The Hit Man Switches Teams

Last night John Perkins spoke at the Student Union ballroom at Portland State University before an enthusiastic crowd of about 300, promoting his latest book, “Hoodwinked,” about the ongoing economic crash.  In a wide-ranging speech that veered from shrunken heads to corporate personhood, Perkins exudes hope that out of the ashes of the predatory capitalism that has engulfed and nearly swamped the planet over the past 4o years, a better, more just world is emerging.  He’s a glass half full kind of guy that way.

He began his crusade with the publication of his 2004 NYT bestseller, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” wherein he laid bare the tactics of multinational corporations as they plundered the resources of the developing world, saddling struggling economies with crippling debt for “infrastructure” projects through the World Bank and IMF, which, surprise….  enriched a few well-connected elites and forced governments to slash social programs and business regulations and join the “global economy.”  As an “economist” for a global consulting firm, he spent ten years “advising” governments to mortgage their futures, and even their autonomy, for pie-in-the-sky “development” ventures that increased misery, made police state tactics necessary and inevitable, and in the end, failed to do what they were supposed to do in the first place.  Country after country collapsed after drinking the magic elixir of Chicago School economics, but that didn’t stop its relentless and well-funded adherents at home to convince a string of US Presidents to similarly imbibe.

Of course, given that Milton Friedman’s nonsensical theories have a completely unbroken record of failure in the real world, it’s rather stunning that they still enjoy so much currency here at home, that is until you realize that half of Americans don’t believe in evolution, and people in the media are, as we speak, seriously discussing Sarah Palin as a viable presidential candidate.  That spark of stupidity, relentlessly fanned by the bellows of a shallow and corrupt media has created a wildfire of disasters which, in the minds of their creators, only means that much more of the same is necessary.

Thus, when the economy shows disturbing signs of overheating, the answer is to further deregulate the banks.  Sounded plausible enough to Clinton, who also though media consolidation might be good, too.  Thanks, Bubba.  When enormous tax cuts for the wealthy  open yawning gaps in the budget, the answer is to cut them some more.  Light a little candle for Arthur Laffer and look for a place in Dubai.  When the overbearing military adventurism and economic imperialism we’ve unleashed on the world for decades comes home to roost on Sept. 11, 2001,  the only course is to start two more wars, torture people, and make ham-handed grabs for their natural resources.  That’ll win hearts and minds, I tell you.  Ah, and when a relatively minor hurricane drowns a major city and exposes the dire poverty many of its residents suffer, everybody knows that the answer is to eliminate the public school system, close the charity hospital, and demolish the public housing.  That effort alone was, unlike the others, successful; an annoying blue spot in a sea of cracker red was wiped away, leaving virtually the entire confederacy in the grabby hands of the Republicans.

Perkins believes that the collapse of our economy represents an opportunity to confront the abject failure of predatory capitalism and fashion something better from the rubble.  He points to 10 countries in Latin America, all of which were once right-wing dictatorships, that have denounced and abandoned Friedman’s destructive delusions, and adopted a path toward creating sustainable societies that share rewards more broadly, and clip the wings of the multinationals that had kept them under the yoke for a century and more.  He explains why Latin Americans lean toward China and Russia for aid and distrust the United States…  Only the latter has a military presence and designs on their territory and resources, evidenced once again in our elbowing into Colombia of late.

For many years, the predatory capitalists never let a disaster go to waste.  Perkins thinks we shouldn’t waste this one.


  1. Jim White says:

    Wow, sounds like a great talk to hear. Wish I could have been there. Maybe if we get the “double dip recession” Obama is warning about today we can push for this reverse shock doctrine. Of course, it will take a miracle for folks like Perkins, Klein or even Krugman to be heard in all the weeping and gnashing of teeth as more 401K’s bite the dust…

  2. cocktailhag says:

    I found him to be a lot more optimistic than I am. Of course, he pointed to a longer arc of progress, from back when rivers caught fire until now. He also said that MBA grads today no longer all worship the Jack Welch types, and hammered a Wal Mart spokesman mercilessly. He had never heard such things 10 years ago. He had some friends there from Nike, and still skewered Nike anyway, but also pointed out progress there, too.

    • Jim White says:

      My daughter is majoring in business as an undergrad. Maybe she would fit into those he described. She’s not a hard core lefty but she does have a very strong sense of justice and would not stand for the Wal Mart business model.

  3. rmp says:

    Here’s reinforcement on the importance of what Perkins has to say. One of my over 300 recipients of a Daily News I have been sending out every day for more than a year that contains 150-200 links was very inspired by an interview Perkins did. Here is what she emailed me and the link she was referring to.

    This is the single most important news article that you have ever sent. This is exactly what I have felt for 25 years. Now, I have this video to show people, instead of just telling everyone about The Shock Doctrine.

    • dirigo says:

      Am watching the Grit interview and note Perkins’ reference to 19th century court rulings which led to corporations being regarded as “persons.”

      Link that to some recent court rulings (over the last thirty years as I recall) where corporate speech (advertising; business “advocacy”) is a form of protected speech, and there are two points of attack.

      A corporation is not a person, and why should a corporation have more protected speech than you, me, or grandma?

      • timothy3 says:

        And corporate campaign $$ to politicos in addition to corporations being legally granted “person” status. It’s completely beyond the pale for businesses to have a super-sized role of actual, human citizens–super-sized because they have the deep pockets the rest of us lack.

        Also, as Perkins noted,

        The solution lies in replacing Milton Friedman’s mantra that “the goal of business is to maximize profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs” with a more viable one: “Make profits only within the context of creating a sustainable, just, and peaceful world,” and to create an economy based on producing things the world truly needs.

        Isn’t that a sign of madness! That we create and live in “a sustainable, just and peaceful world.”

        • cocktailhag says:

          One light moment in Perkins’ talk came when he discussed the global warming “debate.” “Should we try to become sustainable?” he asked rhetorically. “Nah.”

  4. rmp says:

    OT Hag, You must be familiar with this musical group based in your fine city. They are performing in Chicago tomorrow night, but I have two different meetings so I wouldn’t be able to catch them.
    Vagabond opera Portland OR

    • cocktailhag says:

      Remarkably, I’ve never heard of them. Shows how long I’ve been out of the arts scene. They sound like fun, though, and I’ll follow them more closely in the future. Post the review in your blast.

  5. Skeptic says:

    On a related tangent, ‘Hag, an Oregon representative, Peter DeFazio, is calling for a “sacrifice” of two more jobs, in order to start setting the economy on a proper course: Geithner and Summers.

    You can read about it here in a post by Sam Stein at HuffPost.

    Stein and Ryan Grim (both at HuffPost) have been carrying a lot of journalistic water for our team lately. The legacy media must be feeling parched.