The Big Con

How the Consulting Industry Weakens our Businesses, Infantilizes our Governments and Warps our Economies

Mariana Mazzucato author Rosie Collington author


Publisher:Penguin Books Ltd

Published:23rd Feb '23


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The Big Con cover

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.

The 'Big Con' describes the confidence trick the consulting industry performs in contracts with hollowed-out and risk-averse governments and shareholder value-maximizing 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 privatization 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, infantilizes 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 organizations 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 forceful demolition job on the industry -- Adrian Wooldridge * Bloomberg *
timely ... the analysis is startling -- John Arlidge * Sunday Times *
Collington and Mazzucato have provided a meticulously researched anatomy of an industry not widely understood by those outside it. They have explained complex ideas and processes in clear terms, and brought them to life with a rich and engaging narrative style. They have eschewed a simple narrow moral attack on a few parasitic firms in favor of a clear-eyed view of the industry's origins and drivers, and they have outlined the stakes for the future in no uncertain terms. That last is the most important. The Big Con may present itself as an exposé of the consulting industry, but behind it lies a bigger and more urgent warning to reshape social priorities in an age of crisis. -- Nathan Akehurst * Jacobin *
A shocking indictment of how, for decades, the consulting industry has made billions from public and private sources without providing much value for money. But it's an equally damning verdict on those institutions that have handed over these fortunes -- Darragh McManus * Irish Independent *
Their point is that the great problem with the consulting business isn't so much one of corruption, but something else: consultants have wielded their expertise to give the impression of being indispensable. ... The book is intended in part as a rallying call for these companies and governments -- Ed Conway * The Times *
compelling ... Mazzucato and Collington examine how this astonishing global rise in consultancy services came about. The clue is in the book's name-the big con ... the confidence trick arises from the ability to create an impression of value. ... Mazzucato and Collington are ready with what needs to be done: a new vision for the civil service; invest in internal government capacity and capability creation; embed learning and evaluation into contracts; and mandate transparency and exposure of conflicting interest. -- Michael Marmot * The Lancet *
As the title of this book implies, consulting is, at least in part, a confidence trick. A consultant's job is to convince anxious customers that they have the answers, whether or not that's true. -- Hettie O’Brien * Guardian *
powerful ... The authors provide countless convincing examples of the danger of public overreliance on the consulting industry ... The Big Con puts forward a forceful argument about an issue about which most ordinary people know little but - given the enormous influence of the consulting industry - have a right to understand and scrutinise. An effective, important and highly readable book. -- Hilary Lamb * E&T Magazine *
The Big Con of the book's title is not a crime; it's a confidence trick. Consultancies and outsourcers, Mazzucato argues, know less than they claim, cost more than they seem to, and - over the long term - prevent the public sector developing in-house capabilities -- Henry Mance * Financial Times *
We are effectively devolving decision-making to people who are doubly unelected in many cases and whose own interests may diverge fairly dramatically from the collective interest or the interest that government is supposed to be pursuing. -- Rory Sutherland * The Spectator *
Any government looking to rediscover its "vision, purpose and narrative" already knows who to call -- Adam M. Lowenstein * American Prospect *
The consultants may have different names ...and might perform different economic functions...but the effect they have on their client organisations is the same: to entrench short-term thinking, to deplete them of knowledge and skills, and, ultimately, to enfeeble them. -- Will Lloyd * New Statesman *
The power of government is crucial for driving the economy forward. But only if it retains capacity. Mazzucato and Collington have written a brilliant book that exposes the dangerous consequences of outsourcing state capacity to the consulting industry-and how to build it back. A fascinating look at the biggest players in the game and why this matters for all of us. -- Stephanie Kelton, author of THE DEFICIT MYTH
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? -- Rutger Bregman, author of UTOPIA FOR REALISTS and HUMANKIND
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. Mariana 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. -- Daniel Markovits, author of THE MERITOCRACY TRAP
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. -- Brett Christophers, author of RENTIER CAPITALISM
Doggedly researched and elegantly written, this is a fascinating entry point into a critical yet underreported issue * Publishers Weekly *

ISBN: 9780241573082

Dimensions: 241mm x 161mm x 33mm

Weight: 581g

368 pages