Book Review: Confessions of an Economic Hitman

While on the road on my vacation I listened to the unabridged version of Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins.  I chose it because I remember all the times John C. Dvorak recommended it on TWIT.  Here is my review. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is the autobiography of John Perkins.  It tells of how he spent the 1970s and 80s as a self-proclaimed "Economic Hitman".  He recounts what led him to his position and then his years of service to the Main consulting company in Boston.  He contends that his position for these many years was to go into third-world countries (only if they have natural resources to exploit) and recommend them for large loans from the world bank for infrastructure improvements.  The condition on the loans is that American companies (especially those contracted by Main) be hired to do the work.  In this way, the countries become indebted to the U.S. even though all the money has gone into the hands of American companies.  This system, he contends, makes the few in power of these countries rich, further impoverishes the rest of the populace and enslaves the nation to the American “corporatocracy”.  This tale of corruption was disturbing though not entirely shocking.  The shocking part is his claim that he knew full-well what he was guilty of yet he continued to do it for years.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was very interesting.  It never dragged along, and considering the nature of the subject it could have been very boring.  However. it was entertaining throughout.

It seemed credible as well.  Although it definitely has the feel of a book that could be made up.  The best way to describe it would be that it seems over-embellished in many parts.  (Is over-embellished redundant?)

It gave insight into the financial doings of the world bank and large corporations.  There is nothing in the book that would be a complete shock to any American.  It is just the audacity with which Perkins claims these corporations are willing to exploit developing nations.

Though it was interesting and even insightful, Confessions suffers from some major shortcomings.

I will go into first-person on this review to discuss the first criticism.  At one point, Perkins makes an attack on Nate Saint and the missionary organization he was affiliated with.  This attack was unfair, unsubstantiated and honestly tainted the way I listened to the rest of the book.  Read Through Gates of Splendor for the real story of Nate Saint and his companions.  That is a book I could not give a higher recommendation to.

A second criticism of Confessions is that it was lacking a moral.  Perkins more or less blamed his own self-admitted muted conscience on his upbringing.  He said that it twisted him, and that love of money allowed him to take the job.  However, he really never says that what he did was openly wrong or immoral. Though if pressed, he would probably admit that he was wrong.

A third criticism is that the book toward the end became a polemic against the Republican Party and oil companies.  He praised the Carter administration, then accused Reagan of being concerned mostly about the interests of the “corporatocracy”.  The harshest criticism was saved for George H.W. Bush whom he claimed was a leader in the corruption.  He even attacks George W. Bush, but interestingly enough makes no mention whatsoever of the Clinton administration.  This sort of gives away his agenda.

The final and most severe criticism is that Perkins offered absolutely no solutions.  He claims that the world is corrupt at this very deep level but doesn’t seem to think it fixable.  In fact, he says he sold his startup energy company to Ashland Oil.  Ultimately the book projects a sense of hopelessness.

In conclusion, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is very interesting and it does stir up thoughts about the morality of corporations and the concerns of people in developing countries, maybe even thoughts about how to save the world.  But it suffers from some major shortcomings that make it a book I cannot recommend.