As described in my book The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, my job was to convince heads of state of countries with resources our corporations covet, like oil, to accept huge loans from the World Bank and its sister organizations. The stipulation was that these loans would be used to hire our engineering and construction companies, such as Bechtel, Halliburton, and Stone and Webster, to build electric power systems, ports, airports, highways and other infrastructure projects that would bring large profits to those companies and also benefit a few wealthy families in the country, the ones that owned the industries and commercial establishments. Everyone else in the country would suffer because funds were diverted from education, healthcare and other social services to pay interest on the debt. In the end, when the country could not buy down the principal, we would go back and, with the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “restructure” the loans. This included demands that the country sell its resources cheap to our corporations with minimal environmental and social regulations and that it privatize its utility companies and other public service businesses and offer them to our companies at cut-rate prices.
I’ve been following John Perkins since I first heard about the Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. The realities of what he did for a living shocked me although they shouldn’t have since there lingers in all of us a knowing about the corruption that goes on all around us. Perhaps what really shocked me was that he confessed it. It’s the boldness of information like that quoted above that has the power to take my breath away.
And also this:
I was taught that a good CEO earns a decent return for his investors and also makes sure that his company is a good citizen, that it serves a public interest. We were instructed to take care of our employees, giving them health insurance and retirement pensions, to treat our suppliers and customers with deep respect, and to honor the idea that good business is a win-win for all stakeholders. In many cases, CEOs made sure that their companies not only paid their fair share of taxes but also contributed money to local schools, recreational facilities and other such services.
All that changed in 1976 when Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics and stated, among other things, that the only responsibility of business is to maximize profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs. This was a perceived reality that became the defining goal for businesses. It convinced corporate executives that they had the right — some would say the mandate — to do whatever they thought it would take to maximize profits, including buying public officials through campaign financing, destroying the environment, and devastating the very resources upon which their businesses ultimately depend.
If you’re old enough, you sense these things and simply know how life has changed.
I love Mr Perkin’s direction and the message he is sharing with the world today. It inspires and encourages me. It makes me want to embody this sentiment from Lily Tomlin:
I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody. Lily Tomlin
If you don’t follow Mr Perkins, I strongly encourage you to do so for all the reasons mentioned above and more! These excerpts came in an email to me announcing a conference he is giving in December. These thoughts about objective vs perceived reality motivate me. Yes it is time we turn things around and how about this for something to propel me:
Objective Realty 1: The glaciers are melting, the oceans rising, less than 5% of the world’s population lives in the US and we consume about 30% of the resources while half the world’s population lives in poverty, and the resource base that feeds the economy is in rapid decline.
Perceived Reality: A) When Milton Friedman espoused profit maximization in 1976, financial capital was seen as scarce while nature was considered abundant; the planet’s ability to absorb pollution and provide natural resources was considered practically unlimited; that has since changed; B) We can build an economy that rewards businesses that clean up pollution, regenerate devastated environments, and create new technologies for energy, transportation, communications, trade, and just about everything else – that recycle instead of ravaging the planet; and C) The responsibility of business is to serve a public interest while earning decent rates of returns for investors who develop an economy as defined in A) above.
Learn more about John Perkins at his website, JohnPerkins.org