March 11, 2006

True Confessions?

Continuing on the non-fiction book review kick, I picked up John Perkins' "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" at the library recently and finished it fairly quickly. This one is a tough book to review, because the quality of the book depends somewhat on its truthfulness, and I have no way to judge that.

Perkins worked for one of these huge multinationals (like Halliburton, Bechtel, etc), and his mission was to convince third-world countries (Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia, Colombia, etc.) to take out huge loans to pay for these companies to come in and build up their infrastructure. He tried to convince these countries that the subsequent economic growth would be enormous and would enable the country to easily pay back its debt, but he knew this was false. The main point was to (a) make money for his company and (b) to force these countries so deep into debt that the United States would be able to push them around politically.

If there's a problem, then a coup is arranged or an assassination. Perkins tells the story of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela as well as Omar Torrijos (who died suspiciously in a plane crash after thumbing his nose at the U. S.) and his successor, Manuel Noriega, in Panama (famously ousted when we invaded during Bush I, currently rotting in a U. S. prison), among others. In broad outline, of course, Perkins' story is legitimate, and there is some educational material in here.

How do oil companies get a foothold in these regions? What was happening behind the scenes in Central and South America during the Reagan years? How does the World Bank work? Who are some of the common characters who keep popping up when civil unrest or radical changes in governments take place in the third world? How does the media help or hinder this process? Many of these questions are at least addressed if not answered fully, so there is some good stuff to think about in this book.

That's all fine and has been documented elsewhere, surely with more detail and higher quality writing. What sets this book apart from typical non-fiction of this kind (for the worse) is all of Perkins' stories. He styles himself an international agent of intrigue who can bring nations to ruin with his economic forecasts (!?) but at the same time a man of deep conscience who is trying to change how everyone thinks to atone for his sins. He includes a lot of anecdotes that are, frankly, a little hard to believe (especially the dialogue) from Iran, Indonesia and Colombia and his personal experiences there.

He even includes several sexy, beautiful women, including a shadowy Claudine who teaches him the ways of the world and recruits him to be an "Economic Hit Man". While I was reading this book, Elaine's boss from Seinfeld came to mind, J. Peterman. At one point, she was ghost-writing his memoirs, and he was worried that he didn't have enough good stories to tell. So he bought some stories from Kramer ("the very pants I was trying to return!") and eventually encouraged Elaine to speak about his romantic exploits and "feel free to throw yourself into the mix there" or something.

In some ways, this book reads comically just like that. On the other hand, I'll admit I am in no position to judge this guy's credibility. Maybe he's telling the truth everywhere, but even if he is, this story has been told in more detail (albeit in less of a spy novel format) by many others. Even Michael Moore brought up some of this stuff on Iraq in "Fahrenheit 9/11".

The self-importance of the author, in the end, is a bit too much to get past, and I wouldn't recommend this book. From what I understand (but have not read), a good current author to read regarding multinationals and foreign policy (especially in Iraq) is James Briody, an author referenced frequently by Michael Moore (which is probably a litmus test for a lot of people, one way or the other).

Posted by Observer at March 11, 2006 09:16 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

He failed to accurately mention that Claudine was a 54 yr old hairy guy. Claudine *did* teach him the ways of the world. Heh.

Posted by: Humbaba on March 11, 2006 05:58 PM