“A Game as Old as Empire”
Edited by Steven Hiatt (Berrett Koehler 2007)
In 2004 John Perkins’ book “Confessors of an Economic Hit Man” was published by Berrett Koehler, the only publishing house willing to underwrite a major attack on the dare side of globalisation. The book became a sensational best seller but was attacked by vested interests who challenged its evidence. “Where are the trenches? Can you produce the trowels that dug them?” The response is the new book, which involves a new wave of expert whistle-blowers and specific evidence.
“A Game as Old as Empire” is the title which hints at the deep historic nets of corruption and power-broking. The “game” is embedded in human nature and has shaped history. The novelty of the theme of the book is the new global scale on which the “game” is played and the threat of a catastrophic schism between the rich and the poor which may terminate it. The underlying premise of the book is that the developed world has mastered the means of plundering the developing world on a scale never previously achieved. The agencies for doing this are the World Bank, IMF and the international banking system. The process of globalisation drives the demand for imports from the Third World and these cashflows are redirected into imports of finished goods and sophisticated services, which are reinforced by loans made under pressure. The end result is a mountain of debt for Third World countries whose servicing burdens the poor and enriches both corrupt politicians and the institutions of the West. One of the most telling pointers is a World Bank balance sheet of twenty five years of development (1980-2005) shown on Page 237, in which real average annual income in the 49 poorest countries increased by only 0.7%, compared with 1.9% in high income countries and 8.1% in China and 3.8% in India. The impact of aid, loans and debt relief is seen to be marginal; the 0.7% is an average which includes the rich citizens as well as the poorest.
“A Game as Old as Empire” has a devastating message which is driven home from many angles – setting the debt trap (World Bank), money laundering, institutional fraud (BCCI), resource exploitation, mercenaries, export credit agencies and the mirage of debt relief. There is more than a hint of hyperbole in some parts of the book (some episodes have a James Bond quality) yet the basic message is that the West (USA in particular) has created a web of control over the world economy which has been acting for many years as a Marshall Plan in reverse. The publication of the book and the growth of resistance among NGOs and “people of conscience” to the excesses of globalisation is, perhaps, a sign that this web of control may be broken over time.
“A Game as Old as Empire” is a fascinating read; I enjoyed the inside story of BCCI and of off-shore banking from personal experience and the book does not spare a host of well known names. It is interesting also to learn how Osama bin Laden learned to manipulate fraudulent finance channels for his own purposes. I recommend this book to all readers who are willing to be shocked but able to retain sufficient scepticism to keep the message in perspective. The Evil Empire is not a juggernaut – it is the latest manifestation of human greed and hypocrisy, and may be challenged by people of good will and courage.
Adrian Davies - 2nd July 2007