The Un-sustainability of Modern Capitalism
February 27, 2011 -- Daily Bell: Please treat this interview as if no one knew about you or your bestselling books. Give us some background on where you grew up and how you entered the CIA.
John Perkins: I grew up in New Hampshire and went to business school in Boston. At that time, I was approached by the National Security Agency (NSA), not the CIA, for a series of very sensitive tests including lie detector and personality test. They concluded I would make a good economic hit man, which is essentially a con artist with an economic background. They also said they found several weaknesses in my character that maybe they could use as hooks that would bring me into their game. Primarily, money, sex and power. Being that I was a young man, I was seduced by all of them.
Daily Bell: You were chief economist at a major international consulting firm; how did you gain that position?
John Perkins: After the NSA recruited me, I joined the Peace Corps. When I came out of the Peace Corps, Charles P. Maine hired me. It was a Boston consulting firm and the Sr. VP who hired me had very close ties to the NSA and the intelligence network of the United States in general. What I came to realize was it was all part of the scheme to turn me into an economic hit man. The first economic hit man, guys like Kermit Roosevelt, who overthrew the democratically elected President of Iran actually worked for the CIA.
But the weakness in that system was that if guys like Kermit Roosevelt had been discovered, the US government would have been in deep trouble. So very soon after that experience, they started to use private consultants, instead of actual government employees to do this work. Companies like Charles T. Main were brought in with legitimate contracts, working for the state department or the World Bank or the treasury department or USAID or other organizations and within these organizations were guys like me who did this special field of work.
Daily Bell: Interesting. You advised the World Bank, United Nations, IMF, U.S. Treasury Department, Fortune 500 corporations, and countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. What is your opinion of the World Bank?
John Perkins: The World Bank is a tool of economic hit men, there is no question about it. It's the tool of big corporations, the IMF and most of what we call intelligence agencies of the United States, CIA and NSA. Essentially the job of all these organizations is to help what used to be just US businesses – now we call them multi-nationals – get themselves established around the world in positions where they can exploit the world's resources, natural resources and human resources. All of these organizations are basically tools of what they call the corporatocracy. The men and a few women who run the biggest and most powerful corporations also run most of the government. Economic hit men help channel the resources of organizations like the World Bank and the IMF, the NSA and the CIA to support the larger agenda.
Daily Bell: The IMF?
John Perkins: It's a servant of the corporatocracy, of economic hit men. One of my jobs as an economic hit man was to identify countries that had resources like oil and arrange huge loans for those countries from the World Bank and sister organizations. But the money would never go to the actual country; instead it would go to our own corporations to build infrastructure projects in that country like power plants and industrial parks; things that would benefit a few very wealthy families.
So then the people of the country would be left holding this huge debt that they couldn't repay. We would come back and say, "well, since you can't repay your debt, you have to restructure your loan." That's when the IMF comes in. So the World Bank makes the original loan and IMF shows up and says, "We'll help you restructure your loan, but in order to do that you have to meet certain conditionalities. You have to sell your oil or whatever the coveted resource is at a cheap price, to the oil companies without restrictions." Or they would suggest the country sell electric utilities, water and sewage, maybe even your schools and jails to private multi-national corporations. Or maybe allow military bases to be built; these sorts of things.
Daily Bell: The United Nations?
John Perkins: I think the United Nations has an important function that it should be performing. We need an organization like that in the world today. Unfortunately, the United Nations has been rendered basically impotent. The United Nations was very opposed to us going into Iraq, but the Bush administration totally ignored that and went in anyway. I think it's very unfortunate that the United Nations has been emasculated by the United States.
Daily Bell: What do you think of the Bank for International Settlements? Is it true that it has worldwide and absolute immunity? Why does a central bank for central banks need sovereign immunity? How is that even enforceable?
John Perkins: It's enforceable because that's the way the laws are written in all the various countries that we inhabit. As long as the people who are running the banks and corporations also control politicians, which today they do around the world, then they get to write the laws. It's interesting that during a lot of my lifetime in the United States, for example, our laws were written by elected officials, but today that is not the case. Today in the United States lobbyists write the laws; the elected officials are essentially owned by big corporations. That's not true on all issues, but it's true on the big issues that affect big corporations. We've reached a new geopolitical reality that we have never known before. This is a new situation.
Daily Bell: You have been extraordinarily successful as a writer. And you have worked directly with heads of state and CEOs of major companies. What do you think of Western corporations? Aren't they a product of legislative activity? Wouldn't we be better off had the Western legal system not created corporations in the first place?
John Perkins: I can't speculate on what might have happened if corporations were not created but capitalism has been around for about 400 years and has taken many different forms. But in the last years since the 70s, and particularly beginning in 1980 when Ronald Reagan, then President of the United States, many leaders around the world embraced what I call predatory capitalism, which is very well defined by the economist, Milton Friedman, from the Chicago School of Economics.
Friedman said the only goal of business should be to maximize profits regardless of the social or environmental costs. That was a radical statement. When I went to business school in the 60s, we were taught that a good CEO makes a decent rate of return for his investors, but he also has to be a good citizen and the corporation should be a good community citizen. Pay reasonable taxes. Take care of the suppliers, take care of the employees; take care of the customers, not just profits.
So we entered this phase where we have embraced this form of capitalism that says maximize profits regardless of the social or environmental cost. It's a terribly destructive and unsustainable philosophy to have and we must turn that around. My goal or orientation is to try to make corporations become more responsible. The new goal should be go ahead and make a decent rate of return for your investors, but only to do so on a playing field that says we are going to be sustainable and just and peaceful. They are the public servants and they should realize they have a greater obligation than making just maximizing profits.
Daily Bell: Your Confessions of an Economic Hit Man spent 70 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and is a startling exposť of international corruption. Tell us more about how you came to write it.
John Perkins: I started writing it in the 80s after I stopped being an economic hit man. I contacted other economic hit men and jackals who destabilize government when hit men fail; I contacted these people to include them in the book. Then I received anonymous phone calls; threats on my daughter's life, and she was very young at the time.
I took the threats very seriously, as I have seen what jackals can do because I failed to corrupt Jaime Roldos, the democratically elected President of Equador and Arias Madreid of Panama; the jackals assassinated both of those leaders.
At the same time I received what you would call, a legal bribe from a big corporation in the United States; they would pay me a very large consulting fee and I wouldn't have to do much work if I would not write this book. So, I didn't write the book; I accepted the consultancy.
On 9/11, I was in the Amazon. I cut short my trip and came back to New York and I stood looking at ground zero looking at the smoldering ruins and I knew I had to write this book. I had to expose the truth about what I had done and what so many others were doing to create a terribly violent, painful, unhappy and unsustainable world. I wrote the whole book in secrecy. It's become my best insurance policy, because any good jackal knows if he assassinated me the book's sales would soar. The book has sold over a million copies in English alone and is now in over 30 languages. If someone shoots me tonight, we'll sell another million.
Daily Bell: Wow. Elaborate on the problems that the CIA, the NSA and American corporations cause.
John Perkins: The problems are pretty self-evident; we have created a world where 5% of us in the United States consume about 30% of the world's resources. The system that we created is a total failure and it causes tremendous misery. People often talk about the prophet of 2012 and Mayan prophecy of doomsday, but I think more than half the people of the world have already met doomsday. They are living in dire poverty and starving to death or on the verge of starvation, so we have created a world that is its own doomsday. This system has been created by organizations like the IMF, the World Bank, the CIA, the NSA and the multinationals.
Daily Bell: It's not just an American system ...
John Perkins: It's a global system; you could say the United States has been the driving force behind it, though. Great Britain has tried in some regards to change it, but the big corporations are really calling the shots around the world. Everything today is pretty much run by the big corporations. Obama is very much under the influence of the corporatocracy.
Daily Bell: What are the solutions?
John Perkins: I think it's very important that we the people of the world come together and realize that we do have power. I want cheap petroleum; if that means destroying the Amazon rain forest, I'll just look the other way. Until we realize that corporations are calling the shots and not the governments and that we are empowering this system, it will continue as is. We have to put pressure on these corporations to become compassionate, good world citizens. In this era of the Internet, I think we have a tremendous opportunity to do that now and make some changes.
Daily Bell: What does the CIA think of your exposure? Are they angry with you?
John Perkins: You will have to ask them because I don't know. I don't know who they are; who would you ask. I can't answer that question.
Daily Bell: Your latest book "Hoodwinked" is a blueprint for a new form of global economics. The solutions are not "return to normal" ones. You are challenging us to "soar to new heights, away from predatory capitalism and into an era more transformative than the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions." Tell us about the book and the steps we can take to build a better tomorrow. Is it through state and UN and activism, or the private sector or both?
John Perkins: Well, as we discussed, it's through the consumer. We need to realize that people that work for corporations are also consumers. At the very top of so many corporations we may have some extreme sociopaths, but the majority of these people at these corporations are good decent people who want to see good things for their children and grandchildren. They don't want to see countries sink beneath the ocean or the glaciers melt, or holes in the ozone.
But we have been sending a very strong message that says we want cheap goods and services even if it means being socially and environmentally irresponsible. We have to send a new message. We have to send the message that we want a just and peaceful world. Stop the desperation and the exploitation. We have to get rid of these terrible conditions, these wars, these consumerist trinkets. We need to create new technologies. Sustainable energy. Getting rid of poverty and injustice is a must.
Daily Bell: Can we do that through more regulation? Does the private sector generally need more regulation? Is that the point? But who would provide it? The UN? Is it better than to have a strong and effective world government? Would you like to see that fully come about?
John Perkins: I think the global recession has proven we need to have regulations to control these greedy people who run these corporations. We must be protected against them. Corporations are there to serve us, the people. Serving the public. I am not for lots of regulation, but I do think you need to level the playing field. It's like getting on a plane and having the security that the pilot knows the proper rules and regulations and has your safety in mind. You need to have that with the economy. Beyond that you let the pilot fly the plane.
As to who does that, is a very important question. It appears each country determines this at present – so maybe it would be good to have a world body to control this, maybe through stock markets and accounting agencies.
Daily Bell: Hmmm...interesting. So, you believe in a greener world. Are you worried about global warming?
John Perkins: Yes, it's a big concern.
Daily Bell: Are you a proponent of Peak Oil? Are we running out of energy?
John Perkins: I don't think that the concern is so much we are running out of energy as that we cannot afford to continue drilling for oil and sending carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The bigger problem is how we use oil not whether we are running out of it or not.
Daily Bell: You are a founder and board member of Dream Change and The Pachamama Alliance, nonprofit organizations devoted to establishing a world our children will want to inherit. When did you become involved with these organizations?
John Perkins: In about 1990, I had been back in SA and met with some of the tribes there and said I wanted to help with saving the rain forest; well they told me, if you want to save the rain forest that's great, but don't come here and try to change us; we are not destroying the rain forest, your people are destroying the rain forest. Your oil companies, your lumber companies, your cattle companies. You have a dream of big buildings, lots of cars and heavy industry, and now you have to understand that your dream has become a nightmare; it's been very destructive. If you want to change the world, you must change the dream of your people.
I thought that was very eloquent. I came back to the United States in 1991 and formed a non-profit called Dream Change; its mission was to create a more sustainable environment. The other organization called Pachamama Alliance is now in 40 countries, with 4000 facilitators. We send money to the Amazon to assist with sustaining a more peaceful, just world. We try to help indigenous people sustain their culture.
Daily Bell: Are you a fan of Hugo Chavez?
John Perkins: I don't know that I am a fan. What I do know is that he changed history. When Hugo Chavez stood up to the CIA in the coup of 2002 and survived that, he sent a strong message throughout the world, particularly to South America. It meant that the United States was a paper tiger and a strong President can survive a coup. He has changed history, there is no question. Depending on who you talk to, they love him or hate him; but he has done a very good job for poor people. I would say he will go down in history as having a huge impact on the world.
Daily Bell: How about Barack Obama? How has he been doing?
John Perkins: Barack Obama is in an incredibly tenuous situation. The man really doesn't have a lot of power. The corporations have the power. Presidents of the United States and everywhere else are extremely vulnerable. A guy like Obama understands that if he rocks the boat too much, he's going to go down. It doesn't have to be a bullet; it can be character assassination.
Everyone has a skeleton in his or her closet and even if a guy like Obama didn't have any skeletons, they can be created, just like the rumors that he wasn't an American citizen, all the rumors. But what we can't forget is that Barack Obama never ran under a campaign saying, yes I can. It was, yes WE can. It's we the people. He can't do it. The people have to stand behind him. He just doesn't have the power.
Daily Bell: Food for thought. Any books or articles you want to recommend to us? Closing thoughts?
John Perkins: I would love to have people subscribe to my newsletter, which comes out twice a month - www.johnperkins.org. I am also on Twitter and Face book. I love having people keep in touch with me that way.
Daily Bell: Thank you for your time. Good luck with your book.