability to draw the reader into themselves, in order to better understand their individual role in contributing to Global Empire building, is a highly effective means of igniting a new spirit of change out of a dark corporatocracy. The opportunity to visualize oneself on both sides of the argument, so to personally define the best place to be, is quite possibly the greatest advantage of his reconciliation. Perkins shares with us how the lessons that Paine taught Americans in the 18th century must be applied to the Americans in the 21st century – for the future of America and the World.

Rebecca Harned holds a Master of Arts degree in International Peace Studies from the University for Peace.


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