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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

finding inspiration--and depression

Kimmie has taken some days off work, starting today and ending the Tuesday after Easter. So there was no alarm clock this morning. I slept through till about 5:35, then lay comfortably until I decided to rise at 6:20 to make the coffee.

I didn't actually get to my project this morning, although I did type a few notes. Yesterday I got back in the swing, digging further into my research as a way of seeking inspiration for my story. It took the form of character research: in this case for Alexander, my young would-be astrologer. As I seek his motivation, his feelings, I need material about his background. This had me reading through my research folder, copying extracts and dropping these into my chapter-notes document, and letting what I found spark ideas. The chapter-notes document has grown to 27 pages (many of which are the aforementioned extracts).

My reading of course goes on. I haven't read any directly period-research-related book for a long time now. Yesterday I finished reading Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. I found it very interesting: an expose along the lines of Philip Agee's CIA Diary, which I read back in 1984. More important than the literary quality of these books is what they have to say, and indeed the very fact that they exist. Since I'm not a cynical person, I perhaps need help in seeing that people do indeed sometimes act out of base motives, and that such people are often the very ones most driven to seek power and wealth for themselves.

Perkins's "confessions" offer a good view of the inside workings of a power-broker within the world of developing-world finance in the 1970s and 80s. The term "economic hit man" (EHM) refers to a species of economist who worked for private U.S. consulting firms (such as Halliburton) as part of teams trying to sell certain developing countries on large-scale, internationally financed, American-built infrastructure projects. Their specific though unstated intent was to oversell the projects to create much more lucrative contracts, and also to cause the developing country to default on its debt. Yes: the default was intentional, to put the country in a condition of obligation to the U.S. government, so that it would be more tractable in offering up things like UN votes, space for military bases, or natural resources such as oil. According to Perkins, this was his job, and he was very successful at it, working over countries such as Ecuador and Indonesia, among others.

Among many insights that I had while reading the book was this: suddenly it became clear why the World Bank has been such a dismal failure at helping developing countries develop. It's because the true mission of the World Bank is not its stated mission. Perkins alleges that the World Bank, in the pocket of the U.S. government, is essentially a facility for carrying out these economic "hits." It is a failure at its stated mission--but a success at its true one.

Sobering, even depressing thoughts. And yet I'm not too depressed: because at bottom I do not find truth depressing. Only when you see how things really are can you do anything effective or meaningful.

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