Confessions of an Economic Hit Man explores the ways political and economic power have been wielded to ensure an increasing concentration of wealth and power in a handful of countries, including the United States. John Perkins, the author, presents this through recollections of his own time as a so-called ‘Economic Hit Man’ or EHM. His principal role was to convince the leaders of developing nations that the best course of action involved significant infrastructure projects, financed by loans, and built by U.S. engineering and construction firms. These projects ensured that development money given these countries ultimately found its way back to the United States; the public debt resulting from these projects insured that these countries leaders remained compliant to North American and European political interests who could enforce their will through the promise of aid and the possibility of loan forgiveness.
Perkins does not explicitly make use of a theological framework, and may even resent the effort to impose one; however his work shares many concerns and likely even influences with South American Liberation Theology. Perkins focuses largely on systemic problems—he is careful to explain that even when he was an EHM, he was not part of some vast conspiracy, but rather in a position to see more explicitly the result of broad structures and systems. Additionally, he spent some time living with indigenous peoples in Ecuador, and developed a relationship with Omar Torrijos of Panama. These experiences may not have a direct relationship to liberation theology, but at the very least show that he was steeped in a common history.
Perkins also makes little explicit mention of Africa, however the systems he draws attention to through accounts of his work in South America and Asia operate throughout the world and are relevant to all people, especially those working in development or concerned about global poverty. CWS Africa is aware of many of these issues, and focuses on sustainability and building community resilience and capacity, rather than seeking to sell North Atlantic models of living. This book complements work there by providing an explicit framework for what CWS is trying to not do.
This text challenges readers, particularly those from the United States and Western Europe to examine carefully their beliefs about how aid and development work and who aid and development projects really serve; it also challenges people to consider their place in the global economic system. As Perkins notes, there is no shadowy conspiracy pushing this agenda, rather it is the result of deep set assumptions and structures. The individuals who sustain these structures generally have little to no idea what they are doing, and many are even acting with highly altruistic intentions, but because of a lack of critical examination, those intentions do not lead to beneficial results. This has reinforced my awareness of the need for careful consideration and extensive consultation with beneficiary communities before undertaking any development project to insure that they are really the ones benefitting the most, and also to deeply examine the repercussions of my own daily purchasing decisions. This book issues a clarion call to the Church and church leaders to work to break down these structures as a necessary precursor to the coming of the Kingdom.
I actually gave this book to every member of my immediate family for Christmas this past year, but most, if not all people would benefit from reading it; these structures are so deeply set in our consciousness that without regular and constant reminders, they may very quickly disappear from consciousness.