The Mint: Good morning John. It’s great you’ve made some time to talk to us. I’m very grateful. Thanks.
John Perkins: Well, it’s great to be with you, Henry. Thanks for having me on this morning.
The Mint: I’d like to start, asking you about something that really struck me about your book, reaching for the jaguar which was that for an economist, it seemed more like a story of spiritual awakening. So I wondered why you’d written that sort of book rather than an economics book.
John Perkins: Well Henry, so I was chief economist at a major consulting firm, better known as an economic hit man. But, before I did that, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon with indigenous people and studied shamanism. And so after I quit being an economic hit man and in the early eighties, I started working again with the indigenous people and I wrote five books on indigenous cultures and shamans – Shape Shifting, The World Is As You Dream It , Psychonavigation and others. And then later after 9/11, I wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, which became a big-time bestseller over two million copies, et cetera, et cetera. And then I wrote three more books on global economics and intrigue.
The Mint: Have you written books that look more like an economist would expect them to, and this is more on a sort of spiritual awakening, psychological dimension.
John Perkins: Yeah. Well, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, The Secret History of the American Empire, Hoodwinked, The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Those are all books that are about global economics and intrigue – they’re written as narrative nonfiction.
I tell stories about what I experienced in my life, but they go deep into the theories of economics, the death economy versus the life economy, how we need to make that transition, how we’ve created an economic system globally that’s a failure now and we need to change it. So four books on that subject, yes.
And I get invited to speak around the world at many different conferences and summits. On the one hand corporate conferences and international economic summits, you know, with major CEOs from around the world. And I was often asked at those conferences that somebody might come up and say – hey, you the same guy I wrote those five books on shamanism, are you? And then I would speak at shamanic or indigenous or what we might call new age conferences around the world at various places. And people would come and say – hey, you can’t be the same guy that wrote the books on economics, can you? Like Confessions of an Economic Hit Man?
And to me, there was always a very strong connection between the two, because shamanism is based on the idea that we alter reality by changing perceptions. Economics is based on the same idea. Marketing advertising is all about creating perceptions that have an impact on reality. And so I always saw very strong connection between these two seemingly disparate genres. Yeah, but I never overtly discussed it until this book, Touching the Jaguar – here it is. I don’t know whether you can see it straightforward or whether it’s backwards on your screen.
The Mint: No, it looks great, that’s great. I got the electronic version without the cover.
John Perkins: Yeah. The subtitle transforming fear into action to change your life and the world. That’s the secret behind it, because transforming fear into action to change things is the basis of shamanism. It’s also the basis of modern psychotherapy, quantum physics, marketing, advertising, practically everything we do as human beings is controlled by the way we perceive things.
The Mint: So it’s interesting because economics itself or mainstream economics often, doesn’t touch that at all the issue of how you perceive things is not really in there at all, is it?
John Perkins: Well, it certainly does in marketing studies.
The Mint: Oh, absolutely, and mainstream economics always ignores marketing almost, doesn’t it?
John Perkins: Yeah, well you know, so my real title is I was chief economist at a major consulting firm. I had 30 to 50 people working for me at various times. And my job was to go to countries that had resources our corporations want – like oil and arrange a huge loan to that country for the world bank or one of its sister organisations.
But the money had to be used to hire our own corporations to build big infrastructure projects in those countries. Things like electric power systems and highways and industrial parks that benefited our corporations that built them. And also a few wealthy families in the country. The families that control the country basically but didn’t help the majority of the people because they were, because money was diverted from healthcare, education and other social services to pay off the surplus on the debt.
My job really, and my staff’s job, was to follow my lead and produce these fancy economic reports that showed that when you invest all this money in infrastructure projects, in a poor country, the economy grows – and statistically, if we use GDP, which is the measure that’s used, it shows that’s true.
But what I came to understand is that GDP is a terrible measure of prosperity. It says nothing about general prosperity. It’s all about the rich people. So for example, right now in the United States, we have three individuals who have as much wealth as half the US population. If those three individuals make 10% on their investments last year and half the population lost 3% – so the individuals made 10%, that the half the population have lost 3%, they lost money.
You show a GDP growth of something around 5%. So what we see is that these statistics are faulty. I mean, they’ve measured the wealthy. But they don’t measure true prosperity.
The Mint: So would you say that these statistics are almost a sort of marketing ploy? They’re a way of shifting how we see reality rather than something that’s really designed to give any truth?
John Perkins: They’re a way of shifting of how we create reality. That’s why I’m saying that. So an economist like me, my job was to create a perception through fancy reports and econometric studies that these things were good for the country.
And then the president of the country could go out and show these studies publicly, get them printed in the newspaper and shout hey, we take on these big loans, our economy is going to grow and people believe it. And they believe it in the United States today, and they believe it in the United Kingdom, they believe it.
And, it’s faulty – only a sector of the economy grows, it reflects, and the other sector might grow or might decline, but you can still show growth. So what we’re doing is pre -creating a perception. That then has a huge impact on reality. How money is exactly – how it’s spent, who it goes to.
The Mint: And I suppose it’s interesting you put it that way, because if you went to your standard economists, they’d say we’re very rigorous. We are objective. And actually I have a similar experience to you in terms of working in government, where you know the reality is economists are obviously often the slaves – give me some numbers that support the policy, but economists find that very difficult to admit to.
John Perkins: Well, it’s ingrained in, in business school and economics that these statistics are valid, but I will say that there’s a lot of economists who would agree with me. Joe Stiglitz is one of them. He was chief economist at the World Bank, won the Nobel prize in economics and he writes very similar things to what I write.
He writes them for academics and economists. He writes kind of an essay form. I write a storytelling of it called narrative nonfiction because I want to reach a much larger general public, but we say very similar things. Stiglitz has said that at the World Bank, when he was chief economist there, their studies were not driven by what they really wanted to show is the truth.
Their studies were driven by policy issues and issues of how they could get involved in countries, how the World Bank could use these loans to influence other countries and the allocation of those other countries, resources.
The Mint: Because the World Bank at the end of the day has to get money out the door hasn’t it as well?
John Perkins: Yeah, so in all of the system, Henry, what I realised, I was a driver in this system. I was a big driver in the system. In the beginning I believed in it because it’s what I’ve been taught in business school. And at the time, probably because I’d been in the Peace Corps and living in the Amazon for three years in their high Andes I came to understand because I’m fluent in Spanish and I can talk to people like Omar Torrijos, the head of state of Panama, who was very strongly opposed to this – what he called the American colonialism exploitation. And I began to see how, how wrong these statistics were, but you know what we all have to do to understand this.
This perception has been created and it’s become the norm of perception. And it’s moulded reality. It’s created super, super economies like the United States, and now China’s growing into that. But it’s wrong.
It’s also created most of the problems we have today, which whether it’s climate change or income inequality, species extinction – now the Coronavirus, these all are problems, but they’re symptoms of the bigger problem. Economists are increasingly calling it, death economy, the current economic system that is consuming itself into extinction and in the process destroying the world as we know it, destroying our environment, that’s a death economy and we need to transition into what we call now, a life economy. And I can talk more about that if you want.
The Mint: What I was keen to talk with you about is that, the key focus of your book is the sort of trip to the Amazon, to reconceive, re-understand the nature of the world. And, one thing I thought was that not that many people can go to the Amazon. I mean, this sort of refocusing, re-understanding of how the world works, this sort of realization of a sort of a larger tree.
Are there other ways people can do it? Presumably, you’d look on your doorstep. I mean, look at what’s happening in the US at the moment and the history of racial injustice and so on – is there a more sort of generic version of how people can refocus and find the truth.
John Perkins: Well yeah, and that’s why I wrote the book. There’s a part of the book at the beginning, it’s about the Amazon, but it leads into this whole discussion of the death economy and how we transform it into a life economy.
And in the process, by the end of the book it spells out a daily practice that everyone can practice for 10 minutes a day or a little less, and don’t need to do it every day, maybe once a week, whatever that each one of us can practice in order to understand our role in creating a better life for ourselves and the world.
So this idea of transforming fear into action to change yourself in the world. The subtitle of the book is very, very prevalent throughout the book. Now, the Amazonian people provide a really magnificent example in that these tribes, where I was living back in 1968 to 71 as a Peace Corps volunteer there, they were warring with their neighbouring tribes because they’re hunters and gatherers and they need to protect their territory. They need very large territories.
They weren’t really wars, they were more like skirmishes, but they were beginning to understand that the real threat was not their neighbours – they had a new perception. The real threat was American oil and mining companies.
And so they changed their… they went out and they touched their jaguar. So I touch this jaguar all the time. That means you’ve got to, you’ve got to touch that which you fear – you go to it, you don’t run from it. So they understood that their real fear was oil companies, mining companies from other countries, from mainly the United States.
And so they banded together with people who have been enemies for hundreds, perhaps thousands of year. They changed their perception of who their enemy was, that changed their reality.
And then they came to me after that and said – hey, you know, what we really understand now is the real fear is the dream of your people, the perception of your people who depend on oil and in mined minerals. It’s your people who are the real problem – the only reason oil companies are coming here is because your people are demanding more and more oil. So we need to change the perception, the dream of your people – help us form a partnership with the people we fear.
So again, they touch this jaguar – help us form a partnership. So I worked with, Bill and Lynne Twist and we founded the Pachamama Alliance back in 95. And that that’s now in 80 some odd countries, helping people understand this process of changing perceptions to more reality, and also to work on legally protecting areas of the Amazon. It’s all about perception and reality.
The Mint: Yeah. Can you just because I suppose a lot of people won’t have been to Amazon, and experienced that sort of life and how that might work.
Can you, take a normal, I don’t know, middle class person, in the US who has a sort of bog-standard job, working at a corporation. What are the fears? You say you need to touch your fears and find a way through – what’s the ‘way in’ for someone in that sort of situation? What are the fears?
John Perkins: So once I realised I was in a big corporation, I was chief economist with this major consulting firm and I decided I couldn’t do that anymore. The fear was that if I left, I wouldn’t have an income. I have been trained all my life to do this. And plus I had grown up, the son of a teacher at a boys boarding school in New Hampshire.
The school gave us a home and I ate in the dining room with 200 boys from the time I was about four years old, and my dad made almost no money. And I was surrounded by very, very rich boys, who came from Park Avenue, New York, they came from the best areas of London. They came from Buenos Aires, wherever.
And so now I become chief economist at this international firm. I’ve got a huge expense account. I travelled; I fly first class around the world. I’m making a great salary. I wine and dine with presidents of countries and the finest restaurants. I was afraid of losing that.
I thought I would attain the American dream. I couldn’t possibly just walk away from it. So there was this, this fear and what would I do next? And I had to go out. And so what we say is when we have this fear in front of us, it’s like a jaguar that the indigenous people said. So in a vision quest, or a shamanic journey when they see a jaguar and they see this jaguar, they know this is representing something that they, they need to do, they want to do, but they’re afraid to do it.
And so I knew that I needed to get out of this job. I needed to change. I had to touch that jaguar and see what it was I needed to do to make the change.
The Mint: But you, as you said, you had understood to start with you needed to change, and that comes before, you know, then there’s the fear of change, but you first have to believe you need to change.
And surely there are lots of people who are quite comfortable in the current situation who don’t even get to the point of feeling they need to change, let alone facing fears of change.
John Perkins: Well, maybe some of them don’t need to change. Maybe you don’t need to change. Maybe you’re comfortable with what you do.
And it’s probably you are, because what you do is a really good thing, but I got to tell you I’ve run into it over the years – hundreds, thousands. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me as I’m giving speeches or have sent me emails or something saying, you know, I hate my job.
I make damn good money, I’m realising the American dream or the British dream, or whatever it is, but I’m not happy. I’m working, you know, and this coronavirus has shown a lot… I’ve heard from so many people recently. I never want to go back to that office. Now I’ve discovered I don’t have to go to, there is I can do it all virtually.
I don’t want to go back to the office. I’m not even sure I want to work for this kind of a company anymore. So we wake up and the people who do know that they need to change and want to change. Then it’s important to go out and touch the jaguar.
And here’s an example. So during this time of the pandemic, the people may be sitting at home saying…
Gee, I can’t stand to self-isolate another day, forget about another month or two months or whatever- I’m going crazy. What can I do? Well, that’s a big jaguar – go out and touch that jaguar. And it may say, do you always want to learn to play the flute? You got a flute – well go on the internet. Didn’t you always want to write, read more books or write more or write a book or start a podcast or whatever.
Well, here’s your opportunity now that you’re stuck at home during this period, here’s your opportunity to go out and touch that jaguar and say -hey, I’m going to use this period of isolation beneficially. I’m going to take action to confront that fear and transform it into something that serves me, and hopefully helps other people too.
The Mint: I just think just moving on to bit, I felt there were two themes in your book. One was obviously colonialisation, which is really about power, isn’t it – a country that has the power to go and extract and take resources, from other countries or other people within its country.
And so there’s that theme of power and then there’s the theme of awakening, facing your fears, seeing the world in a different way. Now, I just wonder how those sort of related, because you might say, well, it’s all very well seeing the way at the world in a different way, but when you’re confronted by brute power, of people who have resources to buy you out to buy the government out , to buy the police, you know, et cetera, et cetera. What does mental awakening count for?
John Perkins: Well, only colonialisation is to a certain degree about power and especially that under the old model, under the model I was working on, I was colonising the world, but based on fear and debt. And so tell a president basically, so here, take out this big loan, put your country deep into debt, and it’s going to benefit you and a few others, but these presidents knew it was gonna hurt everybody else.
Or I would also say, if you don’t buy into this, there’s the jackals in the background and the jackals are people who usually CIA assets. Who overthrow governments or assassinate their leaders. And every one of these presidents that I dealt with knew about what had happened to Salvidor Allende in Chile and President Arbenz of Guatemala and Mosaddeq of Iran and Lumumba of the Congo and Diem of Vietnam.
And on and on and on and on the United States has admitted to doing these things. So my job was relatively easy. I’m saying in front of a president – I say, hey in this hand, I got several billion dollars, for you to build, to be able to build infrastructure that’s going to help you and your family get richer.
Or if you don’t do that in this hand, I got a gun. I didn’t have a gun, but I knew that those people were back there. I didn’t even know most of them personally, but they were back there and these guys knew they were and the presidents knew they were back there too. So that’s the perception of fear and it wasn’t just power.
I wasn’t threatening to bring in the military, but it was a threat, a fear and for the rest of us, we fear change. We fear that if we’re going to change our economic situation, that we’re going to have to go back and live in caves. So the colonialisation is not just, you know, overt power. It’s also, it’s colonising the mindset, colonising perceptions of people.
The Mint: And so do you feel that actually by addressing the colonising of the mind, you can actually address the power?
John Perkins: No question about it. So here, you’re in England, I’m in the United States. If we go back to 1774 – your country controlled mine, it was part of the British Empire.
And most everybody in America believed that the British were invincible, undefeatable, strongest army in the world, and then George Washington went before the Continental Congress and he remembered a time during the French and Indian war – what’s known in Europe as a seven-year war, 20 years earlier.
When he’d been part of a big British military movement under General Braddock, England’s best general at the time I think, huge, massive force of British soldiers marching into Pittsburgh, and they were ambushed by a handful of much smaller force of French and Indians and slaughtered. Braddock himself was killed.
Washington was there. He happened to make it out and he remembered that in 1775. And he said to the Congress, he said, hey the British aren’t invincible, all we gotta do is change our perception of warfare and hide behind trees. And of course, of course the British yelled foul, you can’t do that. You got to stand in these lines and face each other man to man.
Kind of like what the Americans did in Vietnam many, many, many years later when we said, the Viet Cong can’t use the ho Chi Minh trail, they’re not allowed to go into Laos and Cambodia. That’s not fair. And of course, and of course, now we say it’s not fair for the Iranians to have nuclear weapons, even though they’re surrounded by people with nuclear weapons – you know Russia, Israel, the United States and India and they’re just surrounded by people. I don’t like nuclear weapons, I’m not defending that, but to be so hypocritical as to say, hey, that’s not fair in war so you don’t want perceptions changed like that.
So George Washington had a major impact – suddenly everybody’s perceptions of, oh my God. Yeah, the French defeated the British there at that battle of the Monongahela. Of course, they ultimately lost the war and Britain got Canada, but it was this pivotal moment in history and the history is full of those, you know. Copernicus, when he showed the world that the universe didn’t revolve around planet earth. That changed religion. That changed philosophy that changed our perception of who we are in the universe. It changed everything and these things, you know Columbus….you can go on and on. History is just full of them and these changes always happen. Reality changes because perceptions change.
The Mint: So do you see us now at a pivotal moment, do you see the potential for perceptions to change?
John Perkins: Absolutely. What we’re all beginning to understand around the world, and I speak at conferences in Russia and China and all over- England! Recently spoke at Oxford and, and Cambridge, and you know, people are feeling this – we have to change, the system just simply is not working. The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. There’s desperation. There’s climate change. There are all kinds of signals that we’ve got to change, and we’ve been on a trajectory. So we’ve seen the rise of benefit corporations, B corporations, what we call conscious capitalism and the United States, the Green New Deal.
In last August, 192 of the world’s most powerful, most successful corporate CEOs came together at the business round table and made a statement that basically we’ve got to move into a life economy.
So they said that no buyer can accept that the goal of corporations is to maximise short term profits, regardless of social environmental cost. That’s been the goal for quite a few years now. And that’s been driving business. Maximise short-term profit – that creates a death economy. A life economy is an economy that’s based on the perception that the goal is to maximise long-term benefits for people and nature, benefiting long-term paying companies to invest in cleaning up pollution, putting companies to invest in regenerating destroyed environments and coming up with new technologies that don’t ravage the earth.
They use more of the sun and the wind and the air to create everything. We’ve been moving along that trajectory and there’s no question that that’s been happening. And I think this coronavirus is the last, is the most recent, pushing us even further that direction. It’s showing us that, you know, you can see stars above Beijing. You can see stars in Los Angeles.
The Mint: I suppose you can tell a number of stories about what’s happening at the moment, but there’s another story which is, we have Trump, we have Johnson. We have governments that do work very hard to create perceptions, but perceptions that many would think are quite negative.
We have the likes of Amazon, and other digital companies that have quasi monopolistic powers through their power of networks. And seem incredibly good at extracting huge amounts of wealth, from the general populace. So it’s not as sort of straightforward question is it?
John Perkins: Well, if you look at history, whenever there’s what we might call a revolution, it doesn’t have to be a physical revolution, it can be something like the Enlightenment, there’s always a pushback and we’re in a revolution right now. There’s a consciousness revolution of people waking up to the fact we live on a fragile space station and there aren’t any shuttles – we can’t get off.
We got to take care of it and people really waking up to the fact that we are the pilots of the space station, we guide it. We’ve been guiding it toward disaster, we need to reboot the navigation system. People are really waking up to that around the world. There’s no question. And always though, when there’s a revolution, there’s a pushback, there’s a pushback.
And so right now, yes, the Trumps and the Johnsons and many others are pushing back.
The Mint: If you look around the leaders at the moment, I mean, and look for enlightenment, you probably have to go to New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway possibly – small, tiny countries that may get publicity, but in the scheme of things are hardly going to create the sort of global change we need.
John Perkins: Well, I dunno, Greta Thunberg has had a pretty major effect on the world and, you know, if you think about it, the United States, when it became the United States was a pretty small, seemingly insignificant country that fermented the French revolution, and across the world brought out the idea of democracy.
Now we in the United States are saying we’ve not done a very good job at keeping that. We’ve done a terrible job. We’re not what we call a democratic republic, but we’re not doing a good job, but we did create this perception that has since reached around the world.
It’s driven so much – at one point I think it was Churchill after the World War Two, who said, you know, the United Kingdom, we can either be a democracy are, or an empire. What do we choose? And you chose democracy basically, or you chose, you know, that form of parliamentarian rule rather than to continue with the old colonial ways of around the world.
So these movements can start. I mean, it may start in Iceland and it may start in Norway, but they’re also really picking up here in the United States and in, and you know, I’ve spoken recently in England and there’s a huge undercurrent there. People who are very, very dissatisfied, but at the same time, the status quo steps in to stop it.
Revolutionaries or agents of change I think we’d rather call ourselves at this point. Always taking energy from that pushback. Just like a martial artist. I’ve been a martial artist most of my life. And I know that if somebody who’s a lot bigger and stronger than me, I can’t try to fight him spar with him by beating him physically.
I’ve got to use his energy and my own smartness to redirect his energy tire them out, redirect his energy back at him. And, that’s what happens with agents of change when the pushback comes, something else happens. So in the United States today, we’ve seen Trump really stand up for racism and white privilege.
I mean, that’s what he’s done. And yet there’s a huge pushback. The riots are happening hugely. And so many people, so many privileged, white men like me. I mean, there’s no question. I grew up white, male, American. I grew up with privileges I didn’t ask for, and I didn’t try to get, but they’re there. They’re always there.
And so many people in that position who didn’t really see it before are truly beginning to understand the injustice. I think there’s a big wave counterweight to the Johnsons and the Trumps, and of course, we’ll see in the next election what’s going to happen if we can trust the electoral process at all.
But for sure, revolutions have always taken power. From those who have pushed back against them, and usually the revolutions have won ultimately – not always, not always. So we don’t know, and I don’t have a crystal ball.
The Mint: Well, let’s end with that more positive note and, and hope we can create the revolution that we need. Thank you very much, John. That’s been really fascinating talking with you.
John Perkins: My pleasure Henry. And I would just like to add if I could that I think that we’re in an amazingly incredible time right now, people to be alive right now are blessed because we are in this time with the opportunity for transformation.
And I’d also like to encourage people to go to my website, johnperkins.org, and there they can see how they can get, they can pre-order the book if they want, but they can also get a workbook that goes into this little daily practice. It’s very short. It’s very easy where we ask ourselves five basic questions.
Each finding personally, whether you’re a carpenter or a plumber or podcast host or an author, parent, whatever you are, it takes you down a course where you can make life better for you and in the process, do something to help somebody else, because we’re all happier when we help one other person or the whole world, whatever it is.
I really encourage people to look positively on this time, despite all the challenges and the discomforts and in the illness and the death – this is a remarkable time to be alive in history. It’s a time to really wake up, to really touch that jaguar, move forward into transformation.
And thank you Henry, for all you do to bring this information out there to inspire people. I really appreciate what you do.
The Mint: Brilliant, well thank you. And look forward to talking another time.