I just finished Confessions of an Economic Hit Man at Barnes. Summary:

Perkins, a former chief economist at Boston strategic-consulting firm Chas. T. Main, says he was an “economic hit man” for 10 years, helping U.S. intelligence agencies and multinationals cajole and blackmail foreign leaders into serving U.S. foreign policy and awarding lucrative contracts to American business. “Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars,” Perkins writes.

I’ve been familiar with the ideas in this book through various readings and discussions. While nothing ground-breaking is presented here, the author connects the dots on the incestuous relationship between our government and corporations – the corporatocracy – whose aims are to (1) consolidate wealth and power for elite individuals, and (2) build up the empire. For the first half of the book I was unable to put it down, riveted by specific details on how the deals took place. The corporatocracy wields power through money instead of force, making big loans to countries so they can build public works (requiring them to use engineering services by Halliburton and Bechtel) that we can later use as leverage. When the country is unable to pay back loans, they are forced to submit to various demands that serve United States interests, which are disseminated through puppet organizations such as the IMF and WTO. If they refuse, force is used like in Iraq.

It presents case studies on Ecuador, Venezuela, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Central American countries such as Panama and Nicaragua. The book loses steam after page 149, but I recommend you barrel through and pick up on the some interesting examples in the second half.

If you are familiar with US foreign policy, this book should not be a shock to you. We wouldn’t be the most powerful nation in the world if we didn’t do the things the author describes in this book. To further educate yourself about the American corporation, I recommend the documentary The Corporation. Its main focus is corporate power and influence within US borders.


  1. V

    Cool, I’m about 1/3 of the way into this book. So far it has not shocked me, but it is interesting how the non hit men justify what they are doing–ideals of progress and helping poorer nations–when it’s actually totally opposite, whereas the hit men know what they are doing but are too into the game to care–at least so far.

  2. sean

    I agree with Peter North (I always wanted to say that). What? Another “expose” about evil corporations? From an “insider” no less! Wow, who would have imagined. Bring it all down.

  3. Lonnie Bruner

    You’re insane. All US foreign policy is designed with altruistic motives. All we want to do is help the world’s poor and needy. You can’t convince me otherwise.

  4. V

    Peter: If you mean behind the curve because it came out a couple years ago then sure–sorry we all don’t have so much leisure time. But, I would guess that most people are not even a little aware of this side of our government?s foreign policy.

    Sean: While I haven’t finished the book (though it sounds like you haven’t even read it), it is different than most anti-corporation books because it actually details how the U.S. Government uses corporations to control other nations through an entrapment-like diplomacy.

  5. oface

    Thanks for the heads up DCB..I’ve been looking for something regurgitate my mind too. But yeah, America is evil and we do destructive shit behind the scenes in other countries. Here’s a shocker for a foreign policy strategy…Did you know that its better to incite violence, dictatorships, civil wars and other self destructive policies rather than to have a communist state???????

  6. Sally

    This happens (and has been happening) in every country in the world, not just the U.S. European countries are particularly notable for the governments propping up defense contractors and making shady deals with smaller, less wealthy countries. There’s usually ridiculous amounts of bribery of government officials involved as well. The U.S. is merely following the example set by, in one case, the British government, which sent warships to threaten the Iranians who were attempting to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Or how about the French, who oversold weapons to Middle Eastern nations (namely Iraq), thereby keeping their leaders indebted to Paris?

    The U.S. is the target everyone loves to hate, making it that much easier to write a “shocking expose” about it. Just because it’s the biggest doesn’t mean it’s the most corrupt.

  7. Phil

    …because we all know those countries you cited always deal on the “up and up”.

    On the other hand, if they don’t like it, we’ll shove a Freedom Sandwich down their throats.

  8. iron shirt

    “When have I ever lied to you?”
    “Nicaragua! ’84!”

    Peter, what readership ISN’T behind the curve on this shit? And that’s not rhetorical, I want to know. It’s not like kids learn this in school.

  9. J.P.

    Anyone who has read much modern latin american history can tell you this is not contraversial in terms of its veracity nor is it ground breaking. Whether you agree with what the US did or not I find discussions of these types of policy interesting.

    For one thing, we may ask ourselves which is more effective: the less sexy, more subversive economic coersion described in these types of books or the more testosterone charged, patriotism steeped wars like the one in Iraq.

    Personally, I prefer the subversion.

  10. mhm

    When this blog veers into issues of political economy it’s truly the one eyed leading the blind and the stupid.

    If you’ve spent any time in countries like Argentina, Brazil, etc, you realize that whatever the U.S. and IMF may do is the least of their problems.

  11. Roissy

    it’s a sin that the malignant historical record of communism is barely mentioned in passing in US schools.

    i wonder why?


  12. Stephen

    When I picked up “Confessions” I picked it up partly because, well, I disagree with much of what I knew the author would say. I’m a free-market oriented economist in favor of projects done by US AID and other entities, don’t worry so much about globalization, and yadda yadda.

    That being said, I enjoyed the book. One, he’s a good writer. Two, it stayed interesting while only veering off every now and then into some pseudo-political rant. Three, he makes some valid points, though I think he took some artistic liberties in his portrayal of events (he admits to such in his foreward, I think).

    While I still stand firm in my economic stance (thanks GMU), reading his book opened me up to a different side of viewing things, and with it the concept that our theory does not always work out in reality (despite our best intentions, I hope). Where we intervene, why, and how, and to what end, should always be understood, and there is no clear mandate to always intervening, always globalizing.

    If I, a libertarian economist can enjoy AND learn a thing or two from Perkins’ book, then it must be a pretty darn good book.

    I only wish I hadn’t left it on the ChinaTown NY bus…

  13. DCB Post author

    “If you?ve spent any time in countries like Argentina, Brazil, etc, you realize that whatever the U.S. and IMF may do is the least of their problems.”

    Yeah, spending almost two weeks in Venezuela (a country profiled in the book) observing how people live and talking to them about the political state of their country and their feelings towards the U.S. definitely excludes me from even discussing foreign policy. I better go back to bitches and hos before brains explode.

  14. Mandy

    It is generally agreed that many Latin American countries have issues with violence. Why? In part, poverty and education inequalities are to blame. Why? Because the governments fail to justly allocate resources that could improve the educational system. Why? Because government corruption and the enticements of international corporations and the institutions that they work through (WTO, IMF) are effective distractions from real political agendas. Also, organizations like the WTO fight against the free distribution of generic AIDS medications in countries like Brasil, stating that the more expensive, original formulas should be bought, following intellectual property rights (even though this means more people will die). I guess that?s just too bad for people who have AIDS, huh?
    “Mhm,” you should do some research before formulating such a general and unsubstantiated opinion. International corporations and their lobbyists in DC do a lot more harm to developing nations than you think.
    Good book review DCB.

  15. sean

    LMAO at some of these comments….I think the original statement of “being behind the curve” has been proven correct. Of course that statement was made by none other than Peter North, so that just goes without saying. Too much to respond to so I’ll make it simple….
    -Has a BIT of a clue:

    -May be living in a self-righteous fantasy:

    The rest are neither here nor there.

    On a more important note, I hear Best Buy has the latest technology. Just don’t forget to CHARGE IT!

  16. gyro

    Everyone who says the book is not shocking news is right, but that’s almost the point. If everybody knows – esp. jose Q. publico in the target countries – then that’s not really doing much for our whole Karen Hughes “hearts & minds” PR campaign that’s supposedly building good will abroad. That may be OK for the big biz interests that drive development finance, but not so good for us joe Q. public types who pay for it all.

    In any case, the word confessions in the title hints that the main intent is just to tell what it’s like to personally work within that machinery. I’m looking for a career change… maybe exploitation of foreign dupes and crooks for the benefit of shareholders is a promising option. Might have to check it out.

    So what’s the word on Venezuelan bitches and hos? Are they partial to financial imperialists? This would be a top-3 factor in my decision to become one.

  17. Joe

    Gyro, I doubt Venezuelan “bitches and hos” are into financial imperialists these days, what with Hugo Chavez nationalizing the oil companies and all. (Actually, he’s one bad-ass mofo and I admire him but before Dubya’s administration is out he’ll probably be found lying face down over his desk with a knife in his back, and US Embassy “spokespersons” will call it “suicide — an act of asymmetric warfare”).

  18. Anonymous

    Yeah, spending almost two weeks in Venezuela (a country profiled in the book) observing how people live and talking to them about the political state of their country and their feelings towards the U.S. definitely excludes me from even discussing foreign policy. I better go back to bitches and hos before brains explode.

    This is a whole other can of worms where Chavez likes to blame the US for everything wrong in Venezuela. If the US was really that bad, Chavez would sever the $40billion+ we trade with him every year.

    The moral of the story is, it’s popular to dislike the US now, especially for foreign governments. At the end of the day it adds votes by distracting the public from the real issues at hand. Ultimately, this will put the countries in a more shakey position.

  19. Anonymous

    Gyro, I doubt Venezuelan ?bitches and hos? are into financial imperialists these days, what with Hugo Chavez nationalizing the oil companies and all. (Actually, he?s one bad-ass mofo and I admire him but before Dubya?s administration is out he?ll probably be found lying face down over his desk with a knife in his back, and US Embassy ?spokespersons? will call it ?suicide ? an act of asymmetric warfare?).

    What has the US ever done to Venezuela besides keep it flush with US dollars?

    I guess it’s good that Venezuela is now prepared for that “US invasion” with it’s 100,000 russian AK’s… besides the fact that Venezuela doesn’t even have 100,000 enlisted people. While preparing for this “US invasion”, Chavez has let Caracas slip into being the most dangerous city in the world. But as long as he prepares for the wrong war, this will keep going.

  20. mhm

    Cada macaco no seu galho….

    dude, you spent two weeks in Venezuela and read one back that you were to cheap to buy. Fuck, you should secretary of state.

  21. Lonnie Bruner


    I’m not sure what we’re discussing anymore, but the comments on tend to create a life of their own. Anyway, let me add my two cents.

    I used to be part of the 50 Years is Enough campaign. They’re a group that tries (still) to abolish the IMF and World Bank. I’ve attended protests at both institutions—mainly regarding the former dictator of Indoneisa, Suharto, who was being given a massive bailout loan from IMF after the SE Asian crisis in 1996 and onward.

    While IMF was created to stabilize currencies and help poor governments fix their account deficits, and the WB was created for development (like building power plants on fault lines, or bloated puff projects to boost the image of the resident proxy dictator, among the more embarrassing things). The most insidious history of IMF/WB was during the Cold War, when many of the loans and Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) were directed to quasi-fascists simply because they were US allies. Money was thrown at whoever was on our side, regardless of whether the money went to paying for Mobuto limos and villas on the French Riviera.

    While all this is horrible, and embarrassing for the US in many cases, in 2006 the IMF/WB are much different. WB does a lot of effective development work in the 3rd World, and IMF comes in and bails out poorly performing economies when they tank. It’s true that the SAPs demand that governments cut programs for the poor to meet their current account deficits, but in the end they bring economies back to their feet. Often, the SAPs encourage “foreign investment” because those are the only people with any money to build the economy back up! It’s not like it’s some cynical way for the US to be more powerful in most cases.

    This is one of those issues that’s very complicated in which neither side of the spectrum is 100% correct. One the one hand, the just-out-of-college kid who has just finished his first Noam Chomsky book thinks that there’s a cabal of 3,000 capitalists in dark suits and shades running the world with the US military at their beck and call. On the other hand, the Republican thinks that all foreign investment helps the world, without exception. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do belive the reality falls somewhere in the boring middle of those two ideologies.


  22. mhm

    Mr. Bruner is correct and much less lazy than I as evidenced by his thoughtful response. This is a very complicated issue with more than enough bad guys to go around(IMF and World Bank suck for many reasons, but so do the instiutional structure and gubmints of these countries).

    Read any of the literature on development economics to start to get an idea of how much there is to know on these issues. To understand where we are today you have to start with the history of these countries and might as well throw in the history of development economics over the last 60 years.

    To put it in a way you can understand DCB, reading your posts on issues like these is like listening to a beta who after reading a dating advice book and going to a few bars considers himself an expert.

  23. oface

    I’m not livin in a self righteous fantasy sean. I just understand the facts a little better than most. Your probably the guy that says we need this war in Iraq to fight the terrorists and remove a global threat. How fitting that Bin Laden and Hussein, these two threats were giving WEAPONS, MONEY, and MILITARY training by our government. Is it normally un-righteous and rational to arm your threats??? I just think its silly to sit on the sidelines and pretend that America doesn’t have its hand it shady dealings across the world when all the facts and signs point to it.

  24. Mandy

    Sean, I?m not living in a self-righteous fantasy either. But I?ve lived in Brasil and spent significant time in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico, and I?m just saying that there?s something to be said about the way debt and free trade are biased against developing nations.
    Plus, the harm is universal–Brasil has sold off a lot of rainforest to pay off IMF debts, for example, and that?s a consequence everyone?s gonna live with sooner or later.
    Listen, I love the U.S., but its track record in this area can be embarrassing. At least it?s better to face our shady past so that we can understand the issues and work to improve the situation.

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