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#522#523#524#525 Episode #526 - Understanding Economic 'Development'
(Black Power and Confessions of an Economic Hitman)


If the Economic Hit Men don't get you, the CIA Hit Men are next...

Sat 20 November 2010  Helena Norberg-Hodge (reading), Adam Curtis, John Perkins
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Download Hour1 Download Hour2This week we hear three complementary views on the topic of 'economic development'. First, a short article by Helena Norberg-Hodge on the global culture of consumerism. Next, a radio adaptation of the Adam Curtis' 1992 documentary, Black Power. Focusing on Kwame Nkrumah's Volta Dam Project, this tells how the rich West African colony of the Gold Coast because the highly indebted country of Ghana. Finally, former 'economic hit man', John Perkins, tells how he helped corrupt foreign elites to ensnare their countries in debt.
To give the slant that this week's program will take, we start by reading The Economics of Happiness, an article by Helena Norberg-Hodge that stems primarily from her observations of how 'development' affected the country of Ladakh. This exposes the myth that higher economic numbers equate to increased welfare for a country's population - all too commonly, it means increased stress on societies and ecosystems alike, as formerly free cultural goods and services are moved into a market context in which systemic pressures create scarcity and exploitation.

We then continue with a 45 minute radio adaptation of 'Black Power', episode 5 of Adam Curtis' Pandora's Box series. This covers the rise and fall of Krame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana and a founding member of the Organization of African Unity, examining his ambition to electrify the continent through a giant (1GW) hydroelectric scheme. After the British pulled out from the Volta Dam scheme, Krame Nkrumah went to the giant US-owned corporation, the Kaiser Aluminum company, noting that, while the deal ensured that the Ghanaian government would put up more than half the bill, 80% of the power would go for Aluminium smelting by Kaiser. Lamenting the corruption of the Africans, Krame Nkrumah is cast as a corrupt and inept techno-utopian. The documentary charts his fall, telling how even as the Volta Dam was opened, there were rumours of the (CIA-sponsored) coup which was to drive him into exile. Whilst the government was then to change several times subsequently, one thing was not - Ghana's mountain of debt.

In our second hour, we dig deeper into the standard critique by reflecting on what was missing from the Adam Curtis documentary. We hear an interview with John Perkins, author of Confessions Of An Economic Hitman. He describes how, as an economic hitman, he was paid to deliberately inflate forecasts for large infrastructure projects so that countries would be tempted to take out huge loans from the World Bank or IMF. Some leaders, he recounts were aware of what was going on, but cooperated anyway for fear of the consequences:- he recounts the cases of Omar Torrijos and Jaime Roldós, non-compliant leaders who were assassinated by the CIA as an example to others. He notes that whilst at the highest levels of the affected organisations, everyone is aware of what was going on, the vast majority of employees were kept busy and protected from details which might alert them to the more sinister truths about what was really going on and why. John Perkins recalls that it was 9/11 which finally motivated him to press on with the book, because he thought that the US public must be told about why their country is so unpopular abroad. In 2006 the US government posted a hit piece entitled Confessions -- or Fantasies -- of an Economic Hit Man. While not tackling any of the specifics in his book, this is a set of ad hominem attacks. Following muckraking journalist Claud Cockburn's dictum "not to believe anything until its been officially denied", John Perkins allegations can thus be assumed to be true.
Thanks to Mike McCormick for the John Perkins interview
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