(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘scandal

“Whoever pays the consultant gets pretty much what they want to hear”*…

For as long as there has been business, there have been consultants– outsiders hired hired by organizations to advise (on strategy or marketing or whatever), find opportunities, or fix problems. And like any large class of vendors, it’s been a mixed bag; some of those counselors have been helpful, some less less so, and some, downright harmful. What we come to think of as “management consulting” has grown up over the last century or so.

But over the last four decades consulting has changed in a way analogous (and not altogether unrelated) to the rise of the financial sector over roughly that same period (e.g., from about 5% of GDP in the U.S to nearly 8%; globally, the World Bank estimates that financial services have grown to 20-25% of the world economy). While there are still myriad consulting firms offering an astounding array of services, “consulting” has come to denote an industry dominated by firms like McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Deloitte– an industry that has had astonishing growth in recent decades. The worldwide market for consulting services is now worth somewhere between $500 billion and $1 trillion a year.

Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington‘s new book, The Big Con: How the Consulting Industry Weakens Our Businesses, Infantilizes Our Governments, and Warps Our Economies, traces that growth, and it’s too-often painful consequences…

The authors race through a medley of involvement in misconduct — price gouging vital medicines; corruption in South Africa and Angola; forest destruction from Brazil to Guyana; ICE detention camps; the asset-stripping of public services from health care to railways; brutal economic restructures of struggling economies; mass layoffs; tax-dodging; the 2008 crash; and the Enron scandal, to name a few. One quickly gains the impression that there isn’t a single major act of state or corporate malevolence in our lifetimes free of the big consultancies’ fingerprints.

But despite a roll call of cartoonish villainy, The Big Con is more of an academic intervention than a boilerplate attack on unscrupulous businesses. First, it challenges the consultancies’ fundamental value proposition: that the industry’s success is based on increasing efficiency and profits even in a narrow sense. Second, it interrogates and historicizes consultancies’ success, rooting it in the peculiar history of recent capitals. And finally, it makes a strident call not merely for undermining the power of McKinsey and similar companies, but for reinventing how we produce value in a time of huge challenges…

Collington and Mazzucato focus on several particular forms of business. There are the “Big Three” strategy consultancies; the “Big Four” accounting firms whose profit is today based far more in consultancy than in their original functions; the “outsourcing” firms that claim to offer specific services to government such as IT or security but in practice effectively perform the role of government; and smaller firms based in similar models.

This sector has been at the heart of a decades-long transformation in both business and government. In-house expertise and specialized knowledge have been eroded and replaced by dependence on consultancies and their short-term, one-size-fits-all methods.

Mass privatization is, of course, a far broader phenomenon than consultancies. NATO’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw private military and security contractors explode in size relative to the armed forces, resulting in both huge financial costs and human tragedy

The privatization doctrine has also been enforced on the developing world, with brutal results. In every case, the public purse assumes most of the risks and the private sector profits most of the rewards.

Twin ideological doctrines have underpinned such a shift. In business, the “managerial revolution” — in which internal expertise is deprioritized, workers are ignored, downsizing solves everything, and all incentives are subordinated to short-term shareholder value — has been comprehensive. Recently the Boeing 737 MAX incident, in which passenger aircraft were effectively programmed to crash themselves, was attributed to the consequences of this revolution.

And in government, the historic experience of state-led innovation from NASA to the UK National Health Service (NHS) has been forgotten, and replaced with the inflexible view that the state is always less efficient than the private sector; public servants cannot be trusted to work for the common good; and where government has to exist it should resemble business…

A powerful– and painful– critique of consultants: Nathan Akehurst on The Big Con: “Consultancies Have Been the Handmaidens of Neoliberalism,” in @jacobin.

See also: “Need a consultant? This book argues hiring one might actually damage your institution” (source of the image above)…

While the modern consulting industry has a history stretching back over a century, Mazzucato and Collington write that the use of consultants really exploded after the 1980s. That’s when proponents of freer markets, like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, began dismantling government bureaucracies and regulations. More left-leaning “Third Way” leaders, like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, continued in their wake. “Public sectors were transformed under the credo of New Public Management — a policy agenda that sought to make governments function more like businesses and diminished faith in the abilities of civil servants,” Mazzucato and Collington write.

As governments lost the faith and capacity to do things themselves, they increasingly turned to consultants to help them accomplish tasks. Governments began using consultants for seemingly everything, from devising new tax rules to advising armies to overseeing the privatization of state industries to administering IT departments to devising strategies on how to cut carbon emissions.

At the same time, private corporations also increasingly turned to consultants to help them become more profitable. And here, Mazzucato and Collington portray consultancies as opportunistically surfing wave after wave of destructive capitalism. McKinsey & Company, for example, was involved in the Enron scandal and profited from the opioid crisis, helping Purdue Pharma “turbocharge” sales of its OxyContin painkiller.

“The Big Con is of course not responsible for all the ills of modern capitalism, but it thrives on its dysfunctionalities — from speculative finance to the short-termist business sector and the risk-averse public sector,” Mazzucato and Collington write…


Matthew Stewart (an author and philosopher who worked in consulting for seven years before turning away)


As we look askance at avaricious advice, we might recall that it was on this date in 1767, in a letter to Frederick II of Prussia, that Voltaire wrote “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”


Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 6, 2023 at 1:00 am

“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue”*…




Paywalls are justified, even though they are annoying. It costs money to produce good writing, to run a website, to license photographs. A lot of money, if you want quality. Asking people for a fee to access content is therefore very reasonable. You don’t expect to get a print subscription  to the newspaper gratis, why would a website be different? I try not to grumble about having to pay for online content, because I run a magazine and I know how difficult it is to pay writers what they deserve.

But let us also notice something: the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, New York, Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, and the London Times all have paywalls. Breitbart, Fox News, the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, InfoWars: free! You want “Portland Protesters Burn Bibles, American Flags In The Streets,” “The Moral Case Against Mask Mandates And Other COVID Restrictions,” or an article suggesting the National Institutes of Health has admitted 5G phones cause coronavirus—they’re yours. You want the detailed Times reports on neo-Nazis infiltrating German institutions, the reasons contact tracing is failing in U.S. states, or the Trump administration’s undercutting of the USPS’s effectiveness—well, if you’ve clicked around the website a bit you’ll run straight into the paywall. This doesn’t mean the paywall shouldn’t be there. But it does mean that it costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free…

The political economy of bullshit– and thoughts on a remedy: “The Truth is Paywalled But the Lies are Free.”

On a related (and somewhat complicating) note, see also “It is possible to compete with the New York Times. Here’s how,” the source of the image above.

* Edward R. Murrow


As we do like Diogenes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1974 that President Richard M. Nixon resigned, as a result of the Watergate scandal— which was itself, of course, in large measure the result of (expensive) investigatory journalism of the highest quality.


Nixon departing the White House after his resignation (source)


Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 9, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers”*…


On October 20, 1880, just a couple weeks before the U.S. presidential election of that year, the New York newspaper Truth published a letter made up of two short paragraphs signed by James A. Garfield, the Republican candidate for president. Those two paragraphs could have been, as the paper wrote a few days later, Garfield’s “political death warrant.”

Addressed to one H.L. Morey, the letter concerned the immigration of Chinese laborers to America. “Individuals or companies have the right to buy labor when they can get it cheapest,” the letter read. “We have a treaty with the Chinese Government… I am not prepared to say that it should be abrogated until our great manufacturing and corporate interests are conserved in the matter of labor.”

More than 135 years later, that might sound reasonable enough. But in the 1880s, America was caught up in a cascade of nativism and anti-Chinese sentiment. To parts of the American populace—in particular, voters in California and other western states, where Chinese labor was seen as a threat to white workers—this was an outrage…

The 1880 election was going to be very close. It was the first election after the end of Reconstruction, and while the Republicans were still the party of Lincoln, they were divided among themselves. Garfield had been nominated at the longest Republican National Convention ever, after 36 rounds of balloting in which neither of the two leading candidates, Ulysses S. Grant and Senator James Blaine, was able to command a majority. Democrats controlled the South and much of the West. To win, Garfield would have to sweep the North and the West Coast…

The “Morey letter,” as it quickly came to be known, was a classic October surprise, an attack in the waning days of a campaign meant to land a death blow. But the letter also raised some pressing questions…

An all-too-true (and all too resonant) story of 19th Century fake news: “The Enduring Mystery of James A. Garfield’s Immigration Scandal.”

* Richard Brinsley Sheridan


As we double-check our sources, we might send eloquent birthday greetings to William Jennings Bryan; he was born on his date in 1860.  An orator and politician from Nebraska, he was a dominant force in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as the Party’s nominee for President (1896, 1900, and 1908). He served two terms as a member of the House of Representatives and was Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1915, a position he resigned because of his pacifist position on World War I).

He was perhaps the best-known orator and lecturer of the era.  A devout Christian, he attacked Darwinism and evolution, most famously at the Scopes (“Monkey”) Trial in 1925 in Tennessee; an ardent populist, he was an enemy of the banks and the gold standard (c.f., his famous “Cross of Gold” speech).



Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The problem with winter sports is that — follow me closely here — they generally take place in winter”*…


Be that as it may, winter sports have long had the devotees… and with them, helpful instructors.  Consider Bror Myer, a Swedish figure skating champion, who produced an illustrated guide for hopefuls.

To facilitate an easy interpretation of the text, as well as to show more clearly the various movements, I decided, after great consideration, to illustrate the work by means of photographs taken with a Cinematograph.

Check them out at the Internet Archive.  And for a look at why his choice of photos was inspired, contrast his work tothis French ice-skating manual from 1813, one of the very first devoted entirely to the sport.

[Via Public Domain Review]

* Dave Barry


As we sharpen our blades, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that figure skater Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, surrendered to authorities in Portland, Ore., after being charged with masterminding an attack on Harding’s rival, Nancy Kerrigan.

On January 6, 1994 [on the eve of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships], a man named Shane Stant delivered the blow itself—a single strike on the right knee with a police baton—and then fled the scene in such a panic that he ran right through a plexiglass door. Cameras captured the aftermath of the attack, with Kerrigan bellowing on the ground: “Why? Why? Why?”

The surreal quickly became the sensational. Implicated in the attack were Kerrigan’s rival, Tonya Harding; her ex-husband, Gillooly, and Gillooly’s band of hired goons—Stant, bodyguard Shawn Eckardt, and getaway driver Derrick Smith. Harding initially denied everything, while Gillooly, charged with conspiracy to commit assault, later pleaded down to one count of racketeering. Awkwardly, both Harding and Kerrigan competed in the ’94 Lillehammer Olympics. Harding finished eighth, and Kerrigan won the silver. A few months later, Gillooly and his associates went to prison while Harding got probation for conspiring to hinder their prosecution. (She maintains to this day that she knew nothing of the attack in advance.)


Gillooly and Harding in happier days



Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 19, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable”*…


Camille Corot – Recollections of Mortefontaine

Artist Etienne Lavie has taken photos of Paris in which advertisements in the background are replaced with classical paintings…

Pierre-Auguste Renoir – La Lecture

See more of the series– “OMG Who Stole My Ads?”– at Lavie’s site.

[via Laughing Squid]

* George Bernard Shaw


As we appreciate the finer things, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that Thomas Eakins, the realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and teacher widely regarded as one of the most important artists in American art history, resigned from the Philadelphia Academy of Art.  Eakins, almost obsessively interesting in the precise rendering of the human form, had stirred scandal in the school by employing a nude male model in one of his classes.

Eakins’ self-portrait



Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 13, 2014 at 1:01 am

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