In his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins detailed the pernicious and destructive economic strategies deployed by Global North powers and the institutions that represent their interests against countries in the Global South. The term “economic hit man” is used to describe the role of individuals, like Perkins himself, whose assigned part is to produce, create or invent out of thin air the needed financial projections and plans to legitimize the rationale behind disastrous and destructive projects in countries in the Global South. The intent behind the economic hit man activity is to sink countries in the Global South deeper in debt, dependency, and foster elite’s corruption and then use international trade and “legal” institutions to claim their natural resources and funnel massive amounts of wealth to the Global North.
The mechanism for achieving this destructive outcome is a sophisticated well-stitched infrastructure of corporations, banks, foreign policy outfits, and international governmental and non-governmental agencies. At the core of the mechanism is the following undisputed fact – the Global South is home to the overwhelming known world natural resources and these have been siphoned, stolen, and pillaged to support the continued destructive lifestyle and policies of the Global North. Beginning from the 16th and leading to the 21st century, powers from the Global North have invaded, colonized, intervened, cheated, pillaged, destroyed, killed, cut-off limbs, and committed multiple genocides against native populations in the Global South to wickedly lay claim on their natural resources. During the “age of discovery” and “colonization” the stealing and robbing of the resources were direct with no need to rationalize the enterprise other than simply using racial superiority, manifest destiny and the industriousness of the European man opposite the Global South.
Africa, South and Central America and parts of Asia were subject to systematic pillaging and destruction and the mercilessly made impoverished populations to uplift Europe and North America. No resource or natural setting was left untouched and the existing economies, markets, and trade relations were put to waste to create the modern colonial order. Development and progress in the 19th and early 20th centuries in Global North countries ordained destruction, death, and genocide in the Global South. “Scramble for Africa” was the framing for the pillaging and destruction of the African continent, which the European powers crystalized and cemented in the Berlin Conference of 1884 to regulate between themselves the trade and colonization of Africa. Indeed, between 1881 and 1914, the European powers that were active in the so-called “scramble for Africa” managed to claim 90% of the continent’s territory that translated to pillaging of the resources, destruction of existing societies, and death and genocide to anyone and everyone that dared to stand in their way or resist. A similar destructive strategy targeted the Muslim world and parts of Asia.
The post-colonial world was built upon the colonial one – the natural resources must be kept flowing to the Global North and open markets to sell finished European products while newly independent states must be kept under economic, political, religious, and social tight controls. How does one keep the colonial structure in the post-colonial period?
The post-colonial economic structure is the colonial one but with new local/indigenous-looking district managers that have been educated and trained in the Global North operating the “independent” colonial franchise. Certainly, the countries in the Southern hemisphere gained their independence, they are all United Nations voting members in the General Assembly and are active in global institutions but let’s not allow the officialdom trappings dissuade us from a sound political and economic power analysis. While the colonial forces and troops were indeed forced out in the past 40-50-year period, the economic, political, social, military, and educational infrastructure has nevertheless remained colonial to the roots. The European colonial companies that controlled the raw materials never left, the banking institutions and finance remained intact, the educational epistemology never strayed away from Eurocentric framing, social relations are governed by a racial hierarchy, and military has been set up to control and crush the population while keeping them away from contesting the vested colonial system.
Elites in the Global South were educated, trained and nurtured in the Global North bosom and suckled into an epistemic post-colonial maturity and then set-out to manage the existing franchise with all the trappings of flags, stamps, currency etc. but keeping the natural resources and captive markets for finished European and American products intact. The training was intended to reproduce the normative destructive economic patterns of dependency on Europe and later-on the US and to structurally never break away from it as well as a heavy dosage of an inferiority complex mixed in it. The military was trained to guard the newly independent states not from an external enemy but from the population itself and any leaders or movements that might challenge the existing set-up. Keep raw materials and natural resources flowing, open your markets to finished products from Europe and US, take into indebtedness as a policy to keep the population at bay and your “independent state” will not face the economic hit man or the Jackals!
The “independent states” are structurally set-up to maintain unfettered access to markets, a flow of raw materials, and resources to the Global North while utilizing trained and equipped military forces to keep the system un-interrupted. In the case of any internal disruption, the military must step in and rescue the “modern” state project or accurately protect the investments of the Global North from the impoverished population. In the colonial days, the troops and administrators took matters into their own hands, which is a little different today since the military, which often is trained by foreign powers, is used to carry a coup to rescue the nation from itself.
The global financial policing institutions like the World Bank, IMF with designed trade distortions set in place through successive GATT and WTO “negotiations” functions to control the economies of the Global South. Indeed, the pattern produced higher levels of domination, dependency, and control since the visible signs of the foreign structure was obfuscated through the presence of the local elites who managed and maintained the system for a handsome fee or secret accounts in European and American banks.
The economic hit man is embedded into the multi-national institutions and operates to maintain the interests of the Global North economies at the expense of the Global South. As a consequence, the local Southern economies never stopped being made dependent and subservient to European and US economies while structurally ravaged to maintain the flow of natural resources and open access to the Global South markets often at the expense of local production. The role of the economic hit man was to set-up the Global South as a service, raw material, and cheap labor feeder to the Global North and continue to expand indebtedness of these countries and use it as an instrument to take over their political decision-making capacity. Thus, the idea of development or projects in the Global South with the participation or involvement of the Global North is oxymoronic and constitutes a contradiction in all aspects of economic planning. The tools of the economic hit man are the new modes of financial planning, projections, debt financing and debt default swaps, currency and interest rates manipulations, and a host of other computerized and mathematically designed instruments that can sink economies overnight. If the economic hit man’s tools fail, then the jackals are sent, supported by the local military personnel and selected elites who are more than happy and ready to take over the franchise and enrich themselves at the expense of their own population.
Getting out of this trap is the path toward real independence and indigenous modes of development that can uplift the society. At the core, a strategic decision must be made on the foundation, future horizon, and the quality of life that is desired for the society. Are the country and society set as a mere sweatshop, raw material source, and captive market for the Global North economies where the population consumes that which they don’t produce? If not, then the society, economy, and polity must be structured to cultivate and focus the energies of all concerned toward a different set of priorities and institutions that can support their accomplishment. In addition, the Global South economies must find ways to cluster their competitive advantages, transform them into a market strength and regionally link them before engaging the economies from the Global North. Regional trade and cooperation would build and strengthen Global South economies but this will not be the case if the focus remains on the raw materials and cheap labor source for European and US manufacturing bases. Lastly, Global South economies must find ways to insulate and protect their emerging economies from the pernicious financial instruments, indebtedness and tools that are designed to attack any emerging strength or changes in local and regional economic orientation. The road to real and sustained independence is heavily contingent on sound economic models that are not subservient to Global North economies or rooted in international debt financing.