“A Game as Old as Empire” edited by Steven Hiatt

ISBN 978-1-57675-395-8 “A Game as Old as Empire – The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption” was published in 2007 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. The introduction is by John Perkins (author of “Confessions of an Economic Hitman“) and this compilation was edited by Steven Hiatt. It consists of twelve stories by thirteen authors. “Economic hit men (EHMs)” wrote John Perkins in his 2004 book “play a game as old as empire” from which the title of this follow-up comes. “Confessions” was a bestseller and helped introduce many people to the concept of economic imperialism as deliberate ploy by the strong over the weak.

Subsequently the mainstream media tried to treat this as an isolated case and Perkins was frequently asked for back up evidence from external sources. It was as if the mainstream wanted more proof. Of course this is absurd. As Perkins writes here on page 3:

“Every major incident described in the book has been discussed in detail by other authors – usually lots of other authors.”

Indeed, for anyone with an interest in the field there was NOTHING novel or shocking about Perkin’s revelations. To his credit though, he was one of the first “insiders” to tell the story of how the many perpetrators of modern corporate capitalism deliberately conducted their business in full knowledge of the direction it would go. Up until “Confessions” it may have been easier to assume those who work inside the system are but tiny cogs in a machine an they cannot see the injustice of the whole. Perkins could. He was trained to do his job. Or so he claimed. Trained to lie to his clients in order to fool them into borrowing more money than they could ever afford to pay back. All to maintain the balance of power in the world. Where the poor remain poor and get poorer. Where the rich maintain their wealth and gain more each day….

Although billed as a book full of “more economic hitmen” this is no such thing. It seems as if the mainstream was correct in one thing: nobody has come forward to admit they were trained for the job in the manner Perkins claims. To this day this remains one of the most dubious aspects of his story. It could have been omitted and his book would have been ‘more-of-the-same’. Easy to ignore. Is there any evidence that shady CIA operatives picked up young men and women out of University and taught them the trade? Not really. This remains a mystery. If the CIA offshoot did invest time and money to develop such talents was it a one-off training program? Was it necessary? Did it need deliberate pre-planning and thought to engineer a global system of injustice? Maybe not. The momentum of empire continues to this day. If the CIA ran such a program it probably didn’t last very long. The system is self-perpetuating and has been doing so since the Bretton Wood agreement at the end of World War Two.

So what does this book deliver? To be honest you could have shoe-horned in a Pilger or Chomsky work here and it would have been spot-on. But no big names. Only three authors here can have said to have worked inside the system. One worked in the international lending wing of a US Bank, the second worked in the offshore banking industry and the third worked for the World Bank. None claim any special training but all talk of the peer pressure they were under to either overlook the truth or put a positive spin on the selling of unsustainable debts to poor countries. A fourth author wrote of the corruption in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. Of the rest; Banks, the World Bank, Debt Relief and export Credit Agencies make up another four sections meaning that the Finance sector makes up two-thirds of this book. Only three sections deal with corporations outside the banking industry; minerals in the Congo, oil in Nigeria and oil in Iraq (although the latter covers the activities of a non-profit Foundation “The International Tax and Investment Center”).

So, all in all, we learn next-to-nothing about economic hit men. What we do learn a lot about is offshore banking and the appalling (mis-)management activities of the World Bank. We learn about the terrible tragedy unfolding in Iraq, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the name of rare mineral and fossil fuel extraction. Good people, innocent people are being crushed by these activities. It is convincing in these aspects but not the mind-blowing expose that Perkins may have hoped for. You can read as much by subscribing to the New Internationalist.

This shouldn’t detract from the seriousness of this work nor how genuine it is. It is just that there are better books on these topics elsewhere. It would have been nice to have looked into the workings of trans-national corporations and how they over-sold re-construction projects that recycled borrowed money into the coffers of leading northern companies. This you don’t get. In fact you learn a lot about the incompetence and corruption of third-world countries. How quickly and easily this could be spun out to the point where the transnational corporations and banks start to look like the victims of greedy civil servants and dictators. We are sure that many people in the global finance industry honestly believe that they are trying to help poor people out of poverty. It is a delusion but one that can easily be maintained for the preservation of sanity. The truth would be too much for many “cogs” to deal with.

This book exposes the thin line between the corrupt and the corrupted. A neutral third party might conclude that the entire system is rotten to the core and it is the poor people in the poor communities who are the real victims. They are. It doesn’t really need economic hit men at all. The system is the “hit” and it is engineered to work that way from inception. When will it ever end?

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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