London Review of Book, Laleh Khalili – “When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm by Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe. Bodley Head, 354 pp., £20, October, 978 1 84792 625 8: “…Bogdanich and Forsythe’s book is a damning account of the way McKinsey has made workplaces unsafe, ditched consumer protections, disembowelled regulatory agencies, ravaged health and social care organisations, plundered public institutions, hugely reduced workforces and increased worker exploitation. It begins with an account of McKinsey-driven cost-cutting at US Steel, which led to the deaths of two steelworkers. Similar measures at Disney resulted in a young man being crushed to death on the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster. Decades after the consequences of smoking became clear, McKinsey continued to work for the big tobacco producers. As the extent of the US opioid epidemic became apparent, McKinsey advised Purdue Pharma to find ‘growth pockets’ where OxyContin could be more easily prescribed, and lobbied regulators for laxer rules on prescriptions. McKinsey’s unethical activities pack the pages of this book, while its supercilious vocabulary of ‘values’ and ‘service’ runs like an oil slick over slurry.
The primary product sold by all management consultants – both software developers and strategic organisers – is the theology of capital. This holds that workers are expendable. They can be replaced by machines, or by harder-working employees grateful they weren’t let go in the last round of redundancies. Managers are necessary to the functioning of corporations – or universities, or non-profit organisations – and the more of them the better. Long working hours and bootstrap entrepreneurialism are what give meaning to life. Meritocracies are a real thing. Free trade, laissez-faire capitalism and reduced regulation are necessary stepping stones towards the free market utopia… A US government website records the number of federal contracts given to various contractors. For some consulting firms, the trajectory of spending has risen steadily since 2009. The graph showing McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Booz Allen Hamilton contracts spikes during the Trump administration. The Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon paid all three firms lavishly for ‘engaging human-centred design’, developing a ‘culture of continuous improvement’ and other meaningless bits of management-speak festooned with cryptic acronyms. In many cases, the contracts are labelled ‘solicitation only one source’, meaning that no rival bids were sought. Two contracts with the US government procurement agency, the General Services Administration, which earned McKinsey $1 billion between 2006 and 2019, had to be terminated because the company refused to submit to an audit…”