Alt-Coin Trader

Industrial Espionage: How the CIA got the world to buy American during the Cold War.

After being rejected by a number of large publishers, John Perkins sold his memoirs to a smallish press called Berrett Koehler in 2004. Confessions of an Economic Hitman—equal parts political exposé and James Bond novel—recounts his role in what he claims is a carefully choreographed effort by the U.S. government to promote American commercial interests abroad. In Perkins' retelling, everything from economic advising to CIA paramilitary operations served the same master: U.S. corporate interests. Confessions struck a chord among believers in grassy knolls and Roswell and became a best-seller. (Berret claims on its Web site that 850,000 copies have been sold, making the book its top-seller ever.) The State Department responded with "Confessions—or Fantasies—of an Economic Hit Man," a document disputing many of Perkins' claims of government involvement.

But conspiracy theories die hard. Is the State Department response setting the record straight, or is it just a coverup? Though most of Perkins' book may be pulp fiction—we'll probably never be able to verify his tales of payoffs, espionage, and sexual escapades—one of his claims just received unexpected confirmation from a group of serious scholars. New York University researchers Daniel Berger, Bill Easterly, Shanker Satyanath—together with Harvard economist Nathan Nunn—have analyzed Perkins' "economic hitman" theory—that is, the theory that the U.S. government has used the CIA to promote American corporate interests abroad. (The economists prefer the term "political influence hypothesis" to "economic hitman theory.") Based on information from declassified documents detailing covert CIA operations during the Cold War, the social scientists find that Perkins' claims are backed up by the numbers: Countries targeted for CIA political interventions started importing more U.S. products, a sign of American economic imperialism at work.

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