Confessions of a professional liar

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, (2004, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 250 pp., $24.95).



In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins gives us a good insight into everything wrong with capitalism, and in doing so shows us an example of the kind of person who makes it all wrong.


More than 100 years ago, philosopher William James asked us to consider a society in which millions were kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far‑off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture.


“What except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain.”


A more hideous and less philosophical suggestion is put forth in John Perkins’ best selling treatise on post WWII America, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.


Perkins portrays a world where a few are kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that millions of souls lead lives of economic misery and exploitation, through a system in which religious groups, corporations and U.S. policy converge wherever poor nations have resources we want.


Part Richard Nixon (I’m not guilty but I’m responsible), part Anthony Robbins without hot coals, the 60-year-old Perkins worked as an economist for Chas T. Main, Inc., an independent professional engineering firm providing comprehensive services associated with electrical power, industrial, and related environmental facilities. Perkins writes that he was recruited by the defunct Boston firm to manipulate economic forecasts in such a way that third-world countries would borrow billions from the World Bank thinking they would benefit by undertaking massive engineering projects proposed by American firms – projects like dams, national electrical infrastructures and water treatment plants. The countries never saw the money – it was transferred directly to the U.S. contractor who did the work. But when the projected economic benefit never materialized, countries were forced to give U.S. corporations mineral rights. Once those rights are obtained, the corporations destroyed the environment in their thirst for profits.


From Iran in the 1950s to Iraq today, Perkins suggests that the United States has plundered countries and killed or removed leaders who balk at doing business at the end of a gun in an extension of global empire. In Panama, Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos both got in our way, says Perkins, so Torrijos was killed and Noriega arrested and imprisoned in the US. Meanwhile, Ecuador’s President, Jaime Roldós, who stood up to American oil companies, died in a helicopter crash.


“And we wonder why terrorists attack us?” he writes.


Perkins says that he sickened of the business and quit, only to become an “expert witness” for the nuclear energy industry at the same firm with a retainer three times his old salary.


“My job was to justify, under oath, the economic feasibility of the highly controversial Seabrook nuclear power plant,” he writes.


“Part of my job on the Seabrook case was to convince the New Hampshire Public Service Commission that nuclear power was the best and most economical choice for generating electricity in the state. Unfortunately, the longer I studied the issue, the more I began to doubt the validity of my own arguments. The literature was constantly changing at that time, reflecting a growth in research, and the evidence increasingly indicated that many alternative forms of energy were technically superior and more economical than nuclear power.


“The balance also was beginning to shift away from the old theory that nuclear power was safe. Serious questions were being raised about the integrity of backup systems, the training of operators, the human tendency to make mistakes, equipment fatigue, and the inadequacy of nuclear waste disposal. I personally became uncomfortable with the position I was expected to take — was paid to take – under oath in what amounted to a court of law.”


Later, he writes, he took a bribe to not disclose any of his insider secrets, which he nevertheless does in this book, which is in its eighth printing.


During a recent appearance at the University of Michigan, Perkins’ latest reconfiguration has him on the book-signing circuit. Staying at the official university Executive Residence, working with students through the day and lecturing at night, Perkins looked trim and his face had a taut rosiness, like he had just had a facelift and acid peel. Wearing Hushpuppies and a greenish-brown polo shirt under a tan sports jacket, the Hit Man-turned motivational speaker says we should not destroy the corporations and the climate they flourish in. Rather, we should use them to further social ends. Imagine, he says, if Nike put shoes on everyone in the world and McDonald’s did away with hunger. He received a standing ovation.


In a Web site for Dream Change, an organization he founded, Perkins is now selling social consciousness. “Dream Change (DC) is a world wide grass roots movement of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds dedicated to shifting consciousness and promoting sustainable lifestyles for the individual and global community. The objective of inspiring earth-honoring changes in consciousness is accomplished through programs that educate and foster environmental and social balance. DC was originated to encourage new ways of living.”     


The site goes on to say, “John Perkins defied a code of silence and broke through personal fears when he wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.”


“To many it seemed heroic,” he says. “But for me it was a matter of journeying out of the physical plane, seeing my life from a time-less perspective, and realizing the freedom of going deeply into the divine self that lies at the core of each of us.” Once we allow the process, we experience cellular changes."


Perkins continues: “We vibrate at higher frequencies and realize our limitless potential.”


Since he stopped pitching nuclear power under oath (although he didn’t believe his own testimony), Perkins has written several other books, including: Shapeshifting: Shamanic Techniques for Global and Personal Transformation; Spirit of the Shuar: Wisdom from the Last Unconquered People of the Amazon; The Stress Free Habit: Powerful Techniques for Health and Longevity from the Andes, Yucatan, and Far East; and Psychonavigation: Techniques for Travel Beyond Time, in which “John Perkins relates his encounters with the Bugis of Indonesia, the Shuar of the Amazon, the Quechua of the Andes, and other psychonavigators around the world. He explains how the people of these tribal cultures navigate to a physical destination or to a source of inner wisdom by means of visions and dream wanderings. Learn to attract the inner guidance you seek.”    


But a cynic might suggest that Perkins has just found a new group of victims to exploit, the progressives and new age do-gooders who want to understand the indigenous peoples Perkins uses to reinforce his argument that he really is a good person down deep, regardless of all the lies he has been telling.


In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Perkins connects the dots of U.S. policy and corporate greed, but it reads like the work of a writer who consulted a focus group to find out what progressives would buy, and it works. The epilogue even deals with media ownership, a sure hit with progressives but an unlikely and surprising concern for Perkins.


He also peppers the story with his dysfunctional sexual history, scenes of his drunken depression and anger that rarely turns into action. It’s hard to tell where John Perkins the professional liar ends and whether John Perkins the social and environmental activist begins.


Perkins says he told all, despite his bribe and promises, because he wants to redeem himself and to make the world a better place for his daughter.


In a recent interview, we asked Perkins whether coming out as a lifelong liar for hire has made it difficult for him to get out his message that the world needs to change the way it thinks.


No, he says, he had never considered that, although he sees how it could be a problem.


No, he says, no government official, no foreign country, no lawyer had contacted him about any of his revelations.


And, of course, no one is culpable.


Asked whether he would consider giving up his copyright or making his book available online for a less hefty price, Perkins said, “That’s up to my publisher.” Then added, “But it is coming out in paperback, probably in a year.”


Meanwhile, you may be interested in Perkins’ upcoming event:


LIMITED SPACE! On magical Deer Isle, Maine*
MAY 11-15, 2005; $895 if paid by April 1, 2005, ($1050 thereafter) Includes materials & meals.


*For the first time in its long annual history, the Advanced Master Shapeshifting Workshop with John Perkins will be held on magical Deer Isle, Maine. We are ecstatic to gather this intensive group at such a beautiful, natural location. Deer Isle is known for its majestic landscape and diverse wildlife which has inspired spiritualists, environmentalists, artists, holistic practitioners and others for decades.

Our hosting facility, Goose Cove Lodge (, is located on a protected cove with south facing views of several offshore islands. Situated on 21 pristine acres abutting a 50 acre preserve, it boasts hiking trails; contemplative ‘moss’ trails (it’s luminous!); secluded beaches; a labyrinth and ceremonial field for fires; an awe-inspiring ocean view with fresh island air; artfully decorated private and communal accommodations, most with fireplaces.

Shapeshifters is the sole group at Goose Cove during our stay, offering an exceptionally intimate environment for in-depth work. Massage, energy work and other body therapies are available by appointment at additional cost. 413-665-0101