An Economic Hit Man Confesses and Calls to Action John Perkins TEDxTraverseCity

Translator: Emmanuel Hegmann Gonzalez Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Voice-over: Please welcome to the stage: John Perkins. John Perkins: Thank you. I've stood in front of the Shah of Iran, the presidents of Indonesia, Ecuador, Panama, members of the Royal House of Saudi Arabia, and I've said something like: In this hand I have millions of dollars for you and your friends if you play our game. In this hand I have ... a gun, in case you decide not to. Now, my words were more diplomatic than that, but that was the message. I was an economic hit man. We economic hit men have created a new global economy, really, a form of capitalism that I call "predatory capitalism." It isn't working, we all know this. The oceans are rising, the glaciers are melting. Less than 5% of us live here in the United States, and we consume almost 30% of the world's resources while half the world is on the verge of starvation, or actually starving. That's not a model. China can't do it. India can't do it. They're trying, but they can't do it. We have to change. We have to have a re-evolution. We must change this system. I'll get into that in a minute, but first: how did I become an economic hit man? While I was still in business school, I was interviewed by the National Security Agency, the NSA. They put me through a series of extensive psychological tests, including on a lie detector. It's a long story, but to make a long story short, I ended up going in the Peace Corps ... (Laughter) and being sent deep into the Amazon rain forest. Now, I'd grown up the son of a teacher in a boys prep school for very wealthy boys in rural New Hampshire. I grew up with lots of snow and cold, kind of like here in the winter, you know. And suddenly I find myself living in a thatched-roof hut in the steamy jungle. Do you think I adjusted easily to that? After the Peace Corps, I then took a job - I was given a job - as an economist at an international consulting firm in Boston with close ties to the NSA and the CIA. I was trained by a woman named Claudine Martin, whose job was to train me to be an economic hit man. Now, Claudine had seen my NSA files. She knew that I wanted three things, that I thought all my prep school buddies, the rich kids, had had: money, power and sex. Claudine was really good at her job and she promised me the first two, (Laughter) money and power, and she taught me quite a bit about the third. (Laughter) And then she told me what my job would entail. I would go to countries with resources our corporations covet, like oil, and arrange a huge loan to those countries from the World Bank or its sister organizations. But the money wouldn't actually go to the country, it would go to our corporations: Bechtel, Halliburton, Brown & Root - familiar names - to build big infrastructure projects in those countries and incidentally make huge profits in the process. They built power plants and industrial parks, things that would benefit a few wealthy families in the country, the ones that own the industries. But the majority of the people would suffer, they would be left holding a huge debt they couldn't repay. So we go back and say: Since you can't pay your debt, sell your resource, oil or whatever, really cheap to our corporations, privatize, sell your utilities, your schools, your jails, everything like that to our corporations. And Claudine also told me that if the leaders of these countries refused my offer, people she called "jackals" would be right behind me. I didn't actually carry a gun, but the jackals did. My first assignment was in Indonesia, a country that had just ended a terrible civil war where more than a million people had been killed. It had a terrifying reputation. And I have to admit that, when I arrived in Jakarta, knowing I'd be there for about 3 years, my knees were shaking pretty bad, my stomach was filled with fluttering butterflies. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I was a very young man. I just knew that I was expected to produce a report that would convince the Indonesian government to build an extremely expensive electrical system, hiring our corporations to do it. Claudine had made it sound simple, even kind of James Bond-ishly romantic. But now I'm struck by reality, and I felt naive, ill-prepared, vulnerable. Fortunately for me, the winner of the Civil War, President Suharto, who was actually a dictator, wanted the projects that I was offering, and he also wanted CIA and Pentagon protection. And so, every time I stumbled, and I stumbled often, somebody was there to pick me up. A government official would appear with an incredible report that would indicate, beyond any doubt, that electricity was all the country needed to take off the huge growth. And a Harvard-trained mathematician showed up with a mathematical formula that proved that if they just built this electrical system everything would be fine. In the end I produced a report that forecasted the need for electricity at an unheard-of annual rate of 19%. Indonesia got its loan, our corporations made lots of money, and I was promoted, from economist to chief economist. It was quite a lesson. At that time the Cold War was really, really revving up, and Washington believed that Cuba was about to spread communism throughout the hemisphere. The CIA developed a program called Operation Condor to support right-wing dictatorships in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, throughout the continent. Jaime Roldós, president of Ecuador, democratically elected, and Omar Torrijos, head of state of Panama, strongly opposed Operation Condor. I was sent down to get them to change their ways. They wouldn't, they refused. Roldós was killed when his private plane crashed in what many believe was not an accident. Torrijos said: "If CIA killed my friend Jaime, I'll probably be next." In less than three months, he died when his private plane crashed under very similar circumstances. You're going to hear after me from a Marine Corps general who was in Panama at the time, and he agrees with me that - at least, Torrijos's was probably an assassination. We don't really know who caused it. And I want to say that I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't believe in some overarching conspiracy to take over the world. But I do read reports. I think I'm a conspiracy factualist. You know I read - recently declassified information on the CIA's own website, where they admit that the U.S. Government was deeply involved in the overthrow or assassination of Prime Minister Mosaddegh of Iran, President Allende of Chile, Árbenz of Guatemala, Diệm of Vietnam, Lumumba of the Congo. And speaking of Allende of Chile, he was replaced by the terribly brutal dictator General Pinochet, who was a great defender of Operation Condor, and also oversaw the murder of tens of thousands of his people, and was praised by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a great defender of capitalism. I believe in national security. And I don't believe that U.S. security is served, I believe it's jeopardized, when our agency is to overthrow or assassinate the leaders of other countries because they don't follow our policies. I'm a capitalist. I think that capitalism has given us incredible technology, art, science, medicine ... and I think it holds out the hope for the future. But there's this new form of capitalism, that I call predatory capitalism, that's the enemy of true capitalism. Let me explain. When I was in business school, I was taught that a good CEO makes a decent rate of return for his company and also makes sure his company is a good citizen. He pays his workers a fair wage, gives them health insurance and retirement pensions, pays taxes! Imagine that ... and supports local schools and recreational facilities and so on and so forth - in essence, he makes sure that his company serves the public interest. That all changed in 1976 when Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics, and stated, among many other things, that the only responsibility of business is to maximize profits, regardless of the social and environmental cost. It changed everything. And it has created this global fiasco, what I believe we're headed toward, this disaster we are in a lot now, with the climate change, with all the things that we all know are happening. And we must change that. And we can change that. How? I think the American Revolution actually offers an interesting example. Back in 1773, almost everybody in the United States believed that the British were invincible. But George Washington stepped forward, and he remembered 20 years earlier, during the French and Indian War, he had witnessed the battle of the Monongahela, the defeat of a huge powerful British army by a handful of Indians. And Washington said: They're not invincible, all we've got to do is hide behind trees. Change the rules! So I think that's where we're at today: Change the rules. I like the rules I learned in business school, that a good corporation, a good CEO, should make sure that his corporation serves the public interest, is a good citizen. I like the idea that you and I should invest in corporations that instead of essentially destroying the resources upon which our economy is based, instead of doing that, they clean up pollution, regenerate destroyed environments, develop new technologies for more efficient energy, transportation, communications and just about everything else. In essence, let's get our corporations ... to create an economic system that is itself a renewable resource. Are you ready to do that? Yes, I think we're all ready. We can create this renewable resource so our corporations today really run the world. They control most of the politics in this country and just about everywhere else. But it's important to remember that they need us. We work for them, we manage them, many of you own them, you run them. They depend on us to buy their goods and services, to invest in them, to work for them, to support them through our tax dollars. We have the power. You have the power. Earlier we heard this incredible music about our passion and our power. Let's put our passion to work. This brings us to you. What is it you can do, each and every one of you? What can we all do? Well, I think perhaps the most important thing to start off by saying is that we are living at a time in history when the individual, you, has more power than ever before. I travel a great deal around the world, speaking at events like this and many others, and everywhere I go, whether it's in Asia or Africa, South America, Europe, Middle East, the United States, people are waking up to the fact that we live on a very tiny fragile space station with no shuttles, and it's headed for disaster, and we've got to turn it around. We can do it. So in my latest book, which is for sale out here: The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman, I have a whole section devoted to what you can do. Lists and ideas. But I want to just mention three of them here today, kind of in summary. So ... remembering that we have this power today, especially with the internet ... number one: Search out ... and spread ... shine a light on ... the story behind the story. I think my life as an economic hitman highlights the fact that there's almost always a story behind the story. And recently, revelations such as WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden Papers, and the Panama papers, and reporting by amazing bloggers and others, the Pulitzer Prize winning ProPublica, Common Dreams, many many organizations out there are shining a light on the fact that ... we have corrupt politicians, we have tax evading billionaires. You know, democracy depends upon transparency. It depends on understanding the story behind the story. It demands that you and I look for the story. It demands that we question ... our leaders and our government policies. That's the patriotic thing to do. So number one: Look for and spread the story behind the story. Number two: Use local, individual and community power, your power, to change politics, to change the governmental system, to change the laws. We the people must do it. We can't wait for the president to do it, whoever the next president is. We have to do it, and that's our job in our democracy to do that. Recently, the small state of Vermont, with less than 0.2% of the US population, a tiny group of people in that small state got laws passed that forced corporations to label GMOs. As a result, five of the major food companies, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg's, Campbell Soup, Mars, all committed to labeling GMOs here in Michigan and everywhere else in the United States. And I just recently heard Hugh Grant, not the actor but the CEO of Monsanto, on the radio saying that that's impacting him hugely. Monsanto is going to have to reevaluate its attitude toward GMOs because of what happened in the state of Vermont. We the people have forced corporations to end apartheid in South Africa, to clean up polluted rivers, to pass laws to make that happen, to open their doors wider to women and minorities. You, we have the power, to move them toward men now, to get big money out of politics, that's very important. So, number two: Join an organization, or start one, that impacts local laws, national laws, global laws. Do it, get involved please. This is something important that we all can do. And number three: Help a corporation understand that it must serve the public interest. Corporations listen to you. I know lots of CEOs of very powerful corporations. They know if they're getting flooded by emails, tweets or Facebook, whatever, they know, and they have to respond. So I suggest to you: Pick a corporation, any corporation that appeals to you, send them an email, don't make them the enemy, say I love you, I love your product, but I'm not going to buy it anymore until you stop polluting, or clean up pollution, or pay your workers a fair wage, or whatever your issue is. Send that email to the corporation and to all your social networking circles, and ask them to send it to all their social networking circles. Get involved. So: shine a light, change the laws, and convince corporations to serve a public interest. And in that way we're going to turn this economic system that is failing us, one that's exhausted, one that's devastating its own resource base, into a renewable resource. I think you and I ... live at the most amazing, important time in human history. We are going through a re-evolution, a consciousness revolution. People are waking up across the planet. We're going to come together, and we're going to create a world that my eight-year-old grandson and every other child of every sentient being on this planet is going to look back at and say: "Hey ... thank God for TEDx and Michigan, thank God all those people came together and committed to moving forward, to creating an economic system that's a renewable resource." Thank you all for being here. I look forward to taking this journey with you. Thank you so very much. (Applause)

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