The Consultants Behind Every Crisis
December 6, 2019 9:19 AM   Subscribe

“ McKinsey has faced mounting scrutiny over the past two years, as reports by The New York Times, ProPublica and others have raised questions about whether the firm has crossed ethical and legal lines in pursuit of profit. The consultancy returned millions of dollars in fees after South African authorities implicated it in a profiteering scheme. The exposure of its history advising opioid makers on ways to bolster sales induced the usually secretive firm to declare publicly that its opioid work had ended. Last month, the Times reported that McKinsey’s bankruptcy practice is the subject of a federal criminal investigation.“ How McKinsey Helped the Trump Administration Detain and Deport Immigrants (ProPublica/NYT) “ From top to bottom, the post-1970s job insecurity, legitimated by #McKinsey ideas, intertwined with the industrial undocumented workforce that made #Silicon Valley possible.” (Twitter)
posted by The Whelk (69 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Matt Stoller: Why Taxpayers Pay McKinsey $3M a Year for a Recent College Graduate Contractor

(the answer: GSA gets a cut of whatever they pay contractors thanks to a Clinton-era "Reinventing Government" initiative)
posted by theodolite at 9:29 AM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


Curiosity and attention about this has been building on Twitter for the past week or so, and while it may be an organized hit on Buttiegieg I think it's a story that should be told, and needs to be told. These companies are what I think of as "too legal," with few constraints other than how the flow of money into and out of them is recorded.

Heck, look at smaller "consulting" interests: Rudy Giuliani and Lanny Davis. There is literally no limit on how bad of clients they can take on. It's true that at its base it's money paid for speech and opinions, but Facebook has taught us the paradox of tolerance over the past few years, and what harm can come from allowing everybody to do whatever they want as long as the house gets their cut.

If this hurts Mayo Pete, it's only because he won't (or can't) talk about it in an open, question-answering way, which is a bad quality in a public official. In the current state of things, I wouldn't look twice if it also started casting a pall on his Mayorship.
posted by rhizome at 9:36 AM on December 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


Our company used mckinsey for some org health stuff, and they were evil geniuses. They took all of peoples gripes and spun them so that management could pretend they were addressing the issues raised without actually doing anything. Hats off
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:45 AM on December 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


Candidate Pete Buttigieg's former employer.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:48 AM on December 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


I used to call McKinsey consultants "Pinkertons with MBAs," but after the ProPublica piece I'm thinking maybe "Schutzstaffel with MBAs" is more appropriate:

But the money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made some career ICE staff uncomfortable. They proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees.

posted by sugar and confetti at 9:51 AM on December 6, 2019 [22 favorites]


But the money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made some career ICE staff uncomfortable

I'm sorry. Made ICE staff uncomfortable? ICE, that puts kids in cages, thinks that this firm's recommendations went too far? Jesus.
posted by jzb at 9:54 AM on December 6, 2019 [42 favorites]


I used to call McKinsey consultants "Pinkertons with MBAs,"

I’ve always gone with “business mercenaries,” but...

They proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees

Wow.

Maybe more like excel sociopaths for hire?
posted by schadenfrau at 10:02 AM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]




I have a very good friend who is a Mckinsey consultant (though in the UK). I gather he mostly does process optimisation stuff for largeish engineering firms. I wonder if there's any meaningful difference between the different branches across the world? On the other hand, he does complain about the work being bullshit or somewhat heartless on the regular. They do pay rather well though.
posted by Dysk at 10:03 AM on December 6, 2019


The branches of McKinsey are purposefully kept in the dark about whatever any other branch does presumably to prevent one hand from knowing what the other is doing and yes that is also how terrorist cells operate.
posted by The Whelk at 10:06 AM on December 6, 2019 [38 favorites]


The branches of McKinsey are purposefully kept in the dark about whatever any other branch does…

The McKinsey Mexico branch is heavily involved in promoting gender equality. So, yeah, the tentacles seem to be at odds with each other.
posted by Omon Ra at 10:09 AM on December 6, 2019


The McKinsey Mexico branch is heavily involved in promoting gender equality. So, yeah, the tentacles seem to be at odds with each other.

I don’t think this is accidental. I briefly dated someone who was in diversity programs at one of McKinsey’s competitors, and she was very uneasily aware that her job, as much good as she tried to do with it, probably existed to cover up or balance out terrible things. They like to be able to point to the good they do, hoping you won’t notice the bad they do, which is standard corporate CYA at this point. I think an audit would show that the two weren’t exactly balanced.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:14 AM on December 6, 2019 [16 favorites]


I'm sorry. Made ICE staff uncomfortable? ICE, that puts kids in cages, thinks that this firm's recommendations went too far? Jesus.

Career ICE staff, which I read as meaning those who predate Trump. I imagine McKinsey's proposals had plenty of cheerleaders among ICE Trumpists as well.
posted by inire at 10:17 AM on December 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


while it may be an organized hit on Buttiegieg

Buttiegieg has repeatedly cited his experience at McKinsey as a relevant job qualification for President, while many many people have looked at that and said "What the hell? That's the place that hires recent college graduates to fire people and make the remaining employees lives harder."
posted by hydropsyche at 10:29 AM on December 6, 2019 [24 favorites]


oooh don't forget the lovely mess they made in South Africa with state capture mechanisms and strategy
posted by Mrs Potato at 10:43 AM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


[A few comments removed. factory123, it’s fine if you’re meh on a post or subject, but The Whelk isn’t a spambot and I need you to let this go going forward.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:50 AM on December 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


Career ICE staff

I mean, is there a distinction? They continued their career of dehumanizing practices towards immigrants into the Trump administration. Their union also endorsed him. I'm of the belief that entities like ICE only exist because so many people identify with Trump's worldview.
posted by avalonian at 10:57 AM on December 6, 2019 [9 favorites]


Buttigieg is refusing to talk about what he did for McKinsey citing non-disclosure agreements.

Sorry, but if you have secret agreements with corporations, you simply cannot be president. That's what Trump does. Keeps his business dealings secret.
posted by JackFlash at 10:59 AM on December 6, 2019 [33 favorites]


They do pay rather well though.

They paid for an acquaintance of mine to go through both business and law school, just in return for him working there for a couple years after. Both they and Bain have the best benefits of any company I’m aware of, which is...interesting...when you think about the likelihood of consultants recommending that their clients slash worker pay and benefits or jobs altogether.
posted by sallybrown at 11:05 AM on December 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


I thought that people are criticizing Pete for not talking about his time at McKinsey enough. Because he signed a NDA, he can't talk about specifics, including the clients he worked for.

I think the reality is that if you are about to graduate college, it's hard to find a job that on one hand makes good use of your degree, but on the other hand isn't evil in some way. If you are very strict, you run the risk of not being employed. Consulting, finance, and tech are all very good at taking advantage of nervous young college students at elite schools. It's good that people are more comfortable criticizing places like McKinsey and Palantir and so on. But the reality is that the only major candidate who doesn't have a controversial job history and hasn't been a politician for their entire career is Warren.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 11:05 AM on December 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


But the reality is that the only major candidate who doesn't have a controversial job history and hasn't been a politician for their entire career is Warren.

OK.
posted by COBRA! at 11:07 AM on December 6, 2019 [12 favorites]


For at least a good six month stretch Mayor Pete and Tom Cotton shared the same CIA-affiliated post-military employer, isn't that neat
posted by Rust Moranis at 11:10 AM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


One thing to note [from someone who's been inside, so take it with as much salt as you want]: McKinsey as an organization is characterized by extreme amounts for autonomy for all but the most junior staff. Partners / Senior Partners within an industry vertical are given a lot of latitude in which clients they work for and what type of work they want to do---in fact, teams will often serve competing clients at the same time, without either being the wiser.

Which is to say that many (most?) consultants at McKinsey substantially disapprove of their work with ICE (in the same way that, say, most professors at Harvard substantially disapprove of Niall Ferguson), but also that the people on this team really wanted to be there.
posted by rishabguha at 11:12 AM on December 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


I think the reality is that if you are about to graduate college, it's hard to find a job that on one hand makes good use of your degree, but on the other hand isn't evil in some way.

This might be true if you further limit it to very high-paying jobs, but is not true about all jobs. You can make excellent, non-evil use of your degree by going into public service, in the non-profit world, by starting your own business or other enterprise, working as a therapist, an artist, a nurse, and on and on etc etc etc.
posted by sallybrown at 11:12 AM on December 6, 2019 [18 favorites]


You can make excellent, non-evil use of your degree by going into public service, in the non-profit world, by starting your own business or other enterprise, working as a therapist, an artist, a nurse, and on and on etc etc

If your degree is, say, engineering or politics, you're not going to be making much use of that as a therapist, artist, nurse, etc. And at least where I am, both public service and non-profit employment are really quite competitive.

Signed, a perpetually unemployed/underemployed graduate who doesn't use her degree.
posted by Dysk at 11:21 AM on December 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


Partners / Senior Partners within an industry vertical are given a lot of latitude in which clients they work for and what type of work they want to do---in fact, teams will often serve competing clients at the same time, without either being the wiser.

Which is to say that many (most?) consultants at McKinsey substantially disapprove of their work with ICE (in the same way that, say, most professors at Harvard substantially disapprove of Niall Ferguson), but also that the people on this team really wanted to be there.


This sounds more like a structure to facilitate plausible deniability. I would be amazed if the partner group doesn't know what the other partners are doing, or know enough to know they don't want to know more.

You can make excellent, non-evil use of your degree by going into public service, in the non-profit world, by starting your own business or other enterprise, working as a therapist, an artist, a nurse, and on and on etc etc etc.

You can, but most programs that have a recruiting component are going to funnel you pretty well. A busy, early 20-something is likely going to pick from the provided menu, rather than exert the extra hours and mental energy to pursue other employment opportunities (in addition to their existing workload). I say this as someone who turned down much more lucrative opportunities to do what you described. It took a lot of energy, I was about 10 years older than most of the people in my program, and honestly, if the program really knew me, they likely would not have let me in. Most of my cohort had never looked for white collar jobs before. They picked from the menu.
posted by avalonian at 11:22 AM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


If your degree is, say, engineering or politics, you're not going to be making much use of that as a therapist, artist, nurse, etc. And at least where I am, both public service and non-profit employment are really quite competitive.

As compared to McKinsey? If you have the qualifications to get that job, you have many more opportunities than just “evil” work options, which is the assertion my comment was in reference to. “I think the reality is that if you are about to graduate college, it's hard to find a job that on one hand makes good use of your degree, but on the other hand isn't evil in some way.

I know people who have taken the McKinsey path and people who have chosen not to.
posted by sallybrown at 11:27 AM on December 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


Let's suppose that Mayor Pete did some consulting for a corporation in financial difficulties and he writes up his report:
"Here is what you have to do. You must fire 1000 employees tomorrow, starting with quality assurance because they are aren't producing anything and just slowing you down. And you have to cut medical benefits for all the rest. And you have to hire this recommended union busting law firm to keep wages down.
Signed,
Pete Buttigieg, McKinsey Wunderkind"

This is all plausible because that is exactly what McKinsey does.

Now suppose years later that corporation says to Mayor Pete "Gee, it would be a shame if this confidential document leaked out in the middle of your campaign, but if you could see fit to finagle us a tariff exemption and give us a little leeway on those pesky EPA inspections, this document might get buried in a file cabinet, never to be seen."

That's why you can't have a president subject to secret agreements with corporations.
posted by JackFlash at 11:31 AM on December 6, 2019 [40 favorites]


If you have the qualifications to get that job, you have many more opportunities than just “evil” work options, which is the assertion my comment was in reference to.

Yeah, if you can get a job at Mckinsey, you could've got a less evil job. However, Mckinsey is not the end all of evil jobs. There are many evil jobs that are less selective than both Mckinsey, and meaningful paid non-evil work. The Mckinsey cohort aren't without choice. The rest of us though?
posted by Dysk at 11:31 AM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


If McKinsey and/or Mayor Pete were proud of what he'd done in his time there, McKinsey would have dissolved the NDA months ago. The positive PR would have been priceless.

The fact that the NDA stands means there's stuff he knows or did that they don't want going public. So yeah, I'm content to nail him to the wall over it, even if "certain branches" of McKinsey are doing good.
posted by explosion at 11:33 AM on December 6, 2019 [16 favorites]


I thought that people are criticizing Pete for not talking about his time at McKinsey enough. Because he signed a NDA, he can't talk about specifics, including the clients he worked for.

Okay, two and a half things about that.

1) If he actually wants to break that NDA, what's McKinsey going to do about it?
2) You don't make your people sign an NDA forbidding them from disclosing your clients because you're afraid that the world will find out that you did work for Puppy Rescues, Inc.

I think the reality is that if you are about to graduate college, it's hard to find a job that on one hand makes good use of your degree, but on the other hand isn't evil in some way.

He was a Rhodes. Scholar. in the process of joining the Navy and had worked for the Cohen Group. He turned down a job with the 2004 Obama Senate campaign. He was not, in any sense of the word, desperate for options.
posted by Etrigan at 11:34 AM on December 6, 2019 [39 favorites]


Not to defend McKinsey because I dislike them immensely, but they can’t just dissolve NDAs with employees no matter how good it would make them look. Those NDAs are back to back with their clients and if they could unilaterally dissolve them at will, who would ever hire them?

The best they could do is ask a client if they were able to be used as a reference. This is standard in consulting.

Note: I am NOT a fan of McKinsey at all.
posted by frumiousb at 4:18 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


If he actually wants to break that NDA, what's McKinsey going to do about it?

Er... sue him? And win? If your immediate reaction is ‘but surely McKinsey wouldn’t sue a presidential candidate, what about the terrible PR’, I think you’re overestimating how much McKinsey cares about PR, as evidenced by this very post.
posted by inire at 4:29 PM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


Not to defend McKinsey because I dislike them immensely, but they can’t just dissolve NDAs with employees no matter how good it would make them look. Those NDAs are back to back with their clients and if they could unilaterally dissolve them at will, who would ever hire them?

I'm pretty sure they could dissolve them if both they and the employee wanted to, which I assume was the original point.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 4:38 PM on December 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


He was a Rhodes. Scholar. in the process of joining the Navy and had worked for the Cohen Group. He turned down a job with the 2004 Obama Senate campaign. He was not, in any sense of the word, desperate for options.

And even if he was, it would be an entirely different story if he talked at length about his shame and regret about his former job and what he has done and will do to fight those horrors.

Right now, Mayor Pete just looks like another McKinsey cryptofascist.
posted by Ouverture at 4:49 PM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure they could dissolve them if both they and the employee wanted to, which I assume was the original point.

No, they like could not. McKinsey literally does nothing but client work. If they dissolve the NDA with a coworker, they are probably in violation of their client NDAs. This is how it works.

That would not necessarily stop him from talking in general terms about what he did, but privacy is part of what you buy from the Firm.
posted by frumiousb at 4:54 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Right now, Mayor Pete just looks like another McKinsey cryptofascist.

‘Cryptofascist’ and ‘capitalist’ are not the same thing, despite the number of Metafilter zingers stating otherwise (and despite both being bad, to varying degrees).
posted by inire at 4:58 PM on December 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Not to defend McKinsey because I dislike them immensely, but they can’t just dissolve NDAs with employees no matter how good it would make them look.

Fine, if that is the way it is. Too bad for Buttigieg, but he made his choices. This should disqualify him from president. He can go back to being mayor of the fourth largest city in Indiana.
posted by JackFlash at 5:47 PM on December 6, 2019 [12 favorites]


‘Cryptofascist’ and ‘capitalist’ are not the same thing, despite the number of Metafilter zingers stating otherwise (and despite both being bad, to varying degrees).

I consider the optimization of the caging and deportation of people based on nationality and race, even if it is in service of the almighty KPI, a form of fascism. That's not even going into their horrifying work for the Saudis:
The limitations of this model came into sharp focus recently, with the revelation that McKinsey may have inadvertently played a role in Saudi Arabia’s mistreatment of critics. On October 20th, the Times reported that the government of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had employed operatives to harass dissidents, including the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was allegedly murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, on October 2nd. The article included the revelation that McKinsey had prepared a nine-page report measuring the public perception of certain Saudi economic policies, and cited three individuals who were driving much of the largely negative coverage on Twitter: a Saudi Arabia-based writer named Khalid al-Alkami, a dissident living in Canada named Omar Abdulaziz, and an anonymous writer. After the report was created, Al-Alkami was arrested, and Abdulaziz’s brothers living in Saudi Arabia were put in prison. The anonymous Twitter channel was shut down.
Of course, if you want to say that fascism, imperialism, and capitalism go nicely hand in hand, I'm with you there.
posted by Ouverture at 6:01 PM on December 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


If he actually wants to break that NDA, what's McKinsey going to do about it?

Er... sue him? And win? If your immediate reaction is ‘but surely McKinsey wouldn’t sue a presidential candidate, what about the terrible PR’, I think you’re overestimating how much McKinsey cares about PR, as evidenced by this very post.


I want more transparency from candidates. I don't think that it is too much to ask for Trump's tax returns and I don't think that it's too much to ask for Buttigieg's employment history. Presumably the presidency is more valuable to him than the NDA but wants to have it both ways. He should disclose, whether they sue him or not. It is not my fault as a voter that he engaged in secretive and possibly embarrassingly shady business. It is my demand as voter to know where his money comes from and what he did to earn it if I am being asked to support him.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:07 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


I consider the optimization of the caging and deportation of people based on nationality and race, even if it is in service of the almighty KPI, a form of fascism.

Totally. The distinction I was drawing is that these are specific projects, worked on by specific people. Is McKinsey as an organisation involved in cryptofascist projects? Yes. Does that mean everyone who works for McKinsey is a cryptofascist, including those whose role consists of finding ever more complex ways to say FIRE UR STAFF 4 PROFIT? No.
posted by inire at 6:21 PM on December 6, 2019


It's funny--hilarious even--to be talking about Buttigieg as a possible Democratic candidate. I'm old enough to remember when he's what we used to call a Republican.

It's a weird thing that when the GOP has gone so far into cloud cuckoo land that actual conservatives can nestle straight into the right flanks of the Democratic primary--I don't even have to mention the billionaire vanity campaigns, do I?--but here we are.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:27 PM on December 6, 2019 [14 favorites]


If he actually wants to break that NDA, what's McKinsey going to do about it?

Er... sue him? And win?


Define "win". Is a judge going to rule that everyone pretend not to know which clients Buttigieg worked for? Will the Seventh Circuit Time Machine be fired up to enforce the retroactive injunction on the statement he will have already released summarizing the work he did? If he wanted it done, he would have done it.
posted by Etrigan at 9:27 PM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


He was a Rhodes. Scholar. in the process of joining the Navy and had worked for the Cohen Group. He turned down a job with the 2004 Obama Senate campaign. He was not, in any sense of the word, desperate for options.

As someone who also knew folks who went to consulting out of college, they were all of a fairly specific type: smartish, but kind of without direction; politically disinterested or vaguely conservative; drawn as avalonian says to an easy "menu" option that paid well and had some apparent cache, was a bit more interesting than i-banking, but fundamentally was just a paycheck while either they figured out their purpose, or gradually forgot that such things exist. But Buttigieg even then doesn't really seem to fit that mold -- he seemed to have more direction, and options. How many Rhodes scholars even end up in something so anodyne after graduating? Maybe I just experienced a biased sample, but does anyone know more concretely why he took that of all the possible jobs he could have pursued? Just the money?
posted by chortly at 10:05 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Define "win". Is a judge going to rule that everyone pretend not to know which clients Buttigieg worked for? Will the Seventh Circuit Time Machine be fired up to enforce the retroactive injunction on the statement he will have already released summarizing the work he did? If he wanted it done, he would have done it.

‘Win’ is defined as the court deciding in the favour of one of the parties (in this case McKinsey), as in every piece of litigation. I imagine, speaking as someone not familiar with US law but extrapolating from UK law, that the remedy is unlikely to include something that would have no practical effect (so no injunctions if the information is already widely publicly available), which probably leaves monetary damages, which are likely to be steep (assuming they’re based on the NDA clause re penalties for breach).

Of course that doesn’t make it literally impossible to put the information out there, but it’s not clear the benefits outweigh the costs unless this starts turning into a ‘but her emails!’-type issue, which it’s currently nowhere near, or unless the information released would have a meaningful positive impact on his campaign, which seems unlikely (not because his work necessarily consisted of teaching fascists how to fash better, but because his work probably resulted in people getting fired, in which case releasing the information would just give his primary opponents a larger and more clearly defined stick with which to beat him).
posted by inire at 2:01 AM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Sure, sure, sure clients get an NDA and protection from judges

Workers get interrogated on the depth of their strike fund on camera to the national media

We re all equals, yeah.
posted by eustatic at 5:11 AM on December 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


What s most disturbing about that clip is that Buttigieg seemingly doesn't know how to turn off "management consultant robot" and act like a normal human even when he s campaigning.
posted by eustatic at 5:15 AM on December 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think I’ve told this story before here, but here goes again. About a decade ago, my employer (large R1 university) hired McKinsey to look at our financial and administrative systems for inefficiencies whatever other reason they needed to cut benefits and increase bureaucracy. As a department chair at the time I had to attend a meeting of chairs with two of McKinsey’s highly paid, overdressed, arrogant, and ignorant consultants, who seemed both to know nothing about how a university works or what research is, and not to give a shit (which may have been my bosses’ plan, “like a business” dontcha know, “non-profit” my ass). Ten minutes into a two hour meeting, one of the two fell asleep and remained that way for the entire rest of the meeting, while the other furiously texted away on her iPhone the whole time even when she was being addressed with comments.

Best and brightest my ass. I’ve taught for a quarter century at an Ivy league school, which means I’ve seen many students who go on into management consulting. They tend to be the most arrogant, overweeningly ambitious, shallow students. I can spot them in two minutes in a first class session, sitting in a cynical group. They definitely aren’t the best and brightest. They do tend to be white, upper middle class, and privileged, while also clueless about that.

I have never believed the McKinsey mythology. And when I learned Mayor Pete was Harvard/McKinsey my bile got the better of me. No way, dude, I don’t care if you fought the battle of Fallujah single handedly. I know your type. Grade grubbers.
posted by spitbull at 7:50 AM on December 7, 2019 [19 favorites]


Or as a Navajo elder once told me, “‘non-profit’ is white man double talk for ‘nice house, nice car, nice office, and no taxes.’”
posted by spitbull at 7:55 AM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


According to this quora answer, management consulting is the most common career choice among Rhodes scholars after graduating. But the most common path is to continue going to school.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 10:49 AM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]




According to this quora answer, management consulting is the most common career choice among Rhodes scholars after graduating.

It's not just Rhodes scholars. Fully 25% of all Harvard and Yale graduates go into finance or consulting. That's an astonishing number. You could burn both institutions to the ground and the world would be an objectively better place.
posted by JackFlash at 11:02 AM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


Mayo Pete puts out vague descriptions of his McKinsey projects.

My predictions/assumptions/gleaming insights:

Nonprofit + savings = layoffs
Nonprofit + research = pay for more management consulting
Nonprofit + opportunities = selling public resources to, or buying stuff from private companies
Business + savings = layoffs
Business + opportunites = selling cheaper products
Iraq/Afgh + entrepreneurship = disaster capitalism
posted by rhizome at 12:15 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I knew that lots of folks coming out of the ivies went into finance or consulting, but I didn't realize Rhodes scholars also represented this particular sub-population -- I'd had some vague sense that they were more interesting than the most vapid 25% of Harvard or Yale. But I suppose the quora answer, if we take it as representative, suggests that a similar minority of the Rhodes scholars take this path -- those with absolutely no idea or interest in what they do next, an even more squandered potential than those choosing it straight out of Harvard.
posted by chortly at 12:31 PM on December 7, 2019


No one's mentioned this yet but the most common line defending his time at McKinsey is that he worked for a Canadian grocery chain. Folks on Twitter have been putting timelines together and it implicates him pretty hard in the bread price fixing scandal. I know Canada is like a weird fake America to most of you, but taking bread out of the mouths of poor kids is pretty over the line imo.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:47 PM on December 7, 2019 [8 favorites]


I am pretty darn middle class, with a public school education and BA and MS from the wrong kind of places by McKinsey standards, but I found my way to Duke for my PhD. Every semester, we got emails about McKinsey recruiters being on campus to hire people for "consulting careers, all degrees, all majors". I had no clue what that meant, but environmental consulting (i.e., the people who come in and help your city make a watershed-scale water quality improvement plan) was one possibility I was considering, so I figured I could google McKinsey and find out about their environmental consulting work.

It quickly became clear that the kind of "consulting" they did bore no resemblance to my interests, and that contrary to all reason, the "consulting" work required no expertise in the area that they were "consulting" in. They literally wanted Duke grads so that they could tell their clients that their employee went to Duke. That was it. That was what they were recruiting for.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:00 AM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


From February, an insider talks about McKinsey “the willing executioners of capital”
posted by The Whelk at 6:55 AM on December 8, 2019


As a department chair at the time I had to attend a meeting of chairs with two of McKinsey’s highly paid, overdressed, arrogant, and ignorant consultants, who seemed both to know nothing about how a university works or what research is,
This reminded me of a different firm at a different Ivy where they were too lazy to even rewrite their boilerplate reports to remove references to our quarterly sales, stock market performance, etc. even after having it noted that these made no sense for us.

The saddest part is that I wouldn’t say they weren’t useful despite all of that: senior management was basically paying a bunch of recent graduates to talk with staff and report what had been getting buried by the middle management layer. Because these were bright young things from the right schools with expensive suits they were taken seriously as they repeated things staff had been saying for years. That’s far from how it should work but the alternative were more failures caused by attempts to hide problems.
posted by adamsc at 10:36 AM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


the "consulting" work required no expertise in the area that they were "consulting" in.

If you look at all of these projects, they're all basically word problems to the consultants, to which they apply canonical principles of business/management/etc. to...whatever. It's the hammer-nail metaphor writ large (to the tune of zillion dollar contracts). Business needs money? Fire people, lower product quality. They're a non-profit? Fire people and contract the remainder out to a for-profit company (preferably their friends').

So on and so forth, get your Conjoined Triangles of Success and point them at every hypothetical you can find, even when they're real peoples' jobs. I wouldn't be surprised if within the disciplines that this is seen as one of the cushiest of all jobs, where you get to treat everything as a textbook example, without real world nuance, no domain knowledge necessary, just supply-demand and AR/AP and payroll. You have a Masters in Business Administration? Sign right here.
posted by rhizome at 3:19 PM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


Totally. The distinction I was drawing is that these are specific projects, worked on by specific people. Is McKinsey as an organisation involved in cryptofascist projects? Yes. Does that mean everyone who works for McKinsey is a cryptofascist, including those whose role consists of finding ever more complex ways to say FIRE UR STAFF 4 PROFIT? No.

One bad apple (or in this case, cost center) spoils the bunch, especially when it comes to cryptofascist work of putting people into camps.
posted by Ouverture at 9:17 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


They literally wanted Duke grads so that they could tell their clients that their employee went to Duke. That was it. That was what they were recruiting for.

Came here to say this. AT LEAST 25% of my grad cohort went into consulting of some flavor, and this is literally all these firms are selling: a CYA policy for upper management to make decisions they already know they want to, but now can't be raked over the coals for because they can back it up with a report from a pedigreed Benetton model who has applied A RiGOrOuS MeThOdOLoGy to your heart-rending dilemma wherein those pesky employees and their silly benefits are interfering with your profit margins. They're paid to manufacture elaborate excuses, framed in the correct sort of corporate six-sigma synergy jargon to get it past the board, to further screw over working people. Many are indeed very bright, but that's not what makes them good at this particular job. I mostly see their proliferation as a symptom of the bass-ackward short-termist thinking which has invaded the public and the private sector at every level. What's $3M in fees now when you're going to save one hundred times that over the next ten years through the benefits and personnel cuts they just sold you? The company might not survive but you'll be gone by then.

The ones I know or have known who actually had a strong sense of principle or direction hit the eject button pretty quickly, frequently joining smaller organizations outside major metros. Maybe Buttigieg truly had a similar sort of come-to-Jesus which led him to public service, but that he apparently believes his time at McKinsey is a net positive on his CV makes me less than optimistic about that.
posted by peakes at 10:29 AM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]


I didn't realize Rhodes scholars also represented this particular sub-population -- I'd had some vague sense that they were more interesting than the most vapid 25% of Harvard or Yale.

rhodes scholarship selection criteria include "sympathy for and protection of the weak" --which, some would say, deliberately rules out "the weak" from being under serious consideration, since it is their self-appointed protectors who are appealed to -- and "instincts to lead," which is the will to power in other words.

interesting is not the first word that I think of when I think of Cecil Rhodes. though I am sure there are as many as several decent and interesting Rhodes scholars, not all of whom succumb to the ideology of leadership training or wish to inherit anything more from him than his scholarship funds.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:40 PM on December 9, 2019 [6 favorites]


Does that mean everyone who works for McKinsey is a cryptofascist, including those whose role consists of finding ever more complex ways to say FIRE UR STAFF 4 PROFIT? No.

Does that matter? No.
posted by PMdixon at 7:55 PM on December 9, 2019




Does that matter? No.

By all means, let's treat cryptofascists as no different from (and thus no worse than) garden-variety capitalist assholes. I'm sure that won't have any unfortunate normalising effects.
posted by inire at 4:57 AM on December 10, 2019


McKinsey is in no way shape or form garden variety. They are the gardeners.
posted by PMdixon at 5:19 AM on December 10, 2019


There's probably an extended metaphorical discussion to be had around whether those engaging McKinsey are the garden (being reshaped by McKinsey) or the garden owners (directing McKinsey's pruning of the workforce) or a combination of both (demonstrating the limits of metaphor-based discussion), but I don't know anything about gardening, so I'll nip that approach in the bud.

Anyway, my point was that much of McKinsey's work is part and parcel of the normal operations of the machinery of capital, the badness of which is different in kind (and arguably in degree) from that of fascism, crypto- or otherwise. Lumping them together is fine if you want something to shake your fist at in a general way, or because you're drawing out similarities. But I get the feeling that when people equate capitalists to fascists, they tend to do so because they think that this comparison will open people's eyes to how bad capitalism really is, when in fact it's just as capable of diluting the force of the 'fascism' label and making people think that fascism is bad in an ordinary sort of way (or even not so bad at all), which seems counter-productive.
posted by inire at 5:42 AM on December 10, 2019


I'm not sure I believe that fascism is different in kind from capitalism. I honestly see it as an outgrowth of capitalism.

The more I learn, the more it seems like capital drives colonialism, which is merely displaced fascism. Capital will oppose and try to overthrow any society or government that supports improving the welfare of marginalized peoples, as the ability to push people to the margins is an important tool of capital. Eventually the capitalists turn the same tools on their own society, resulting in what we call fascism. Fascism seems inevitable when we prioritize the growth of capital.
posted by Wilbefort at 7:57 AM on December 10, 2019 [4 favorites]


Fascism is a political philosophy, capitalism is an economic system. They both rely on faith that each is the only key to success in their respective milieus, but the connection pretty much ends there as I see it. I would agree that they have a particularly effective symbiosis, but capitalism isn't required for fascism to succeed, nor vice versa.

Anyway, my point was that much of McKinsey's work is part and parcel of the normal operations of the machinery of capital

This is probably a difference of opinion on what "part and parcel" should signify, but I see management consulting to be a parasitic layer over capitalism that uses money to paste over problems in a business that would otherwise cause it to fail, which in most cases they probably should. MC fuels the regression to the mean in business operations and may even be responsible for the Walmarts and Amazons that pee in the world's mouth (not kinkshaming). Does anybody think Sam Walton and Bezos were magically born with the ability to run a machine that generates a billion dollars a day? Nope, they have both required lots and lots of corporate mercenaries along the way, and Amazon would just be a pretty good Powell's competitor without them.

The McKinseys of the world don't stop there, though: we see from the information so far that they help hack policy outcomes, too. Overall, management consulting reminds me of Corbin Bernsen's Dr. Finestone from The Dentist: they never fail to find an infection that needs to be removed ASAP, even if they have to imagine it.
posted by rhizome at 10:33 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


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