A vital and timely investigation into the opaque and powerful consulting industry—and what to do about it
There is an entrenched relationship between the consulting industry and the way business and government are managed today that must change. Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington show that our economies’ reliance on companies such as McKinsey & Company, 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 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. In the end, the Big Con weakens our businesses, infantilizes our governments, and warps our economies.
In The Big Con, Mazzucato and Collington throw back the curtain on the consulting industry. They dive deep into important case studies of consultants taking the reins with disastrous results, such as the debacle of the roll out of HealthCare.gov and the tragic failures of governments to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic. The result is an important and exhilarating intellectual journey into the modern economy’s beating heart. With peerless scholarship, and a wealth of original research, Mazzucato and Collington argue brilliantly for building a new system in which public and private sectors work innovatively for the common good.
About the Author
Mariana Mazzucato, PhD, is professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, where she directs the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. Her bestselling books include The Entrepreneurial State, The Value of Everything, and Mission Economy. Her many prizes include the 2020 John von Neumann Award and the 2018 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. She is chair of the World Health Organization’s Council on the Economics of Health for All and a member of the United Nation’s High Level Advisory Board for Economic and Social Affairs. Rosie Collington is a PhD candidate at the University College London Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, where she researches outsourcing. She has written for The Guardian (London), openDemocracy, and The Independent (London), has published with New Political Economy and the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and has conducted policy research for the CommonWealth, and the British Heart Foundation.
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 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
“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
“Immersive and exhaustive . . . Doggedly researched and elegantly written, this is a fascinating entry point into a critical yet underreported issue.” —Publishers Weekly(starred review)
"A forceful demolition job on the industry.”—Adrian Wooldridge, Bloomberg
"A thoughtful analysis of the effects of exponential growth in the consulting industry . . . Written in a sophisticated but accessible voice, this would be an excellent addition to any business collection.”—Booklist
"Two respected researchers draw back the curtain to probe the consulting industry, and what they find is worrying . . . A detailed and disturbing look at the consulting industry and its negative impacts on companies and governments.”—Kirkus
Praise for Mariana Mazzucato
Praise for MISSION ECONOMY:
“She offers something both broad and scarce: a compelling new story about how to create a desirable future.” —The New York Times
“Mazzucato wants liberals to talk less about the redistribution of wealth and more about its creation. Politicians around the world are listening.” —The New York Times
“One of the world’s most influential economists is on a mission to save capitalism from itself.” —Quartz
“The debates Mazzucato has been trying to open for years are now unavoidable. So let’s have them.” —Ezra Klein
“Mazzucato has influenced the way American politicians speak about the state’s potential as an economic engine.” —New York Times
“She is as forthright in her opinions as she is eloquent in expressing them.” —Financial Times
“Mariana Mazzucato is foremost among the flamethrowers. A professor at University College London and the founding director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, she asks fundamental questions about how 'value' has been defined, who decides what that means, and who gets to measure it.” —Forbes
“This economist has a plan to fix capitalism. It’s time we all listened.” —Wired
Praise for THE VALUE OF EVERYTHING:
“Mazzucato's mission is to overturn the now dominant neoclassical theory of value.” ―George Eaton for New Statesman
“Mazzucato is fast emerging as one of the world's leading public intellectuals... [she] has offered the left a positive vision of growth based on innovation and profit-sharing, rather than sterile and counter-productive analysis based on the politics of resentment and expropriation.” ―Spectator
“A stimulating analysis of the underlying causes of inequality and growth which forces us to confront long-held beliefs about how economies work and who benefits.” ―Martin Wolf, Financial Times
“Mazzucato's trenchant analysis is a compelling call to reinvent value as a key concept to help us achieve the world we all want.” ―Nature
“A fresh look at the meaning of value to the economy...This organized and easy-to-read book will appeal to curious readers as well as those interested in economics, investing, and public policy.” ―Booklist