That’s John Perkins on the cover his latest best-selling book. He’s hiding behind sunglasses and a dark suit, looking like a shadowy hitman — which he was. Perkins didn’t kill people. He bullied them with financial coercion, thus his nom de guerre: “Economic Hitman.” If higher-ups in Indonesia, Panama and elsewhere didn’t follow Perkins’ advice (and the advice of other Economic Hitmen), they were — to put it crudely — rubbed out. Panama’s Omar Torrijos, for example, was killed by CIA proxies in 1981 because he resisted U.S. attempts to completely control Panama’s economy, Perkins alleges. Sex. Violence. Money. It was all a part of Perkins’ career as an economist, vetted (he says) by the National Security Agency. Perkins was a lethal mix of Alan Greenspan and Jason Bourne. (It’s no surprise that Harrison Ford bought the rights to put Perkins’ life on the big screen.)
I interviewed Perkins this week at the Commonwealth Club of California, where a live audience applauded him, then questioned the revelations and analysis in his latest work: “Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets IMPLODED — and What We Need to Do to Remake Them.” Among Perkins’ points: President Obama is beholden to the same corporate interests that George W. Bush was beholden to, which is why Obama’s biggest achievement to date is bailing out Wall Street. The people Obama brought in to police the economy – people like Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers – are from the very institutions (World Bank, Federal Reserve, etc.) that “hoodwinked” the economies of developing countries and/or embraced the profit-above-all-else policies of Milton Friedman and/or emphasized the sanctity of Wall Street. As a presidential candidate, Obama said he would reform Wall Street, and vowed, “What we have to do is make sure taxpayer money is not being used to bail out bad decisions.” As president, Obama ensured that taxpayer money was used to bail out Wall Street.
Like other pundits and liberal economists, Perkins says the American public can’t assume Obama will do right on the economy. Through letter-writing, phone-calling, and other grassroots lobbying, people should try to “force” the Obama administration into more adequate economic reforms, Perkins said.
Perkins’ “Hoodwinked” is an engaging read. On Amazon, it debuted two weeks ago as an instant bestseller. As in “Confessions,” Perkins narrates his life (including liaisons) as an economic hitman, but this tome begins with Iceland’s stunning economic rise and fall. Corporations reaped record profits from Iceland’s brief ascendancy – and kept those riches even as Iceland’s general populous experienced widespread economic chaos. For the first time, Perkins says, a “first-world” country was victimized by the same predatory capitalism that victimized “third-world” countries like Panama and Botswana. Perkins got rich – very rich – during his hitman days. Even afterward, he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to shut up – to keep secret his role in the ongoing grab of countries’ resources. No more. After 9/11, Perkins came out of his cocoon. At the Commonwealth Club, an audience member asked about any guilt he still has.
“I’m not looking for forgiveness,” Perkins said. “I want to make a better world. I’ve confessed. Now, the important thing is to move beyond this.”
“This” is the “hitman” policies that, Perkins says, are still wreaking havoc around the world, including the United States.