A Former Economic Hit Man Explains How to Restore Democracy in the United States

The pernicious influence of “economic hit men” has spread around the globe. John Perkins revealed his first-hand experience of this violent and coercive phenomenon: Now, in The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, he brings this story of greed and corruption up to date with more than 100 new pages. Order your copy of this expanded edition of the New York Times bestseller by making a donation to Truthout today!

John Perkins used to work as a chief economist for a major international consulting firm, advising the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the US Treasury Department and several Fortune 500 Corporations on how to exploit the resources of developing countries for profit. He retrospectively dubbed his role an “economic hitman,” a person who helps multinational corporations and wealthy governments prey on weaker nations, a form of neocolonialism.

In 2004, Perkins came clean in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, which spent 73 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. Since then, things have gotten worse in terms of the influence exerted by corporations across the globe, inspiring Perkins to release an updated version of his critically acclaimed book earlier this year, The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman.

“In the last 12 years, economic hit men have really come home to roost in the United States and Europe,” Perkins said in a phone interview. “In other words, this whole system has spread from the developing countries, where I worked,to the US, Europe and the rest of the world. That includes a whole new class of what I call economic hit men. And these are our politicians, lobbyists, people who work directly for corporations to get them tax breaks, and so on and so forth.”

The 2016 presidential elections have illuminated the extent corporations and the wealthy have exerted their influence into the political system. A rift has formed within the Democratic Party over the polarity between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over campaign financing. Both candidates have vocally supported campaign finance reform, but while Bernie Sanders has managed to run a successful campaign without the benefit of a super PAC, Hillary Clinton has received millions of dollars in donations through super PACs, including the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Politico uncovered the super PAC has been laundering money to the Clinton campaign under the pretense of supporting state Democratic Parties in order for the Clinton campaign to circumvent campaign fundraising laws. Clinton’s 2008 campaign co-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been implicated in rigging the primaries in favor of Hillary Clinton as DNC Chair, as both she and Clinton have embraced corporate lobbyists and donations from super PACs while Bernie Sanders has run his campaign on abolishing this undemocratic system which breeds corruption.

“Most politicians today are dependent on big corporations or their primary stockholders for campaign financing and also, they know if they decide not to run in the next election or lose the next election, they will probably get high paying jobs at corporations as consultants or lobbyists,” said Perkins, who noted this dependency makes most politicians very reluctant to push for legislation corporations deem as unfavorable to their interests. “I think it’s fair to say in the United States today we have an extremely corrupt system that, legally speaking, is not corrupt because we made what was previously considered corruption and is considered illegal corruption in other countries, is perfectly legal in this country. Finance reform is essential to change this. Because of the way political campaigns are financed and because of the revolving door policy, politicians are really in the pockets of corporations and their primary stockholders and managers.”

Perkins said the root of corporations taking over democracy started with the formulation of predatory capitalism in the 1970s. Milton Friedman, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1976, alleged corporations have no responsibilities other than maximizing their profits. This attitude permeated into business practices of large corporations, and the societal implications for the majority of the people in the world have been astronomically devastating. The wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population have as much wealth as the rest of the 99 percent, with the 67 wealthiest individuals in the world having wealth equal to the bottom 50 percent of people in the world — roughly 3.6 billion people. In the United States, unchecked greed and deregulation of Wall Street devastated the US economy in 2008 with the worst economic recession the country has seen since the Great Depression, but the burden was placed predominantly on taxpayers and the working and middle class, while the wealthiest culprits received bailouts, bonuses and have only strengthened their grip on the US political system. “I believe in capitalism in its purest form, but today we have this form of capitalism that is becoming a failure,” said Perkins. “It is destroying the very resources on which it depends. This form of capitalism is consuming itself into extinction, and people across the world are beginning to realize that.”

Bernie Sanders has called for a political revolution in this country, in which the American people get involved in the political processes and demand their elected representatives enact the necessary reforms and legislation to restore democracy. Perkins emphasized people need to exercise a similar sense of vigilance to tackle the socio-economic and political problems facing the country.

“My economic hitman story highlights the idea that there is almost always a story behind the ‘official story’ and we have seen that come out in recent revelations like the Panama Papers, WikiLeaks and the Edward Snowden documents,” said Perkins. “It is very important we look for the story behind the official stories. Democracy is based on transparency; it demands that we the people be skeptical, that we question our leaders and our government policies. That is the patriotic thing to do and we must keep doing that. No matter who the next president is, he or she will have very limited powers. We can’t expect our leaders to change the world; we have to change the world and that’s what democracy is all about.”