The ‘Big Con’
There is an entrenched relationship between the consulting industry and the way business and government are managed today which must change.
Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington show that our economies’ reliance on companies such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY stunts innovation, obfuscates corporate and political accountability and impedes our collective mission of halting climate breakdown.
Mariana Francesca Mazzucato is an economist with dual Italian–American citizenship. She is a professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London and founding director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose.
Rosie Collington is a PhD candidate at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, where she researches the political economy of outsourcing.
The ‘Big Con’ describes the confidence trick the consulting industry performs in contracts with hollowed-out and risk-averse governments and shareholder value-maximising firms.
It grew from the 1980s and 1990s in the wake of reforms by both the neoliberal right and Third Way progressives, and it thrives on the ills of modern capitalism, from financialization and privatisation to the climate crisis.
It is possible because of the unique power that big consultancies wield through extensive contracts and networks – as advisors, legitimators and outsourcers – and the illusion that they are objective sources of expertise and capacity. To make matters worse, our best and brightest graduates are often redirected away from public service into consulting.
In all these ways, the Big Con weakens our businesses, infantilises our governments and warps our economies. Mazzucato and Collington expertly debunk the myth that consultancies always add value to the economy.
With a wealth of original research, they argue brilliantly for investment and collective intelligence within all organisations and communities, and for a new system in which public and private sectors work innovatively for the common good. We must recalibrate the role of consultants and rebuild economies and governments that are fit for purpose.
A management consultant,’ the quip runs, ‘is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time-and then keeps the watch.’ This is the very least of the confidence tricks perpetrated by the global consulting industry it turns out. Another common saying is that ‘nobody ever got fired for hiring McKinsey.’ With the publication of The Big Con, they just might.
A powerful indictment of a dubious industry. This book should be read around the globe, and kickstart a debate that’s long overdue: Do we really need all those consultants?
The Big Con documents, in precise detail and with panoramic vision, all the ways that the consulting industry has insinuated itself into the systems that govern and control our lives.
Private companies, public charities and trusts, states, and even the international order have all handed mission-critical functions over to management consultants. Marina Mazzucato and Rosie Collington document the harms that result, as consultants exploit the public while stripping their clients of expertise and even the capacity to learn.
This bill of particulars serves a profound master purpose: to demonstrate that we cannot outsource governance over our lives and still hope to remain prosperous, democratic, and free.