Over the course of 35 years, from Ecuador to Iran, from Indonesia to Panama and within the United States, author John Perkins helped US companies thrive at the expense of local people and ecosystems. All the while, he felt conflicted and wanted to change. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is his story, and it is quite tell-all.

Very early in life, our experiences shape us, and set us on paths that define the rest of our lives. In Perkin’s case, family connections led to an interview with the National Security Administration (NSA) after college. But he chose the Peace Core instead, with the NSA’s unexpected endorsement. After the Peace Corps term in Ecuador, he went to work as an economist with MAIN, a development consulting firm that makes infrastructure development recommendations for developing countries.

Shortly after starting at MAIN, a mysterious woman outlined Perkin’s job duties and the course of his life: he was to become an economic hit man. His job was to make exaggerated estimates of the impact of development projects like energy grids and power plants. He was to show how these projects would boost economic activity to unrealistic levels. After buying in, the country in question would be saddled with debt they could not repay, and thus open to greater influence and control by the United States and powerful private interests.

Perkins thrived in his role, even as his conscience suffered. Much of the book is dedicated to specific situations where he shared personal moments with leaders as well as common people who wanted to show him how the type of economic growth he supported hurt people on the fringes.

Yet Perkins persisted, lured by the spell of wealth and prestige.

Only after a decade of this kind of work did he start to question his contributions and look for a way out. He quit the economic work for a time and started a clean energy company. Yet again and again he was lured back to lucrative consulting jobs with groups like MAIN. His tell-all confessional stayed on the back burner until finally being released in 2004.

Near the end of the story, Perkins shares personal thoughts on the US unilateral invasion of Panama, 911, Hugo Chavez’s rebuff of a US-led coup and the war in Iraq.

While exploring themes not unfamiliar to activists and those receptive to alternative media, the personal stories of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man are nonetheless powerful. Because of his work on economic development, Perkins lends a credibility that second-hand exposes of this type lack. It’s a quick read, and at times it flies by like a good novel or thriller. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is an important book and should be a part of anyone’s book list.

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