The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman

Book by John Perkins

Review & Article by GlobalMacroForex

John Perkins worked as an economist from 1971 to 1981 for MAIN International, an engineering firm that contracts with the World Bank.  Mr. Perkins “confesses” in this book that he is ashamed of his role in the American Empire, whose goal he argues is to exploit the Third World for the benefit of large multinational corporations.  These Western corporate backers sponsor economic hit men who corrupt, influence and manipulate local politicians.  John Perkins highlights his direct involvement in some of these dealings but also points to public domain knowledge to make his case.  While the book covers a vast amount of countries, in this brief article summary, I will focus on:

·      How the System Works

·      Saudi Arabian Money-Laundering Affair

·      Panama Canal

·      Ecuador Oil

·      Venezuela’s Coup

Let’s dig in…

How the System Works

John Perkins argues that the goal of the American Empire is to take advantage of Third World countries’ natural resources and tax revenues for the benefit of corporations who fund the US political elections.  He claims the Empire functions largely through secrecy and lack of scrutiny from the US voting public.  In some cases like the Shah of Iran or the Panama invasion, the corruption is/was well known but American voters had no interest in the issue.  In other cases, like the assassination of Panama’s president Omar Torrijos and Ecuador’s Jaime Roldos, the US Empire operated in secrecy.

Mr. Perkins says the Empire functions in a variety of ways.  One of the main methods is to have private corporate economists and engineers (which he calls “economic hit men”) convince Third World leaders to take on World Bank loans.  The money from these loans goes to private contractors like MAIN International (the firm John Perkins worked for), Bechtel, and Halliburton.  The citizens of these borrowing countries are left stuck paying the debt for many generations, while the contractors get an immediate payout.  Often the projects are disconnected from the actual needs of the developing countries’ population.  Instead, Mr. Perkins suggests the projects only serve to benefit the corrupt Third World politicians who took on the loans, as well as the private contractors who influence the process.

“Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools included fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.”

If a Third World politician refuses to take on debt from the World Bank or threaten to default on the existing debt, Mr. Perkins insists that a second group (which he calls “jackals”) go to the country.  Jackals are different from economic hit men in that jackals use violence or instigate a coup to get their way, while as economic hit men try to use peaceful sales pitches to convince Third World leaders of the benefits of these projects.  The US CIA, military, private security contractors, and locally contracted thugs are the primary jackals. 

John Perkins discusses how the American Empire purposefully gets a Third World country into debt they know they will never be able to pay, so that the country will have to sell its resources (usually oil) at fire sale prices.  Under this model, the goal is not actually to even get official repayment of the debt in currency, but from extremely discounted oil.

Saudi Arabia Money-Laundering Affair

John Perkins says he personally was a part of a project to build infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, in return for the Saudis agreeing to sell oil in only US dollars and to buy US Treasuries with the proceeds.

This deal was made after the 1973 Oil Embargo to prevent that type of situation from ever crippling the US dollar and oil supplies again.  Richard Nixon had just taken the US dollar off the gold standard in 1971 and the dollar plummeted in the foreign exchange markets.  Therefore, this deal tied the US dollar (USD) to oil and allowed the US to push a policy of all OPEC nations selling oil in USD by having Saudi Arabia take the lead and keeping sanctions on Shiite Iran.

Mr. Perkins highlights that the deal offered permanent uncontested power to the House of Saud regime by having the US military guarantee the Saudis’ continued rule, as well as building up of its cities to keep its domestic citizens loyal.  When considering these benefits, it makes sense why the House of Saud would cooperate with American commercial interests.

Panama Canal

Omar Torrijos was elected president by Panama’s poor and is considered a controversial figure.  Mainstream American politicians describe him as a far-left wing leader, who took control of the country through non-legitimate means.  John Perkins, who negotiated with him personally, describes him as an honorable caring man, who stood up for his oppressed citizens by refusing to cater to American business interests.  Omar Torrijos negotiated with US President Jimmy Carter to retake control of the Panama Canal, which America previously owned.

In addition, Omar Torrijos pursued progressive left-wing politics including land redistribution, some of which hurt Western commercial interests in the region.

On August 1, 1981, Omar Torrijos died mysteriously in a plane crash on a day with clear skies and no weather-related issues.

John Perkins argues that the US CIA purposefully assassinated Omar Torrijos for his actions against US commercial interests.  Mr. Perkins points to a similar situation with Ecuadorian President Jaime Roldos, who also died in a mysterious plane crash, just as he opposed US commercial oil interests. 

Ecuador’s Oil

John Perkins is disgusted with the US treatment of Ecuador.  He views it as the US abusing the local populations and manipulating politics for the benefits of large oil conglomerates.  Perkins disputes that Ecuadorian President Jaime Roldos’ private plane went down randomly from bad luck or plane malfunctions (as he contends with Panama’s Omar Torrijos).  Roldos was attempting to pass hydrocarbon reform legislation that would have greatly impacted Western oil companies in Ecuador.  Mr. Perkins insists that the CIA assassinated Jaime Roldos by taking down his plane on May 24, 1981. 

In addition, Perkins has huge issues with Shell carving out sections of the Ecuadorian rainforest to extract oil.  The book actually begins with John Perkins traveling down the road to the town of Shell, where Shell Oil has literally renamed the town.  He sympathizes with local rebel groups who try to defend their homeland.  John Perkins is horrified that oil companies displace local groups for natural resources without adequate compensation and points to this as an example of the US Empire serving what he calls the “corporatocracy” or rule by corporations.

Venezuela Coup

John Perkins alleges that the US CIA was behind the Venezuela coup of late 2002 to remove Hugo Chavez from power.  As 30,000 oil workers were on strike, Mr. Perkins compared the situation to the CIA coup in Iran in 1954.  In fact, Perkins points to an article in the Los Angeles Times where the Bush administration admitted to the coup.

“Bush administration officials acknowledged Tuesday that they had discussed the removal of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for months with military and civilian leaders from Venezuela.”

Military soldiers that had defected threatened to bomb the presidential palace if Hugo Chavez did not step down and go with them.  Chavez sought to avoid bloodshed and bombs, so agreed to go with the men into custody.  Chavez was held in custody for 48 hours by this CIA backed military group, which produced riots on both sides in the streets, with some calling for Chavez to step down and others calling for him to stay. 

The private media outlets in Venezuela were promoting anti-Chavez propaganda, as the state-owned news agency was taken offline by the coup.  John Perkins argues that just like Iran, the United States sought to control Venezuela’s oil and that the jackals had gone in only because the economic hit men had failed.  However, the CIA was not actually successful with the coup because Chavez had widespread support with both the military and the public at large.  Chavez’s personal guards were able to rescue the palace and put him back in power, flying the flag above presidential palace once they regained control.

Despite the CIA’s control over the local media and a few key paid-off military personnel, the CIA was overall unable to dismantle the constitution and put a puppet regime in power.  Ultimately, Perkins thinks that the Venezuela coup was abandoned from further attempts because the Bush administration felt its hands were full with the war in Iraq.

On a side note, Perkins believes that the war in Iraq was a result of Saddam Hussein refusing to cooperate with economic hit men.  Perkins points out how the US originally had funded and aided Saddam to put him into power with the July 17, 1968 Ba’ath Party coup, but because Saddam was previously an intelligence officer, he was too smart for traditional jackal measures like a coup or assassination.  It was only because the US had no other option that the US resorted to outright war.


In this detailed text, John Perkins makes the case against the American Empire, which he argues is designed to exploit Third World nations’ natural resources and tax revenues for the benefit of multinational corporations.  He lays out the methods they use, starting with economic hit men, which is a position he used to work.  If the economic hit men are unsuccessful at convincing Third World leaders to voluntarily take on debt or cooperate, the US moves on to the jackals, which is usually a CIA coup or a drone strike.  If these methods still do not work, finally the official military invades, as was done in the case of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

In this brief summary article, I reviewed Mr. Perkin’s case for Saudi Arabia, Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela.  In addition, this book also covers many subjects I did not cover in this article, such as Iran’s revolution, financing Osama-bin-laden, Peace Corps in Africa, infrastructure development in Indonesia, a coup against Salvador Allende in Chile, and many other exciting topics.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning an alternative perspective about US foreign policy.