John Perkins

John Perkins is an American author. His best known book is Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, in which Perkins played a role in an alleged process of economic colonization of Third World countries on behalf of what he portrays as a cabal of corporations, banks, and the United States government. His most recent book is Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear Into Action to Change Your Life and the World

The US and China Race to the Green Economy


The need to transform the current degenerative Death Economy into a regenerative Life Economy (also known as the Green Economy) is a theme that runs throughout most of my current writings. It leads into another important theme: the competition between the US’s and China’s economic hit men to dominate the resources required for this transition.

China leapt ahead in this race earlier this year when, after intense negotiations with six international companies (including two US corporations), Bolivia signed a contract to partner with the Chinese consortium CATL, the largest lithium-ion battery producer in the world. Significantly, this contract went beyond mining; it included a commitment for China to build lithium extraction processing plants and accompanying infrastructure in Bolivia.

Much of the world’s lithium, essential for the rechargeable batteries that fuel the energy transition and the potential Life Economy, is found in what is known as the Lithium Triangle: Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. These countries are determined to gain value-added through processing and marketing operations. At the same time, they realize they need partners to fund and build the appropriate infrastructure and technology.

The nations of the Lithium Triangle share a mutual resentment of the US, stemming from more than a century of U.S. intervention in their policies. This includes the overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende and the US support of the dictator Augusto Pinochet who replaced him, the blacklisting of and role in the coup in Bolivia during the presidency of Evo Morales, support of a brutal Argentine dictatorship, the CIA’s Operation Condor, and other events I describe in detail in the recently published third book of the Confessions of an Economic Hit Man trilogy.

China, with no history of meddling in the region’s politics, is considered a more accommodating partner. China already dominates global lithium markets, producing about 75 percent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, compared to the US’s 8 percent. China accounted for half of the 2021 growth in the global electric vehicle market, while the US’s share was a mere 10 percent.

What is happening in the Lithium Triangle is symbolic of the changing dynamics in geopolitics. The US needs to recognize that it is no longer the world’s only superpower – as it was for more than two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. It can no longer impose its political will on countries possessing resources and markets it covets. If it wants to electrify US transportation systems, it needs to gain the trust of countries that have suffered the punitive policies of past administrations and respect these nations as partners in the transition from the Death Economy into a Life Economy.

Most importantly, Washington needs to stop treating the US-China relationship as a new Cold War and recognize that, while the two countries may disagree on many issues, we must agree that no one wins on a dead planet. Ajay Banga, President Biden’s recent (and only) nominee to lead the World Bank, offers hope. When asked whether he sees the World Bank and its US-supported affiliates as competing with BRICS, AIIB, and the other China-supported international banks, he responded, “I don’t think we should view ourselves as competitors with any of the multilateral banks or countries.” He went on to explain, “We don’t have the time to play in silos. . . . The scale of these challenges requires trillions, not billions [of dollars].”

I urge the US and China to embrace the necessity of collaboration. By setting aside their differences and working hand-in-hand to transition the world towards a Green Economy, both countries stand to prosper. As long as we all strive towards the same destination—a sustainable, just, and peaceful world—it doesn’t matter if we each choose to walk separate paths.

Who Will Reign as the World’s Superpower: the US or China?


One of the characteristics of a superpower in decline is that its economy becomes deeply dependent on other countries. For the Romans, it was resources stolen from their far-reaching empire. For the Spanish, it was Inca and Aztec gold and silver. For the British, a mercantile system that transformed timber, furs, tobacco, sugar, and other resources from North America and the Caribbean into products to sell back to the colonies and the rest of the world. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States became the sole superpower; however, in recent years it has been following the path that historically has led to the end of superpower status. Today the US finds itself producing less of nearly everything – except legal documents, mergers, instruments for financial manipulation, and computer software. CEOs have justified sending industrial production overseas because it saves them US labor and pollution-control costs (i.e., exports social and environmental problems to other nations). 

So, is the US following in the footsteps of those earlier superpowers?

In an article titled “A Very Dangerous Situation,” The editor of The New York Times daily newsletter, The Morning, David Leonhardt wrote:

The most advanced category of mass-produced semiconductors — used in smartphones, military technology and much more — is known as 5 nm. A single company in Taiwan, known as TSMC, makes about 90 percent of them. U.S. factories make none.

The U.S.’s struggles to keep pace in semiconductor manufacturing have already had economic downsides: Many jobs in the industry pay more than $100,000 a year, and the U.S. has lost out on them. Longer term, the situation also has the potential to cause a national security crisis: If China were to invade Taiwan and cut off exports of semiconductors, the American military would be at risk of being overmatched by its main rival for global supremacy.

Historians in future years will look back at this as a time when the US is yielding the superpower path to China. As I write in my new book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 3rd Edition: China’s EHM Strategy; Ways to Stop the Global Takeover

China’s global takeover has become so broad and successful that the dynamics and dangers of it need to receive everyone’s attention. China is now the largest trading partner with countries on every continent. It has beaten out the United States in energy, transportation, communications, and other infrastructure development around the world.

Whatever one thinks of China, whatever its real intent, and despite recent setbacks, it is impossible not to recognize that China’s domestic successes and its modifications to the economic hit man strategy impress much of the world. 

Will China replace the US as the world’s dominant superpower? Or is China also in decline, suffering from its anti-COVID policies, aging population, decoupling from global markets, consequences of the war in Ukraine, and falling reputation in many countries?

My new book explores the issues that swirl around such questions in detail. There are chapters devoted to Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. But, as the book points out, the bigger questions are: 

  • Will either country take the leadership role in transforming an economic system that is based on maximizing short-term profits into one based on maximizing long-term benefits for all life? 
  • Will either country lead us from a Death Economy that is consuming and polluting itself into extinction into a Life Economy that invests in cleaning up pollution, restoring devastated environments, recycling, and developing technologies and products that do not ravage the planet? 

Whichever country does both of the above will rightfully assume the role of world leader, THE superpower. If neither country does it . . . well as Foreign Policy columnist Stephen M. Walt recently observed: 

On climate change, China and the United States are beginning to look like a couple of paddlers on the Niagara River fighting to decide who gets to sit in back and steer, even as their canoe careers toward the falls.

The Global Battle No One Can Win: China and the US Face Off


China is dealing with a number of serious issues. After decades of economic growth its trajectory is stalling. The people are openly rebelling against COVID-19 policies, clampdowns on freedom of speech, the treatment of minorities, and President Xi Jinping’s insistence on serving an unprecedented third term. 

Those setbacks are not in question. 

Here’s a real question: Do these developments imply that China is going to miss its goal of replacing the United States as the world’s economic superpower? 

That certainly is not what I’m hearing from my friends in Latin America. According to an Ecuadorian cabinet minister who asked to remain anonymous 

Latin American countries possess many natural resources, but we don’t have the technological or financial capabilities to exploit them. China offers hope. We would rather accept help from China than the States. After all, China has never invaded a Latin country or backed coups and assassinations against our elected officials; the US has a history of doing both.

During my time as an EHM, one of our primary goals was to defeat the Soviet Union for world superpower domination. The US supported brutal dictators like Chile’s Pinochet, Indonesia’s Suharto, and Iran’s Shah if they pledged allegiance to the US and allowed our corporations to exploit their nations’ resources. We justified coups and assassinations under the pretense that we were defending democracy and capitalism – when in fact we were promoting a predatory system that made the rich and powerful richer and more powerful. 

Then all that changed. My new book describes what China’s economic hit men have learned from the successes and failures of the US’s EHMs. China has beaten the US to become the largest investor and/or largest trading partner in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. China took advantage of the US’s mistakes. From the new book:

The US and its allies won the Cold War, the Berlin Wall crumbled, and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Lacking the leverage of an alternative superpower, lower-income country leaders grew more vulnerable to US EHM tactics. Neoliberalism proliferated. Resentment grew as these leaders felt exploited by Washington’s hawkish politics and corporate greed and their impotence to counteract it.

Although the Soviet Union had collapsed, the US EHM strategy continued in full force. In what can only be described as misguided arrogance, the US fumbled. China grabbed the ball. The book continues:

It occurred to me that I and my fellow EHMs had been overly confident that the world wanted us, our corporations, and our military. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that high level of confidence became hubris. China’s EHMs were not about to make the same mistakes. They were playing to the pride of other countries and promoting the prosperity that would accompany the interconnected trade routes (touted as China’s New Silk Road).

US media pundits are quick to point out that China has suffered setbacks. Following the pandemic, China’s economy has faltered. Beijing has been heavily criticized for its treatment of minorities and its aggressive actions toward Hong Kong, Tibet, and Taiwan. Many of the projects it has financed and built in other countries have been poorly engineered and constructed. President Xi’s consolidation of power during the 20th Congress in October 2022 has raised serious concerns among many countries that China is becoming an Orwellian, militarized dictatorship. The list goes on and on. However, at the same time, China has quietly continued to establish itself as the globe’s newest economic power center. 

The New York Times cited China’s recent diplomatic activities as one example: 

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, a dapper man in well-pressed suits, keeps up a relentless travel schedule, more than 30 countries so far this year, to places big and small: island nations in the Pacific, Central Asia on China’s western periphery and, often, Africa.

He is the campaigner for the global ambitions of his boss, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, carrying the message that Beijing will not be pushed around, least of all by the United States. . . .

In a not-so-subtle way, Mr. Wang is setting up a fight for Asia, with China in one corner and the United States in the other.

“China’s argument is that Asian problems should be solved by Asians,” said Bilahari Kausikan, former foreign secretary of Singapore, who has been with Mr. Wang in closed-door diplomatic meetings. “The argument also says that the U.S. is an unreliable troublemaker.” 

Regardless of whether China or the US wins the war for global hegemony, the fact is both countries are promoting a degenerative Death Economy that is consuming and polluting itself toward destruction.  There are no winners on a dead planet. The US and China can compete on many levels and disagree about many issues, but we must stop ravaging our mutual home, Earth. 

Lessons from the Maya: Changing the World and Your Life


When I first traveled to the Mayan lands of Central America and learned about the collapse of an ancient civilization that built breathtaking pyramids, temples, and plazas, I had no idea that the modern world was setting itself up to follow in those tragic footsteps.

During my days as an economic hit man in Guatemala, I learned that around 900 AD the wealthy and powerful elites of Mayan city-states forced the people to build magnificent cities and pyramids in Guatemala’s Peten and Mexico’s Yucatan. By draining swamps, decimating forests, and exploiting resources, they destroyed their economies and changed the climate.

In the ‘70s, those of us in America did not understand that we were doing the very same thing. It took several decades to fully comprehend the consequences of our activities.

Now, another similarity between this tragic period of Mayan history and current events has become apparent. On trips I lead to the Mayan sacred sites, the shamans tell us that the droughts and floods, crop failures and starvation brought on by their environmental destruction caused radical socio-political changes. City-states sought to conquer their neighbors. Former trading partners imposed sanctions on each other. Wars erupted. Mass migrations of people tried to escape from the famine and violence.

Sound familiar?

It should. Our modern world has suffered similar monumental changes during the brief time since the publication of my last book, Touching the Jaguar, in 2019. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (one of the world’s most important suppliers of grain), increased famine, growing animosity between the West and China, huge waves of migration, massive supply chain disruptions, more and more sanctions, and threats of nuclear war.

In my new book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 3rd Edition: China’s EHM Strategy; Ways to Stop the Global Takeover (preorder by clicking here), I write about these recent events and the roles each of us can play in turning this doomsday situation around, reversing the march toward the precipice of disaster. The Mayan city states fell off that precipice. The magnificent pyramids and temples were abandoned; the people retreated into the mountains – and survived.

Today, many Mayan shamans (“Nanas” and “Tatas”) see their history as a harbinger, and they have chosen to devote their lives to walking us back from the precipice. In upcoming trips, they will continue to guide us into the abandoned cities – where towering tree-studded pyramids are warnings of our own future. The shamans teach us about the power of their transformative fire ceremonies. They share their prophecies, interpret our individual calendars, and offer personal “cleansings” that open us to better health and empower us to embrace the challenges of this ever-changing world. Perhaps, most important of all, they inspire us each to live lives that will bring us the greatest satisfaction and at the same time give future generations a world they will want to inhabit.

The shamans tell us that the political and climatic turmoil that currently sweeps our planet is a sign that we’ve entered a portal to the way back from the precipice. While traveling with these shamans and sharing ceremonies, personal readings and healings in their sacred sites, the groups I’ve brought over the years have learned that it’s now time for us to pass through that portal – to reshape the present and the future.

As I stood late one afternoon in a circle with a group of fellow travelers at the edge of Guatemala’s Lake Peten Itza, participating with two Mayan shamans in a fire ceremony to empower us to heed these lessons of the Mayan city-states, I recalled the words of the poet and philosopher George Santayana (and paraphrased by Winston Churchill): “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The shaman handed us bowls of flowers and seeds and instructed us to wade into the water and offer them to the setting sun. “The flowers,” he said, “represent the past, the things we want to release. The seeds are the future we intend to create for ourselves and the world. . . .”

Why is Saudi Arabia Defying the US?


Why is Saudi Arabia suddenly defying the United States, after five decades of a strong alliance? It’s a question I’ve been asked frequently in recent days.

Here’s the answer.

I describe in my books the deal that I helped forge in the early 1970s that created this alliance. Known as the Saudi Arabian Money Laundering Affair (SAMA), it can be summarized as consisting of the following five agreements:

  1. Saudi Arabia will invest most of the petrodollars made from selling oil to the world in US treasury securities;
  2. The US Treasury Department will use the interest from these securities to hire US corporations to modernize (“westernize”) Saudi Arabia, building petrochemical plants, ports, highways, and entire cities;
  3. Saudi Arabia will maintain oil prices at levels acceptable to Washington and American oil companies;
  4. Oil will be traded on international markets only in US dollars (the power of the dollar had been jeopardized when President Nixon took it off the gold standard in 1971 because the US was unable to pay foreign debts in gold – this fourth agreement essentially established a new standard for the dollar, the Petro-standard); and
  5. The US will guarantee to defend and protect the royal family of Saudi Arabia and keep it in power as long as the above four agreements are honoured.

For 50 years Saudi Arabia honored the first four agreements.

As is well known — the US honored the fifth. It flew members of the Saudi royal family out of the United States after 9/11 when all flights had officially been prohibited. It turned a blind eye to evidence that the royal family had sanctioned the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudis.  It launched Operation Desert Storm against Iraq when Saddam Hussein threatened Kuwait and, by implication, Saudi Arabia. And it took many other less known, behind-the-scenes actions to maintain the alliance forged by SAMA.

So what happened? Why is Saudi Arabia no longer responding to Washington’s wishes and instead cutting back on petroleum production and thereby helping Russia earn income vital to its war in Ukraine? The answer is more complicated than the obvious one – that Saudi Arabia simply wants to increase the price of oil.

First of all, it’s important to recognize that SAMA was established in the early 1970s when the United States was the world’s most powerful economic and military power. As I write in my new book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 3rd Edition: China’s EHM Strategy; Ways to Stop the Global Takeover:

For us in those days (the 1970s), the threat to America’s global dominance was Communism and the Soviet Union. Most of the Middle East (including Saudi Arabia) opposed both. Kings and dictators were not about to accept Marxism. Muslims were against atheism. The Soviet invasion of Islamic Afghanistan further encouraged Middle Eastern Muslim leaders to partner with the US.

Today, US hegemony is seriously threatened by China’s skyrocketing economic and military power, the Communist Soviet Union has been replaced by a monarch-like regime in Russia, and US wars in Islamic Afghanistan and Iraq have angered traditional Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The US is no longer trusted to keep its previous agreements because many were discarded during the Trump administration. Furthermore, the ability of the US Congress to reach compromise is seen by the Saudis, as well as much of the rest of the world, as proof of America’s inability to perform as a functioning democracy.

Adding insult to injury, the Petro-standard is being threatened for the first time in fifty years. China is already buying oil from Russia with yuen. And, according to the Wall Street Journal:

Saudi Arabia is in active talks with Beijing to price some of its oil sales to China in yuan, people familiar with the matter said, a move that would dent the U.S. dollar’s dominance of the global petroleum market and mark another shift by the world’s top crude exporter toward Asia.

Another important factor: Although the alliance between China and Russia is somewhat fragile, this alliance impacts many other countries. Five nations that are major economic drivers on their continents are united under the very powerful BRICS bank (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Saudi Arabia is dependent on these five countries and their neighbours through a complex network of oil and other trade agreements. Riyad is not likely to jeopardize these agreements by continuing to bend to Washington’s wishes.

Why is Saudi Arabia defying the US?

A cartoon shows a Saudi prince holding an old-fashioned balancing scale in one hand. Hanging from one arm is the US flag; from the other, China’s flag. China’s clearly outweighs the US’s.

Unfortunately, the Saudi prince could be replaced by leaders in many Asian, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern nations.

From Saudi Arabia’s standpoint, its decision to abandon SAMA is pragmatic. It is also a symbol of the shifting sands of global power.

Amazon Dreaming

I just returned from one of the most beautiful places in the world. One of the most biodiverse. And crucially — one of the regions that is most important to the survival of life on our planet. Known as the Sacred Headwaters of the Amazon, it is the magnificent beginning of a vast rainforest that stretches from the Andes mountains eastward for nearly 4,000 miles to the Atlantic Ocean – an environmentally fragile forest roughly the size of the continental US.

I was there co-leading a group of people who had answered a call to experience this magical place and the amazing Indigenous people who have inhabited it for thousands of years.

Our private bus drove us from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, along the “Avenue of the Volcanoes,” a corridor of eight snow-mantled volcanoes, including the world’s highest active volcano, Cotopaxi (over 19,000 feet). In the distance, stood the majestic Chimporazo which at more than 20,500 feet is the closest point on the earth to the sun – the highest mountain when measured from the center of our planet (due to the Equatorial bulge). Behind us was the tallest peak on the Equator, Cayambe, at nearly 19,000 feet.

Crossing through the eastern range of the Andes, we traveled down the spectacular gorge of the Pastaza River, descending from the wintry scenes of the high plateau, through the spring weather of majestic cloud forests, and into the summer realms of the Amazon rainforest. After a gourmet dinner, we spent the night at the beautiful Il Jardin (“the Garden”) hotel in the “end-of-the road” town of Puyo. The next morning, we boarded small planes and flew into Achuar Territory.

Without going into detail about the Achuar (you can see them here), suffice it to say that theirs is a dream culture. The people base their lives on dreams and the messages they receive from nature itself. Their dreams have shown them the importance of ending global systems that threaten their forests and the entire planet.

I had first met them three decades earlier.

In 1993 I was sitting in a ceremonial lodge deep in the Amazon attending an Achuar council meeting with my friend Daniel Koupermann — an Ecuadorian naturalist guide who is highly respected by many Indigenous groups. As I listened to the discussions, I was haunted by memories of my Peace Corps days in 1968-71 when I’d lived in the territory of the Achuar’s neighbors, the Shuar. At that time, the Achuar officially were uncontacted, although one or two missionaries had wandered into their territory.

“The Achuar are killers, butchers,” I’d been warned. “Don’t even think about going anywhere near them.”

But in 1993 Daniel smiled and told me, “That was twenty years ago. Things are different now.”

Were they ever! In fact, the change seemed nothing short of miraculous.

These people who had lived as hunters and gatherers for millennia had seen how the US oil company Texaco (now owned by Chevron) had poisoned the rivers and lands in northern Ecuador and ravaged hundreds of square miles of rainforest. Along with the destruction to plants and animals, uncounted numbers of people, including many children, had died from cancer and other diseases caused by the company’s unconscionable dumping of toxic chemicals. The Achuar Territory had been untouched and they were determined to keep it that way.

In the late 1980s, the Achuar had joined the Shuar, Kichua, and other Indigenous groups in a federation aimed at stopping oil exploitation. Then Achuar shamans began to have powerful dreams of big cities, huge industrial plants, and cars – things they had seen in photos brought by the missionaries. They understood that the oil company’s roads, bulldozers, and cranes were just symptoms of the real problem, what they came to call “the dream of the modern world.” They understood that this dream was creating what economists define as an unsustainable death economy.

Their dreams told them that they had to reach out to that which they most feared: us, the people who demand oil.

That night in 1993, sitting in an Achuar lodge, I experienced something that, as far as I knew, no one had ever before experienced. People threatened by an invading force had decided not to run from or fight it but rather to join forces with some of its members to try to change – everything. They asked Daniel and me to invite people from our world to come and visit them and form partnerships that would change the destructive dream.

During the August 2022 trip, our group lived in a beautiful eco-lodge the Achuar had built. We canoed and swam with freshwater dolphins, hiked through pristine forests, hung out with Achuar families, and took ayahuasca with their shamans. Later, during our closing dinner back in Quito, every one of the seventeen visitors expressed gratitude to the Achuar for teaching them the importance of dreaming a new dream for humanity and they each committed to taking actions that will help manifest that dream.

That particular trip was sponsored by the Pachamama Alliance, but it is one of many that takes people to learn from the Achuar and other Indigenous teachers. Daniel and I also facilitate trips to the Maya of Guatemala and the Kogi of Colombia. These diverse cultures share a common message: We have reached a pivotal moment in human history; we know that the socio-governmental-economic systems that today dominate the world are unsustainable, and we must change.

It is ironic that societies capable of sending people to the moon and creating computer models that warn of impending catastrophe seem to lack the intelligence and/or willpower to face this critical problem and take actions necessary to solve it — while societies that only recently became aware of the world beyond their lands are confronting the problem and urging us to join them in turning things around. Perhaps this apparent conundrum points out the deficiencies of societies that define people as apart from – instead of a part of – nature. The Achuar – like the Maya, Kogi, and all our Indigenous ancestors – understand the importance of honoring our connection to nature, listening to our dreams, and embracing change.

Nature is telling us in no uncertain terms that we must change. Covid has taught us that we can change. The Achuar remind us that our 200,000 or so years as humans are a testament to our ability to change. The Sacred Headwaters of the Amazon have been called both the lungs and the heart of the planet. Yes, they convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and, yes, they send the lifeblood of water coursing across the planet through the “flying rivers.” But, perhaps equally as essential is the message that emanates from them:

We must change,

We can change,

We will change.