John Perkins calls himself a former economic hit man. He has seen the signs of today’s financial meltdown before. The subprime mortgage fiasco, the collapse of the banking industry, the rising unemployment rate — these are all familiar to him. Perkins was on the front lines of monitoring and helping create these very events that were once just confined to the Third World. From 1971 to 1981, he worked for the international consulting firm of Chas T. Main, where he was a self-described “economic hit man.” He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Confessions of An Economic Hit Man and The Secret History of the American Empire. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The film is The End of Poverty? And we’re going to go to a clip of the film, where our next guest interviews the vice president of Bolivia. Yes, I’m talking about John Perkins, the bestselling author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. He is back with a new book. It’s called Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded — and What We Need to Do to Remake Them. We go now to John Perkins, in this clip from The End of Poverty?, interviewing Bolivia’s vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, for the film The End of Poverty?
JOHN PERKINS: [translated] Bolivia is a country with so many natural resources. Why does a country like this have so many poor people?
VICE PRESIDENT ALVARO GARCIA LINERA: [translated] I think this has to do with what we call the colonial condition of our societies. Countries that have a collection of natural resources, renewable or nonrenewable, seem to be condemned to be poor countries. It’s paradoxical, isn’t it? Unfortunately, colonialism is always a part of the development of capitalism. There is an emancipation process that happens through the implementation of a different global economic order than the current one. That’s why a total, simple and definite break with colonialism allows us to imagine a world economic order, globalized in a different way than that which is driven by the accumulation of capital.
JOHN PERKINS: [translated] What things can Bolivia do, or should they do, to bring about necessary change?
VICE PRESIDENT ALVARO GARCIA LINERA: [translated] This is a country of nine million inhabitants, where 62 percent of the population is indigenous, both in the cities and the farmlands. Bolivia is a country with mestizos, Aymaras, Quechas, Guaranis, Mojenio, Trinitarios, Irionos, thirty-two indigenous groups and nations. But, unfortunately, in the 181 years of the republic’s political life, the indigenous people were never recognized as citizens with collective rights. Never. This continent is waking up. I like the idea of “a continent in movement” as a synthesis of what’s been happening during the past five to six years in Latin America. There’s a movement developing of world citizenship and planetary responsibility. There is something beautiful happening in these countries which makes them get involved in the situations of countries like Bolivia, a country that wants to live a better life, where 58 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the research done for The End of Poverty? That clip was actually made for Democracy Now! Thanks to Philippe Diaz and Cinema Libre Studio for that. the interview done with the Bolivian vice president by John Perkins, who will now join us in our firehouse studio after break.
AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins calls himself a former economic hit man. He has seen the signs of today’s financial meltdown before. The subprime mortgage fiasco, the collapse of the banking industry, the rising unemployment rate — these are all familiar to him.
Perkins was on the front lines of monitoring and helping create these very events that were once just confined to the third world. From ’71 to 1981, he worked for the international consulting firm Chas T. Main, where he was a self-described “economic hit man.” It was based in Boston.
He’s the author of the New York Times bestseller, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and The Secret History of the American Empire. Well, he’s out with a new book. It’s called Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded — and What We Need to Do to Remake Them.
He joins me here in the firehouse studio.
Welcome, John. Well, for starters, though we’ve discussed this before, what exactly does an “economic hit man” mean?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, Amy, I think it’s fair to say that we economic hit men have managed to create the world’s first truly global empire. And it’s basically a secret empire.
We do it in many ways, but principally, we identify a country that has resources that corporations covet, like oil, arrange a huge loan to that country from the World Bank or one of its sisters. The money never actually goes to the country; it goes to our own corporations to build the infrastructure projects in that country that help a few very wealthy people, but don’t benefit the majority of the people, who are too poor to buy electricity or have cars to drive on the highways. And yet, they’re left holding a huge debt that they can’t repay.
So we go back at some point and say, “You know, you can’t pay your debts. Give us a pound of flesh. Sell your oil real cheap to our oil companies. Vote with us on the next critical UN vote. Allow us to build a military base in your backyard.” Something along these lines.
And when we fail — as I talk in my books, I failed with Jaime Roldos, president of Ecuador, Omar Torrijos of Panama — the Jackals go in and either overthrow or assassinate these leaders. And if the Jackals fail, as they did in Iraq, then we send in the military.
AMY GOODMAN: And what personal experience do you have to prove this?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, I was there. You know, I was with Jaime Roldos in Ecuador. I was the guy — one of the guys who was supposed to corrupt him, bring him around, and Omar Torrijos of Panama and many others. When I failed with those two gentlemen, the Jackals went in and assassinated both of them. And I was there; I was in those front lines. My official title was chief economist of Charles T. Main. I had about three dozen employees working for me and did this for ten years, and finally saw the light.
But I think what’s — you know, what’s really important about all this is that in this period of time, since the 1970s, and really beginning very strongly in the 1980s, we’ve created what I consider a mutant, viral form of capitalism. Earlier on the program, you showed the statistics of 37 percent of the people in the survey not believing that capitalism is working. I don’t think the failure is capitalism. I think it’s the specific kind of capitalism that we’ve developed in the last thirty or forty years, particularly beginning with the time of Reagan and Milton Friedman’s economic theories, which stress that the only goal of business is to maximize profit, regardless of the social and environmental costs, and not to regulate businesses at all — regulation is bad, all forms — and to privatize everything, so that everything is run by private business. And this mutant form of capitalism, which I think is really a predatory form of capitalism, has created an extremely unstable, unsustainable, unjust and very, very dangerous world.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the robber barons, the modern day robber barons. Who do you mean?
JOHN PERKINS: So many of them. You know, we’ve seen them recently on Wall Street, the people from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and so many other organizations, people like Jack Welch, who is a former CEO of General Electric. And as I lecture at business schools and MBA programs, Jack Welch is often held up as this idol. Jack Welch laid off a quarter of GE’s employees. You know, he said he was making the company meaner and leaner — he certainly was making it meaner — gave himself huge raises and bonuses at the same time, turned General Electric essentially from a manufacturing company into a financial services company, which really was one of the leaders in taking us down this course today that we’re on of a failed economic system.
And we truly have a failed economic system at this point. It’s deep. You know, one of the reasons I wrote Hoodwinked is because I saw a lot of books coming out that deal with what I consider triage. What do you do with AIG? What do you do with General Electric? What do you do about the immediate problems with Wall Street? But the problem is much, much deeper. There’s a cancer beneath all that. And this is this very basics of our current economic system. And we must delve down and root out that cancer and move into something much better.
I have a two-year-old grandson. And as I look at this baby, you know, I think, what’s this world going to look like in six decades, when he’s my age? If we stay the course, it will be horrible. But we have this opportunity now, and I think this economic turmoil that we’re in today is teaching us that we must change. We have a failed system. We must create something better. And we must realize that my grandson can’t possibly hope to inherit a sustainable, just and peaceful world, unless every child growing up in Ethiopia and in Bolivia and in Indonesia and in Israel and Palestine has that same expectation. For the first time in history, we’re really living on a very, very tiny, highly integrated planet, and we’re all communicating with each other. Everybody is listening to Democracy Now! all around the world. We’re all talking on the cell phone and by internet. We really get it. We’re a very, very small community, and we need to recognize that.
AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins, you have an interesting theory about what happened in Honduras, the coup that just took place there. What do you think?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, I don’t think it’s a theory. You know, I think it’s — I was in Panama at the time that the coup took place. And, you know, the democratic —-
AMY GOODMAN: In June.
JOHN PERKINS: Yeah. The democratically elected president, Zelaya, had called for a new constitution to replace the old one that was really set up by the oligarchy in favor of the very, very, very wealthy and the international companies. He also called for a 60 percent increase in the bottom wage rate, which had a huge impact on Dole and Chiquita, two of the biggest employers in that company. They, along with a number of companies that have sweatshops in Honduras, strongly objected, very much the same way that they had objected to Aristide in Haiti, when he did something similar, and called in the military. The general in charge of the military was a graduate of our School of the Americas, this, you know, school that’s famous for creating dictators, and they overthrew Zelaya. It was a classic CIA-sponsored type of coup, very similar to what United Fruit had done in Guatemala in the early ’50s. And, of course, United Fruit became Chiquita.
So you had this -— you know, this strong relationship and got rid of this democratically elected president, because he was drawing a line in the sand. We had seen ten countries in Latin America bring in new presidents who are instituting very significant reforms in favor of the people, in favor of using local resources to help the people pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and I think the corporatocracy decided to draw a line in the sand in Honduras.
AMY GOODMAN: Iran and the swirling clouds?
JOHN PERKINS: You know, I think Iran today — Iran is this example of where we went in and overthrew a democratically elected president, Mosaddeq, in the early ’50s, and we’ve seen terrible blowback from that ever since. It’s, you know, not only in Iran, but it impacted the whole Middle East. If we had supported that president, who simply wanted to use more of his oil money, his country’s oil money, to help the poor people — we strongly objected. We overthrew him in a coup and replaced him with the Shah. So we’ve seen the blowback that comes out of that. And this has led to this situation that we’re in today.
And the swirling clouds, to me, are the big corporations. So, in the past, you had roughly 200 countries on the planet, which a few had a lot of power — the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the United States. But today the geopolitics might better be envisioned as the same roughly 200 countries with these huge swirling clouds that are the big corporations. And they are really calling the shots all over the planet. They know no national boundaries. They don’t listen to any specific set of laws. They strike deals with the Chinese and the Taiwanese and the Tibetans and the Israelis and the Arab nations. Whoever has the markets or the resources, they cut deal with — deals with. And as we’ve seen in our most recent election here in the United States, we bring in a president who is very diametrically different from the former president, and yet the corporations are still calling the shots.
Which takes us back, Amy, to the fact that we, the people, must create the change. This has always been the case. And this is a clarion call for us at this point now in history, that we must get out there. We’ve got to get behind Obama and all the other politicians. We’ve got to force the corporations to change their goal, get away from this goal of maximizing profits regardless of social and environmental costs, and instead say, “Yeah, it’s OK. Make profits, but only within a context of creating a sustainable, just and peaceful world,” only within the context of creating a world that my grandson will want to inherit, and that means every child on the planet will want to inherit it, because I think it’s really important that we understand today we cannot have homeland security unless we understand that the whole planet is our homeland. Our homeland is now no longer defined by the Rio Grande and the Canadian border. It is — we are one — one human species living on a very fragile planet.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the burden of the melting glaciers?
JOHN PERKINS: The melting — you know, I was in Tibet a couple of years ago, and I stood there with these nomads and looked at this glacier that had been down at the road a decade or so before, now it’s way back a mile away. And these glaciers up in the Himalayas feed the five largest rivers in the world. They provide water to China and to India. And as these glaciers melt, the water is drying up. The glaciers are melting because of global warming, because of us. And what we have to understand is the huge consequences. If these five rivers no longer can feed water to the Chinese and the Indians, these people are going to die of thirst. And before they die of thirst, they’ll become very rebellious.
We have to understand that one of the root causes of terrorism — I don’t even like the word “terrorism,” because I don’t think it really is — it’s a whole bunch of diverse groups all over the world. But in every — practically every case, it results from starvation, from desperation. I’ve met a lot of terrorists. I’ve interviewed them for books. I’ve never met one who wanted to be a terrorist. These are farmers who have been driven off their farmlands by oil companies or hydroelectric projects, or they’re fishermen, like the Somali pirates, who can no longer make a living fishing, because their waters have been fished dry or destroyed by nuclear waste from US military vessels. I have not met anyone who wanted to be a terrorist. They’re desperate people. If we want to get rid of terrorism, we must get rid of the root causes, that cancer that is destroying our whole system.
AMY GOODMAN: The new rules you propose for business and government?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, you know, we all know that getting rid of the rules that protected us from another recession has helped to bring on this current recession, you know, things like Glass-Steagall and the banking laws and so forth. We need to implement a lot of those again.
But I think we also need another whole new set of laws that says businesses must be — look at being environmentally and socially responsible. For a hundred years after United States became the United States, no corporation was allowed to get a charter unless it could prove that it served the public interest. And charters came up for renewal every ten years or so. They didn’t get a renewal unless they could prove they served the public interest. That all changed with a Supreme Court ruling that made corporations equivalent to individuals in the late 1880s, and then John D. Rockefeller stepped in and really took things — made things go out of hand.
But we need to go back to an understanding that corporations are there to serve us. When I went to business school, I was taught that a good CEO takes care of the long-term interests of the corporation — the employees, the customers, the general economy — not just there to make short-term profits. And we really need to get back to that, to an understanding. I think we need laws and rules that say that corporations must be aiming toward creating a sustainable and just and peaceful world. We simply have to do that. These are our main controlling organizations today, and they must be answerable to what’s best in the public interest, not just the interests of a few very wealthy, powerful people.
AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins, self-confessed economic hit man, he’s got a new book out. It’s called Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded — and What We Need to Do to Remake Them.