It’s a very simple formula: convince the leaders of a third-world nation to accept a loan from the United States to
pay for the development of their country’s infrastructure. Make them believe that once this development has
taken place they will be able to pay off the loan and have a surplus that can be used to raise the people out of
poverty and join in the economic glory of the modern age. You do this knowing full well that they will never be
able to pay off the loan, and once they are caught in a debt to you that can never be re-paid, you can call upon
them for any favour you may wish of them. In effect, they have become a colony of the American Empire.
This is the job that John Perkins played for decades as a partner in the international consulting firm MAIN, until
the guilt finally caught up with him. He found one day that he could no longer ignore the rotten feeling in his soul
that came from being unable to suppress the awareness that his actions were causing the suffering and starvation
of people from every country he had scammed into un-payable debt. At that moment he decided to speak out
against the Global Empire that he had helped to build, that had allowed him to live a luxurious life complete with a
giant house, a boat, and the respect of the powerful whose power he had increased. He gave up the American
Dream purely out of a conflict of conscience.
Confession of an Economic Hit Man is one of those rare books that manages to touch upon all three of the
fundamental elements of human experience: the personal, the political, and even to a certain extent the spiritual.
His story reveals a great deal about the dark inner workings of the American Empire, providing an inside look at
the low-key business deals made by companies such as MAIN which made places like Indonesia, Ecuador, and
Panama slaves to U.S. interests, and how any populist leaders who dared to disobey their American masters were
covertly assassinated by the C.I.A. There is also much revealed about how our current close relationship with
Saudi Arabia came about, and how our affair with Saddam Hussein turned sour.
But the real heart of this story is its personal element. We can see how Perkins was psychologically profiled and
specifically chosen for the role of Economic Hit Man, then seduced into playing it by a woman named Claudine
who used all of his insecurities against him. We empathise with him as he meets and discovers an admiration for
Panama’s president Omar Torrijos, and feels the pangs of guilt when Torrijos is assassinated for daring to stand
up in defiance of U.S. interests. His ever-present guilt grows gradually through the years until finally, when he
realises that he has been training a whole new generation of Economic Hit Men who have even less of an idea of
what the real consequences of their actions are than he did, he decides to stand up and speak out. Tragically, he
accepts a bribe from his former company that keeps him silent for another decade, until finally he decides to refuse
all bribes, ignore all threats, and complete this book.
The guilt that finally overcame Perkins is the most important element of this fascinating story, because it is this guilt
that is our best hope as American citizens. Whether we are actively promoting the interests of the American
Empire or not, unless we are doing something, anything, to push back against the tide, we are just as guilty as he
was. But like him we need to stop ignoring that guilt and embrace it, take responsibility for the path our country is
on and make a conscious effort to change that path.
This is where the spiritual element comes in, and Perkins illustrates it beautifully through the Latin American
prophecy of “The Condor and the Eagle”. In the mists of history, the legend goes, human societies divided along
two paths: that of the condor (representing the heart, intuitive and mystical) and the eagle (representing the brain,
rational and material). According to the prophecy, in the 1490s the two paths would converge and the eagle
would drive the condor to the brink of extinction, but 500 years later, in the 1990s, they would re-unite, and an
opportunity would finally come about for the condor and the eagle to fly along the same path. Should they accept
this opportunity, they would create the most remarkable offspring this world has ever seen (247).
We, as the eagle, seem to still be flying off in our own direction, without giving a thought to the struggling condor.
Let’s hope that it’s not too late, and that our only historical opportunity to bring these two forces together has not
already been missed.
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
John Perkins - 2004