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Book Review: A Game as Old as Empire – The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption edited by Steven Hiatt

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It’s surprising sometimes how much truth imitates art. In the early 20th Century, Joseph Conrad wrote the novel Heart of Darkness, which was based on his journey by sea to the Congo. Through his alter-ego, Charles Morrow, Conrad explores his own deep obsession with the potential obscurity of man’s soul as Morrow searches for his perceived nemesis, Kurtz. In A Game as Old as Empire, Editor Steven Hiatt has compiled twelve essays from muckraking journalists, activists and former global bankers who reveal the darkened underbelly of corporate globalism.

A Game as Old as Empire is a follow up to Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, written by John Perkins, a former banker who destroyed the economies of many debt-ridden third world nations by converting the debt into profits for the corporate and political elite. Critics lambasted Perkins’ sole account of his actions, demanding proof that such dirty machinations actually took place. Empire is a chilling account of the abusive fraud perpetrated in the cryptic world of international finance, and the thin tightropes of legality bankers balance themselves upon.  

Hiatt and author Lucy Komisar navigate the murky waters that insulated the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), and the policies which caused it to be shut down after its directors committed the largest bank fraud in history – some fifteen billion dollars squandered or stolen. Christian relief worker Kathleen Kern recounts the heinous wars that have killed more than four million people in the Republic of Congo over mines producing coltan, a vital component to making semiconductors that operate laptop computers and cell phones. Environmental and social justice activist Greg Muttitt uncovers a little known Western foundation, the International Tax and Investment Center, which is forcing Iraq into oil production sharing agreements which will lead to hundreds of billions of dollars in lost revenues for Iraq, while funneling enormous profits to foreign companies through the use of offshore bank accounts. Journalist, economist and lawyer James S. Henry exposes the heavy strings attached to debt relief loans that have led to the closing of hospitals and schools, bankrupted local businesses, and created high unemployment for miniscule relief that hardly cover debtor nations’ needs. These and the other chapters provide compelling evidence of how world trade is devastating the environment, finances and the people of the third world for the sake of financial piracy.

While Empire is extremely well written, the contents won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the game of global debt financing. The book serves as a primer for those unaware of the lugubrious deals heads-of-state make with Western entities in order to grease the palms of their benefactors and filling their own coffers with borrowed funds. Each author recounts instances in which dictators as diverse as Zaire’s Mubuto Sese Soko, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet divvied up profits while bankers turned a blind eye to the sacking of third world economies. However, even those with expert knowledge of global financial hijinks will find Hiatt and the authors succinct in their interpretations of these barbarous fiscal abuses – in a world with decreasing resources and governmental infrastructures unprepared to handle inevitable growth.

Too often, books like this are long on pointing out problems but very short on resolutions. A Game as Old as Empire ends with an essay from journalist/activist Antonia Juhasz, who offers practical recommendations for fighting this New World Order menace. Juhasz encourages her readers to differentiate between the blatant violence of groups like Al Qaida, and the economic terrorism foisted upon debtor nations by Western elites. Juhasz reminds us the Osama bin Laden paid for his movement by taking advantage of corrupt banking schemes formerly proffered by BCCI and others.

Regardless of your knowledge on this theme, A Game as Old as Empire is a fascinating sojourn into the dank savannahs of corporate banking. It will make you feel like Charles Morrow tracking down the ubiquitous Kurtz, discovering that Kurtz is not a man, but a dangerous concept, out to rob your very soul.

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  • Nate Heller

    The narrator in Heart of Darkness is Marlow, not Morrow.