By Troy Williams
In his first book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, John Perkins described how he helped the United States swindle poor countries out of trillions of dollars by offering them huge loans that they couldn’t possibly repay. We then used that debt to manipulate their economies and exploit their resources. Perkins exposed how the World Bank, under the guise of alleviating poverty has actually been maneuvering developing nations into financial servitude. In his new book, The Secret History of the American Empire, Perkins goes deeper into the ways the American corpratocracy has manipulated the poorest of the poor in the pursuit of global empire. We spoke on KRCL’s RadioActive.
Troy Williams: You were originally recruited by the National Security Agency and then you went to work for American corporations and the World Bank, ostensibly as an economist. You and your colleagues began to refer to yourself as “economic hitmen.” And like a modern day pirate you would move into poor countries and plunder their treasure, correct?
John Perkins: That’s exactly what we did — I’m ashamed to say. We would identify a third world country that had resources that our corporations wanted — like oil. And then we arranged a huge loan to that country through the World Bank. That money wouldn’t go to that country, but rather to our own corporations to build infrastructure projects that help a few rich people as well as the corporations that built them. These are things like power plants and industrial parks. And the country is left holding a huge debt. At some point we go back to the country and say, “you can’t pay us, so do us a favor, sell your oil really cheap to our oil companies, send troops in support of ours to Iraq, or vote with us on a critical United Nations vote”. And in that way we’ve managed to funnel the world’s resources into us. In the process we’ve exploited a lot of people and created a tremendous amount of anger, resentment, poverty and terrorism.
TW: Our wealth often comes at the expense of people living in severe conditions of poverty. That’s difficult to accept.
JP: It is. There is slavery in the world on a much bigger level than ever before in history. We are seeing something around the world that is not unlike what was happening in the south in this country before the Civil War. But it’s hidden from us. It’s one of the reasons why our clothes and technology are so cheap. People in countries with tremendous amount of resources don’t get the benefit of those resources. We turn around and offer them foreign aid after we’ve exploited them. But even the foreign aid really goes to our own corporations. This is creating a destabilized world.
TW: We all talk about sweatshops. But the true cost of our lifestyle hasn’t really sunk deep into our cultural consciousness. But the people being exploited are very aware!
JP: They are very aware. We’ve got to get it. We need to understand this. Democracy is based on the premise of an informed electorate. If our electorate is not informed then we are truly not a democracy. It’s important that everyone take action. And if we decide everyday to bring our passion to bear on creating a stable, sustainable and peaceful world, we will get there.
TW: Talk about Nike in Indonesia. I was under the impression that they had turned things around.
JP: Nike would like to give the impression that they are doing a better job, but that’s not the case at all. In fact things are getting worse. A few years ago, Nike announced that they had increased the wages of their workers by 70% and in fact they did. But at the same time the currency of Indonesia had devalued by 130%, which they didn’t bother to tell us. So actually they were spending 60% less. The workers did get an increase but they couldn’t buy anything with it on the international market. We were really hoodwinked. I want to wear the Nike swoosh with pride and say this is a company that represents creating a sustainable, stable and peaceful world, but right now Nike represents the opposite of that. We need to bring them around and let them know that we are never going to buy anything from them again until they do better. We have to look at every corporation that way.
TW: A common argument I hear is “The workers in China and Indonesia need the work, and if we didn’t have our factories there, these people would starve”. How do you respond?
JP: The same argument was used here over slavery. It was said that the people dragged out of the jungles were savages and were much better living here, learning about Christianity and living on our plantations. You can justify slavery in many different ways. A lot of [the Indonesians] were living on subsistence farms. Nike came and offered them $2 a day and that seemed like a lot of money to them. They left their farms, went to work for Nike, but in a few years, Nike would abandon their factories and go somewhere else where wages were even lower. These people were out on the street. They’d lost their farms. To justify things on that level is really sinister. Yes I want to support the workers of Indonesia and China, but only if they are being supported with fair wages and health care – not if they are being exploited.
TW: How do we get people to recognize how our lifestyles might be hurting other people?
JP: We really need to understand that living in the United States we are less than 5% of the world’s population, consuming 25% of it’s resources, and creating more than 30% of it’s pollution. That’s a nonviable system. It cannot continue. We must change. So let’s change in a reasonable way. Let’s do what we know we must do. Listen to your own passion. Use your individual talents to help us create a sustainable, stable and peaceful world.
For more on John Perkins visit www.dreamchange.org