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A Conversation with John Perkins

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John Perkins used to go into underdeveloped countries and convince them to accept a huge loan for an infrastructure project, so that the projects' contracts would go to U.S. or affiliated companies. If the leaders refused, Perkins, a so-called "Economic Hit Man," says CIA "jackals" would overthrow the country's leaders. In his latest book, Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded -- and What We Need to Do to Remake Them, Perkins contends that "predatory capitalism" has exploited numerous countries for the benefit of larger corporations. He will speak at 8 p.m. Thu., Oct. 14, at Soldiers and Sailors Auditorium, 4141 Fifth Ave., Oakland. The event is free and open to the public, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

 

A lot of the stuff you talk about sounds a little cloak and dagger. How do you convince people to believe it?
Well, it happened in Ecuador [where last month police turned on President Rafael Correa, who was rescued by military forces]. ...  [W]e've admitted to our role in Chile against [then-president Salvador Allende, who was ousted in a 1973 military coup], and it's on the record. And the democratically elected president of Guatemala [Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, who fled after a CIA-backed coup in 1954] ... We've done so many of these things. 

...  I'm distressed by the fact we're a bully and I'm devoting my life to changing that. I deeply believe in this country, I believe in the people of this country. I believe we want to change these things and we will, but we have to understand what's going on first. 

In Hoodwinked, you write about Alcoa, which opened an aluminum plant in Iceland in 2007, a year before Iceland's economy collapsed. You write that Iceland committed to a large loan and hired foreign companies to do the work. It lost hundreds of thousands of dollars for every megawatt hour sold to the company and now can't pay off its loan. Lots of Pittsburghers work for Alcoa; what do we need to know about it?
Alcoa, like so many big corporations in the country today, is totally oriented to maximizing profits regardless of social and environmental cost. It's become very selfish in that regard and it's destroyed the Icelandic economy in the process. There's no question about that. 

Alcoa used to be driven by a higher principle. Yes, it wanted to produce aluminum to make profits for its investors, and that's all very reasonable. Capitalism is built on that. But in the more recent times it's become extremely greedy like so many corporations. 

You've written that every president since Reagan -- including Obama -- has embraced "mutant capitalism," thus contributing to the financial meltdown. How has Obama's performance been so far?
I constantly hear people who voted for Obama say they are very disappointed and on a large scale, his policies aren't that different from George Bush. ... My response to that is the president of the United States doesn't have that much power. Everything is run by the big
corporations. ... Nobody gets elected in the United States, or any of the other so-called democracies around the world, without major corporate financial support. ... People still have a lot of power, and that's what I'll be talking a lot about in the University of Pittsburgh presentation. We the people need to realize that and stop looking to elected officials to change the world.

You always hear that the most powerful thing someone can do is vote. If elected leaders don't have that much power, do you still bother?
Envision the geopolitics of the planet as these huge clouds drifting around that don't know national borders or follow any specific sets of laws. These are the big multinational corporations, and they are dependent on us for their goods and services. So the marketplace is the democracy today. We vote every time we shop, or choose not to. The vote we cast in the marketplace is just as important as, or perhaps more important than, the vote we cast in the polling booth.

I don't want to discourage anyone from voting, but we also have to vote in the marketplace strongly. I think we need to send an extremely urgent message to corporations that we're only going to buy from corporations dedicated to creating a sustainable, just and peaceful world. 

John Perkins
  • John Perkins

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