Confess of a critical reader

The line between truth and fiction ought to be drawn using proofs

Book: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Author: John Perkins

Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2023) –






I thought quite a bit about whether I should file this book under fiction or non-fiction, and in the end I went with fiction for several reasons. First, I genuinely think this is a work of fiction that, like several “realistic” works of fiction, is rooted in reality. It is like a lie made trustworthy thanks to its existence amidst several truths. Second, having worked in finance and seen first-hand how large banks, corporations and countries exchange money, reroute bonds and strike long-term leases, I have also felt, like Mr Perkins, as though I were secretly re-shaping global power. Third, there is little to nothing that can corroborate the myriad claims in this book, which some might argue is by design—entire countries went out of their way to hide their ill doings after all—but the fact remains that Mr Perkins has little more than the benefit of the doubt on his side.

The things this book talks about are not out of this world, and they might well have happened, but since we will never know, we had better err on the side of not treating it as fact—especially in a world so dented by cries of wolf like ours where the importance of recognising facts from possibilities is all the more important. It is like if I told you I went to the grocery store last Thursday. There is nothing unbelievable or outlandish about my claim, but there is also nothing I am presenting to prove it to you, although I could if I wanted to. So did I really go to the grocery store? Is it a possibility or a fact?

Mr Perkins likes to call himself an Economic Hit Man—or an EHM because everything is hush hush and nobody uses the expansion. He worked for Charles T. Main, Inc., the American engineering company, as a consultant. The claim in this book is that he was tasked with fudging numbers used for making wild promises to developing countries who would contract the company to undertake large construction projects—dams, reservoirs and nuclear reactors—that would create monetary flow into the United States, leaving the developing country indebted to the US for the long term, giving the US soft power.

This is all quite realistic. We have ourselves seen myriad articles that detail how countries provide loans to other countries who in turn use that money to repay companies in the loaning country for resources. This set-up circulates money back to the economically richer country, provide resources to the economically poorer country, and keep the poorer country beholden to the richer one. Lots of countries do this on a daily basis, so what is the point of this book. It promises the nitty-gritty that can only come from having first-hand experience as part of this grand mechanism.

The trouble is, Mr Perkins wants us to believe every word of it, including, for example, that he was hired by the NSA, while he never offers any proof for any claim besides his word. What Mr Perkins fails to understand is that proof is critical to such claims. Had Edward Snowden walked out of the NSA blabbering a bunch of things without producing any hard evidence, he would have been branded as just another conspiracy theorist. But he did produce evidence and it was that which shook governments. Subsequently he slid into irrelevance because he kept touting claims without more proof.

Mr Perkins straddles that very line in this book. He risks being called a conspiracy theorist because he lays claim upon claim without any evidence for it. Surely, a person who worked in corporate for all his life has a couple of documents lying around accidentally that can show for something? Failing that, he should have simply passed this off as a work of fiction based on real-life experiences. Read that way, this is an interesting book that prompts you to think of possibilities rather than facts. But when an author insists they speak facts yet fail to back it up by any measure, it jeopardises people’s belief even in their simple truths. That is why Confessions is best read as a work of fiction that explores possibilities. It is worth a read but I would not put away another book to make time for it.

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