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Oops, did I just prove “Confessions of a hit man” conspiracy?

Ray Fisman in Slate takes my paper with Daniel Berger, Nathan Nunn, and Shanker Satyanath on Commercial Imperialism as partial confirmation of John Perkins’ allegation of a global conspiracy to take down poor nations for the benefit of rich corporations. This is fun, so let’s run with it.

Of course there’s a eeny weeny difference between conspiracy theories and social science that just says, yes, CIA interventions could have been helpful to US corporations making a few export sales in US client states (Fisman knows this as he makes clear in the article). The full-fledged conspiracy version has the World Bank coordinate and centrally plan the actions of myriads of large corporations, US government agencies, and other aid agencies, all with their own separate interests, to all work for the general obscene profit of all corporations. Which is a bit implausible when the World Bank can’t even plan malaria control.

Alright, you got me, I’m part of the conspiracy. They threatened my dog Lucy if I did not recant my candid research. Which is also kind of the problem with conspiracy theories: if there is no evidence for them — it just means the conspiracy hid the evidence! Conspiracy theories never go out of fashion because it’s impossible to disprove them.

The NYT today had a front pager about a conspiracy theory in Pakistan that sees a vast effort to destroy Pakistan led by an American “think tank.” I wonder which one? Some think tanks I know (NOT including my good friends in think tanks) could possibly wield deadly weapons of mass boredom.  Let me investigate further and get back to you.

Unfortunately for those fighting the proliferation of conspiracy theories, the US military is doing it’s best to spread mass paranoia about Americans everywhere. According to the headline story in yesterday’s NYT, General David Petraeus has ordered a vast secret intelligence gathering program around the world, among other things:

General Petraeus’s September order is focused on intelligence gathering — by American troops, foreign businesspeople, academics or others — to identify militants and provide “persistent situational awareness,” while forging ties to local indigenous groups.

Thanks a lot General Petraeus! Now no American academic can go anywhere in the world with being seen as a spy. John Perkins knew it all along…

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9 Comments

  1. Adam wrote:

    Have you read Confessions of an Economic hitman? I can honestly say, without a hint of doubt, that it is the most pompous, poorly-written, tendentious piece of drivel I have ever had the misfortune to come across.

    As you say, to anyone who knows major international institutions it’s a bit funny.

    So the book’s an absolute embarrassment, but then I guess if Protocols of the Elders of Zion can be one of the world’s best sellers then there’s room for a lot of conspiracy theories out there.

    Posted May 27, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink
  2. Leave alone the conspiracy theories, the commercial imperialism is a fact we experience in daily life. The ideology behind a number of donor intervention in for example Burundi is very Anglo-Saxon. I recently studied some books on this philosophy compared to the Northern European models.
    When donors intervene in, let’s say Burundi again, will they (we) use one of these approaches as our ideology? Will we use the Anglo-Saxon model “pure-sang” when we propose to improve the business climate, with extreme deregulation and short-term value creation as the main aspects of it’s philosophy?
    Or will we introduce the more Northern European model, with it’s focus on consultations, “not money only” value creation and sustainable entrepreneurship.
    Will there be a third model possible: The African model? Will we, the neo-colonials, be able to listen to the propositions for such a model? Do we have the time, with all our short-term contracts, to reflect and search for the characteristics of a possible African model? Will we have the patience and the modesty to listen to the outlines of it and to appreciate its benefits? And, finally, will we start funding those who dare to describe this “Third Way” and those who develop alternative strategies?

    Posted May 27, 2010 at 4:36 am | Permalink
  3. terence wrote:

    OTOH: The Dube, Kaplan and Naidu paper that Fisman cites here – http://www.slate.com/id/2203121/pagenum/all/ – looks to provide pretty good evidence of conspiracy; albeit conspiracy on a smaller, more familiar scale.

    Sweeping conspiracies like Perkins’ which require teh-World-Bank to have successfully anticipated trends in economic thought decades in advance are bunk. But the US (and it’s allies) certainly had a dismal record in cold war Latin America.

    Posted May 27, 2010 at 5:46 am | Permalink
  4. terence wrote:

    hhmmm…having now read the article. The gravest error seems to be Fisman misunderstanding the scope of Perkins’ claims (as you say it reports your research faithfully enough).

    On the bright side, surely you’re happy that – if he had to mess something up – it was his description of the conspiracy theory, not your econometrics…

    Posted May 27, 2010 at 5:55 am | Permalink
  5. Of course, the fact that we’re paranoid does not mean that they’re not out to get us…

    Posted May 27, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink
  6. Dan Kyba wrote:

    It is only the neo-Marxist crowd that takes a book like Perkin’s seriously. As human beings, our brains are wired to reject randomness and create often false correlations leaving us mired in a world of Type II error, witness the many conspiracy delusions starting with those pesky aliens. For a good read try:
    Mlodinow, Leonard. ‘The Drunkard’s walk’.

    Posted May 27, 2010 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  7. Michael wrote:

    Here is what I love about the Hit Man: The way the the conspiracy works is poor countries are tricked into debt so that they will have no choice but to knuckle under to the transnational firms, since these control the flow of foreign currency needed to repay the debt. And at no point does Perkins seem to feel it necessary to address the fact that countries can simply repudiate the debt if they think the loss of reputation is less bad than knuckling under. Variants on this strategy have been fairly common.

    Poorly written drivel indeed! But I’m sure the part about the mysterious hot chick is true.

    Posted May 28, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink
  8. Brian Clendinen wrote:

    That DOD report was classified and a perfectly reasonable need for the War on Terror. Funny people used to go to jail for exposing classified data and even die at times (for giving nuke tech). I guess treason is not what it used to be.
    Considering the Obama’s administrations concern about the supposed danger of American Grown Militant groups, why should not the military monitor know dangerous foreign militants groups? I fail to see how this is unreasonable considering these types of groups have killed many U.S. troops and Civilians in the past decade? Unfortunately for those fighting the proliferation of conspiracy theories, the NYT(and other intl. media) is doing it’s best to spread mass paranoia about Americans everywhere.

    Posted June 2, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  9. Zeeshan Hyder wrote:

    According to popular Pakistani belief, the “the Jews” / “the Jewish lobby” control the US govt and, by extension, its foreign policy. The lawyer in the NYTimes article is probably referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

    Posted June 2, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink

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