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  • Published: 5 March 2024
  • ISBN: 9781802060263
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $30.00

The Big Con

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

A vital and timely investigation into how the consulting industry has made its way to the heart of our economies and governments - and what to do about it

There is an entrenched relationship between the consulting industry and hollowed-out, risk-averse governments and shareholder value-maximizing firms. 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' is possible in today's economies because of the unique power that consultancies wield through extensive contracts and networks - as advisors, legitimators and outsourcers - and the illusion that they are objective sources of expertise and capacity. 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.

  • Published: 5 March 2024
  • ISBN: 9781802060263
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $30.00

About the authors

Mariana Mazzucato

Mariana Mazzucato is Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London where she is Founding Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. Her award winning books include The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (2013) and The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy (2018). She advises policy makers around the world on innovation-led inclusive and sustainable growth, and has won many prizes including the 2020 John von Neumann award, the 2019 All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values and the 2018 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

Praise for The Big Con

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

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 forceful demolition job on the industry

Adrian Wooldridge, Bloomberg

timely ... the analysis is startling

John Arlidge, Sunday Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doggedly researched and elegantly written, this is a fascinating entry point into a critical yet underreported issue

Publishers Weekly

Any government looking to rediscover its "vision, purpose and narrative" already knows who to call

Adam M. Lowenstein, American Prospect

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