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I am 63 years old and I need to live a very long time because my bucket list is extensive.  A significant item on that list is another sub-list–of the book titles that I still want to read or re-read.  At an average of two books per week, I can plan on reading about 100 books a year, or 1,000 in the next decade.  Included in this sublist of books-to-read are many of the classics of English and American literature.  These are the books that everyone knows you should read, but no one really wants to.  Or they would.  These are also some of the books that acquire more meaning and significance as you grow older.  They are best read, or re-read, later in life.  My choice of reading material depends a lot on serendipity and derives from suggestions from friends, browsing at Barnes & Noble, and what I stumble upon on the Internet.  The topics are mostly serious, only occasionally frivolous (and then usually because I feel a need to “lighten up”).  As I read I will post book reviews on this website.  I pretend at no special expertise other than an honest and inquiring mind.  My opinions are my own: the reader may follow or ignore my observations as you see fit, and at your own risk.  They may motivate you to read the book under review or save you time to move on with something more worthwhile.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins was recommended by a CPA friend of mine.  303 pages including Notes and an Index.  The Preface to this book begins with this compelling paragraph:

“Economic hit men (EHM’s) 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 include

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.

I should know.  I was an EHM.”

Enough for me!  I was hooked!  I bought the book . . . and was disappointed.

The main story is about how the United States government through its various agencies seduced foreign governments during the seventies and eighties  into incurring debt they would never be able to repay.  Programs and financial instruments were sold under the auspices of altruistic intentions, but were in fact, thinly veiled efforts to advance the interests of empire, the American empire. Being the cynic that I am, I had to wonder well, why would our government treat foreign governments any better than their own citizens?  After all, in the last twenty years did we not compel our banking establishment to make residential home loans with little or no documentation of ability to pay to people who, well, had little or no ability to repay?  And then did we not cynically re-wrap these worthless financial instruments and pawn them off to foreign investors based on the fiction that the price of real estate can only continue to go up?  And when the bubble created by Federal Reserve-induced credit expansion popped, did our politicians not move in to prop up and save the elite moneyed interests?  A few straw men were sent to prison, but the masterminds and real benefactors became government appointees “to repair the system” and “make sure it never happens again.”

It seems an odd thing to say now in view of the current Euro crisis, but “beware Greeks bearing gifts” rings true today more than ever.  But I’m not talking about Greeks here.  Substitute “The Empire” for Greeks.    This reference to the Trojan Horse of antiquity well applies to any programs sponsored today by government promising something for almost nothing.  Something for little or nothing  always equals loss of control.  “Yes, of course, you can come home to live with us.  We still have the spare bedroom available for you” the aging parents say to their adult child suffering through a painful divorce or other financial setback.  Later, they will add “Of course, there are a few house rules you need to know about.”  Any foreign government or domestic citizen who accepts benefits from The Empire that make little or no  financial sense on their face can rest assured that somewhere in the fine print is a loss of freedom and a commensurate increase in the reach and control of The Empire. . .  ‘There are a few house rules you need to know about. . . ‘

My dissatisfactions with this book are not about the author’s premises and anecdotes, which are interesting enough. This much could have been accomplished in a book half this size.    At a deeper level, however:

1.  It offered nothing new.  No new perspectives and very little insider information.  Apart from sparse details of the author’s experiences in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, and Panama, the author mainly resorted to repeating his fundamental premises ad nauseum without additional supporting material.  I even read his entire bibliography and all his footnotes to see if I had missed something.

2.  The author seemed to be guilt driven, and the sources of his guilt were unclear.  I couldn’t tell if he was agonizing over having gone too far in his career, or not having gone far enough.  Does he resent the privileges of his upbringing, or does he resent not having had enough privileges?  It seems that in spite of his modest successes, he is still struggling with some personal “impostor issues.”

3.  He offers no solutions to the dilemmas he presents, except the vaguest directives to personal activism.

Overall, I thought the author was boring with his endless self-flagellation, and the book was sophomoric in tone.  His argumentation in my opinion resembled the economic forecasts he submitted over the decades:  big on breathless rant and anecdotes, and weak on substance and documentation.  He still sounds like the second-hander he has always apparently feared being.  The shrillness of his exposition resembled the sententious moralizing of a new religious convert.

With all of his expertise, I would have expected much better of him.  Like the Wendy’s old commercial, I kept asking “where’s the beef?” The title of this book was the sizzle; unfortunately there was no steak.  I’m sure the author’s story plays well with the talking faces. I am disinclined to doubt his story, but mostly based on what I have learned from sources other than his book.

Coming up next for review:  How We Do Harm:  A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America by Otis Brawley, M.D. , Executive Vice President of The American Cancer Society.

Also:  Management and Machiavelli, by Antony Jay.