Friday, January 8, 2010
Hoodwinked: An Interview with John Perkins
I am a skeptic. I don't subscribe to most conspiracy theories because they are what they are - theories. And these theories are often promoted by individuals whose expertise is nothing more than a mistrust of government.
John Perkins is not a conspiracy theorist. He is a man confessing his real-life role in the destruction of third-world countries as an "economic hit man" for hire on behalf of U.S. corporations.
In his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, he claims that, as an economic hit man, he would identify resource-rich countries and then personally coerce them into taking massive loans from the World Bank for infrastructure projects that would be built by U.S. corporations for the "benefit" of that particular country. When a country defaulted on these particular loans, which never actually benefitted them as promised, John Perkins would go in and tell them that they had nothing to worry about - we will turn a blind eye to your debt problems if you sell us your resources at a cheaper price; drop environmental and labor laws; agree to never impose tariffs on U.S. goods; etc., etc.
Why do so many in our world live in abject poverty while so few live in comfort? John Perkins, in my opinion, is living proof of that answer.
In his latest book Hoodwinked, he explains why the world's financial markets crashed and what we can do to change it. He agreed to an interview with PopCultureJihad.
PopCultureJihad: What do big corporations stand to gain from a bad economy? It seems to me that they would be the ones fighting hardest to maintain a stable economy. Did the system fail corporations as well?
John Perkins: It's more about the people who run the corporations than the actual corporation itself. Unfortunately, most of the executives of the top corporations these days don't really care about the long-term interests of the corporation. The emphasis is now on the short-term and executives making a huge amount of money for themselves.
PopCultureJihad: Does libertarianism as an ideology make you uneasy? Is the notion of unregulated capitalism a dead concept now after this latest financial crash?
John Perkins: The idea of unregulated capitalism is terrifying to me. We have that today. When I was in business school back in the 60's, we were told that there would never be another recession like the one we just had - the laws and regulations that were put into place after the Depression would protect us against those kinds of problems in the future. And it was probably true back then, but in subsequent years - primarily beginning in 1980 when Reagan took over, but with every president after that including the democrats - regulations were removed and it made it possible for these modern-day robber barons to come along and drive us into this recession. We can look at the first hundred years of the history of the United States, no corporation got a charter unless they could prove that they would administer in the public interest. A charter lasted, on average, about ten years and then the corporation had to prove that it was administering in the public interest or it didn't get another charter. I really think we need to go back to something like that.
PopCultureJihad: You speak highly of former president Theodore Roosevelt as someone who took on big corporations and busted monopolies. Would a Teddy Roosevelt survive in today's political climate with so many powerful lobbyists and special interests influencing government?
John Perkins: I don't know whether a Theodore Roosevelt or a Franklin Roosevelt could do what they did back then today. It's impossible to know that. Unfortunately, I don't think Obama has the same character that they had or the same ability to do that, perhaps, but I'm not really sure that he could in this climate. Corporations have become so powerful and, as you mentioned, lobbyists - there's roughly 35,000 in Washington alone. And even if a president could be elected and didn't take any money from corporations - Congressman Ron Paul being an example of someone who doesn't take corporate money - they would still have to deal with a Congress that takes a lot of money from corporations; they would still have to deal with all these lobbyists - so it would be very, very difficult.
PopCultureJihad: Do you think the economy is improving?
John Perkins: I think the economy is improving for the very wealthy and they're investing back into the economy so, from that standpoint, yes. However, bankruptcies this last year were up 32% over last year and unemployment is at the highest level its been at in a quarter of a century. Home foreclosures continue to rise. These are signs that the economy is not improving, so we've almost got two economies, and this has been true in developing nations for a very long time, where you've got the "official" economy - the GNP(gross national product) - and then you've got the economy that really impacts the average joe. That economy is not going so well, while the official economy, the one that we measure with GNP, seems to be starting to recover. We need to recognize that we are dealing with two different economies here and one is very sick and the other appears to be healthy. In the long run, none of us is going to make it through this unless there are drastic changes in the system. We cannot continue the way we're going. Just look at the numbers - less than 5% of the world's population lives in the United States and we consume more than 25% of the world's resources. That's a failure. It's not a model that can be replicated in India or Africa or Latin America or anywhere else or you would have to have another five more planets to make that happen. And at the same time, while these 5% are consuming so many resources, roughly half the world's population is living in poverty and starving. That's a failed model. We have to turn it around. We've got to do something different.
PopCultureJihad: You state in your book that Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, publicly proclaimed that Ecuador was not obligated to pay its national debt because the loans, he said, had been signed by unelected military dictators who were coerced by the World Bank, IMF, CIA, as well as people like yourself who were former economic hit men; therefore, his country did not have to honor them. Who ultimately decides whether or not Ecuador has to repay these loans and who would enforce it if they continue to refuse?
John Perkins: Well, that's an open-ended question. Just last week, Iceland also announced that they shouldn't pay their loans back either. We'll see what happens. Argentina has refused at one time and some other countries have as well and the repercussions have not been very serious. I think Rafael Correa is on the right track. He says that these loans were accepted by a military dictatorship - and I remember that very, very well - and the people never agreed to them. The members of the military junta made lots of money and they left the country. They're gone now. The country really didn't benefit from these loans, but a few wealthy families did. I suspect, in the end, there will be a compromise so, maybe, Ecuador will end up paying 25% of what is owed or something like that.
PopCultureJihad: You say that "paying more for products made by companies that are socially and environmentally responsible is always an investment in the future." With people struggling to make ends meet, do you really think people are going to be able or willing to pay more for products that are socially and environmentally friendly?
John Perkins: Well, I'm not sure they have to pay more, first of all. Nike's not cheap. Nike products are very expensive and they are socially irresponsible. You may pay more for a car that's more fuel-efficient but, in the long run, you save on oil. Overall, if all the costs are truly incorporated in terms of human cost and environmental impact - you come out better with products that are socially and environmentally friendly.
You can find out more about John Perkins through his website: johnperkins.org
You can also follow him on twitter at: economic_hitman