Lane Peace Symposium keynote speaker and bestselling author John Perkins said he risked his life when he wrote about the powerful people and organizations that “control the planet’s natural resources.”
Perkins speaks to groups all over the world about how corporations and governments manipulate the markets and people. His central objective, however, is to bring people together in peace.
Perkins told the crowd of approximately 200 people gathered in the Longhouse that we live in an economy based on killing that’s a total failure. It’s time to shapeshift from a death economy into a life economy with whole new systems that honor life, he said.
“We are in the midst of the greatest revolution in the history of the world,” Perkins said passionately. “You were born into this revolution because you have a role to play.”
His speech was met with a standing ovation.
It took Perkins more than 20 years to finish writing his highly controversial best-selling book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Disturbing world events and tens of thousands of people dying every day from starvation compelled him to keep writing, while death threats and bribes stopped him.
His inner conflict ended when in 2004 the book was finally published.
In the book, Perkins describes economic hitmen as “highly paid professionals” who use “fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, pay-offs, extortion, sex and murder” to cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. He claims that “They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (US-AID), and other foreign ‘aid’ organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources.”
It’s “a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization,” Perkins writes. “I should know; I was an EHM.”
Perkins is not without his critics. Sebastian Mallaby of The Washington Post wrote “this man is a frothing conspiracy theorist, a vainglorious peddler of nonsense, and yet his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is a runaway bestseller.”
The indigenous tribes of South America taught Perkins what’s possible for humanity. He lived with them for three years in the 1960s, and has regularly spent time with them ever since. Indigenous people are community-minded, Perkins said. They see that if one person is suffering, then the whole tribe is suffering.
People aren’t inherently selfish; predatory capitalism has infected the consciousness of people, but that is changing, he said.
“In 2005, right after the book came out, I would hear students say that all they wanted was money and power. I don’t hear that anymore,” Perkins said. “They want to have children, and they want to use their degrees to make a better world for their kids.”
Symposium attendee Paul Spindel, from Portland, said he was raised to believe that success was about bigger and more.
“Now I do what I love. I’m making much less money, but I’m happier,” Spindel said.
People are becoming much more aware, Perkins said.
“They are waking up to the fact that we’re being screwed,” Perkins said. “There’s a real awakening happening, especially among young people.” Perkins sees the corporate oligarchy as a dark tidal wave. He said it’s a much larger feudalism than we had during the Middle Ages.
“There are very few lords in the castles now, and they are calling the shots all over the world,” Perkins said. “On the other side, there’s this wave of light coming in. We’ve got these two waves coming together and some of the people in the dark wave would easily go into the light wave if they thought they could still keep their jobs and their reputations and whatever else it is that drives them.”
Perkins sees the U.S. as the linchpin in the global situation. He said Americans have the power to usher in a new economy.
“Less than 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States and consumes 30 percent of the world’s resources, while half the world is starving or on the verge of starvation,” Perkins said.
Consumers who want cheap gasoline and who look the other way if that means destroying a rainforest are participating in the “death economy,” Perkins said. The same holds true for consumers who want inexpensive clothes, but look the other way if that means slaves in Indonesian sweatshops have to make them.
Perkins said we need to create a “life economy” founded in services and practices that help people. He maintains that capitalism isn’t inherently bad. It’s the distorted version we’ve become accustomed to that has given capitalism a bad name.
We can have a full-employment prosperous economy focused on creating life, getting rid of pollution, helping starving people feed themselves and creating new technologies, he said. There is tremendous opportunity at this time for growth and for a better world.
“We’ve got amazing technology today,” Perkins said. “We’re cable to fly to the moon, we’ve cured a lot of terrible diseases, we’ve got amazing music and art, and for the first time in history, we’ve got the technology to communicate with each other across the planet instantaneously.”
Perkins said our means of economic development are destroying us. He urged the audience to stop buying from corporations that employ unfair practices and enslave people. He added that writing to them stating why is an important part of the strategy.
Perkins said it’s very important to recognize that corporations are made up of people who are often confused about what’s happening and that, to a large degree, they take their directions from the people.
“It’s up to we the people,” Perkins said.
During an interview at the symposium, Perkins offered to become a member of the faculty at Lane Community College.
“Being around young people is important,” Perkins said. “I’d love to teach here for a semester. If there are time constraints, then perhaps a week-long class might work.”