Is McKinsey & Company the deep state?
Book review: When McKinsey Comes to Town
I. The McKinsey business model
I just finished reading When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm. It’s a revelation. The authors, Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe, investigative reporters for the NY Times, break new ground by interviewing whistleblowers inside the company, obtaining previously unseen internal documents, and reviewing legal filings in connection with one of the world’s most secretive companies. I’m particularly interested in this book as a work of political economy that explains how our society got turned into a hyper-competitive neoliberal hellscape engaged in genocide against its own citizens.
The business model of McKinsey is wild — it’s a cartel, but the product that they monopolize in order to restrict supply and drive up prices is smart people. McKinsey has an elaborate recruitment process, interviewing and hiring the best-of-the-best from the nation’s elite colleges and business schools.
McKinsey is looking for Brahmins — those for whom solving complex problems and excelling in athletics comes easily. To secure their top picks, McKinsey interviews early in the fall semester of a student’s final year, makes the largest monetary offers, and is skilled at closing the recruits they have selected.
Smart people alone are not enough to generate huge profits though. McKinsey’s secret sauce is that they have figured out how to strip these smart, young, idealistic people of ethics over the course of a few years and turn them into stone cold killers on behalf of capital.
McKinsey’s pitch to recruits is filled with high-minded rhetoric about changing the world for the better. But performance is measured by revenue generated… and the worst clients (tobacco, opioids, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, etc.) pay the highest fees.
Consultants are told that they can refuse any project that might conflict with their values. But consultants who spend too much time “on the beach” waiting for the next assignment end up being “encouraged to leave” at their annual performance review.
McKinsey claims that when it advises companies, governments, NGOs, etc. “we don’t do policy, we do execution.” That allows them to work for anyone while sidestepping any questions of conscience or morality.
Think about how this leads to the hollowing out of society. In a former era, managers and workers lived in the same community, making it difficult to lay off people one sees every day and goes to church with on Sunday. But with the emergence of management consultants, CEOs can bring in McKinsey, have them lay people off, cut salaries, and contract out core services without ever having to look their employees in the eyes. The Board of Directors is delighted. No one takes responsibility for the cuts. Everyone takes credit for the increased share price. Ethics and empathy are a distant memory.
Lest any CEO think that they can resist these pressures to maximize profits by any means necessary, McKinsey makes it clear that they will sell their services to any company in that industry — so CEOs who do not utilize their talents may soon be shown the door by their boards. Beneath any high-minded talk about efficiency, the pitch from McKinsey to CEOs also contains an unspoken threat, ‘That’s a nice corner office you’ve got there, it’d be a shame if someone else was sitting in it.’
McKinsey claims that it avoids conflicts of interest by keeping each individual project in its own silo, secret even from other consultants within the firm. But like so many things that McKinsey says, this is disingenuous. Individual consultants go back and forth between different projects, carrying institutional knowledge and relationships with them. As the book makes clear, in the pharmaceutical space, McKinsey pitches corporate clients on their relationships with FDA insiders. Furthermore one can deduce who a consultant is working for by looking at revenue generated and travel schedule. The company is filled with hyper-competitive Brahmins — they are more than capable of figuring out who their colleagues are working for, particularly if it gives them an advantage.
II. McKinsey’s crimes against humanity
When McKinsey Comes to Town walks through a series of high profile crimes against humanity caused by McKinsey’s advice.
In the opening chapter, co-author Walt Bogdanich describes how McKinsey cost-cutting at the steel plant in his hometown (where he once worked) led to workers’ (often gruesome) fatalities.
When McKinsey advised Disney to cut back and reorganize the safety inspections on their amusement park rides it led to guests’ deaths at the “Happiest place on Earth.”
McKinsey helped Big Tobacco figure out how to manipulate nicotine levels to make their products more addictive — long after it was clear that cigarette smoking causes cancer. And then McKinsey helped Juul and other vaping companies deliver nicotine without tobacco and get people hooked (including teenagers) before the FDA could step in to regulate it.
During the Trump administration, McKinsey helped Immigration and Customs Enforcement reduce costs in the detention of immigrant children by cutting back on minimum standards for food and shelter.
McKinsey worked with Purdue Pharma to “turbocharge” sales of OcyContin (extended release heroin). As part of that contract, McKinsey proposed that Purdue rebate $14,810 to CVS (another McKinsey client) for every overdose attributable to the pills they sold thus compensating CVS for every lost customer. McKinsey also advised J&J that supplied the raw ingredients for OxyContin from genetically engineered Tasmanian poppies that are “particularly rich in opioids.” In an extreme conflict of interest, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, that regulates prescription opioids, was also a McKinsey client.
As part of its work for the Saudi government, McKinsey partnered with Cambridge Analytica to analyze social media to identify opponents of the regime. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman then used that map to target dissidents which eventually led to the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post opinion columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
When one pulls back the curtain (via the courts, bankruptcy proceedings, or whistleblowers) on one corporate scandal after another, one finds McKinsey lurking in the shadows.
The individual scandals are so sensational that it would be easy to miss the bigger picture. The important thing to understand is that McKinsey works for EVERY major player in every sector of the economy — governments, regulatory agencies, municipalities, militaries, intelligence agencies, international organizations, companies, non-profits, the arts & culture, media, and philanthropies. In the process they reshape the entire global economy… to serve McKinsey.
In the short term, capital likes this because now the 30,000 smartest people in the world dedicate their lives to increasing profits. But this is a nightmare for actual humans as McKinsey hollows out the entire global economy. The result is that work speeds up, leisure time shrinks, performance demands increase, inequality skyrockets, people become stressed out, and society becomes hyper-competitive. The average citizen ends up miserable and a handful of people in the ruling class are delighted.
Because of the work of McKinsey and other management consultants we now live in an Economic Hunger Games while being told that this is the best of all possible worlds. And it is important to underscore the point that McKinsey does not care if systems break (including the global capitalist system). Economic chaos just generates more clients and more revenue for McKinsey.
III. Is McKinsey & Company the deep state?
Traditional accounts of the deep state (Steve Bannon is probably the best popularizer of the idea) portray it as a group of bureaucrats burrowed deep within government agencies who cannot be identified nor fired, who work to expand their own power at the expense of the nation’s well-being.
The administrative state is horrible and it deserves to be called out. The next President can and should cut the administrative state in half (one could do so with no loss in services). But reading When McKinsey Comes to Town I realized that management consultants likely make up a larger share of the deep state than bureaucrats.
I’ve built a table to illustrate my point:
If one wants to take over the world, one would much rather be McKinsey than a bureaucrat inside the federal government.
Bureaucrats inside the federal government work with McKinsey and are part of the deep state along with other management consultants, intelligence agencies, large hedge funds, etc. But one can make a strong case that McKinsey is driving the action.
As an anonymous former McKinsey consultant quoted in When McKinsey Comes to Town said:
To those convinced that a secretive cabal controls the world, the usual suspects are Illuminati, Lizard People, or ‘globalists.’ They are wrong, naturally. There is no secret society shaping every major decision and determining the direction of human history. There is, however, McKinsey & Company.
Bogdanich and Forsythe continue:
The consultant used humor to make a point, a serious point: McKinsey has an unseen presence inside the world’s most consequential companies and government. (p. 278)
IV. McKinsey’s role in the iatrogenocide (this is not in the book, this is my extrapolation of the authors’ insights to the industry that I know best)
In the movement for medical freedom lots of independent research has shown that all of the contracts for the iatrogenocide run through the U.S. Department of Defense (Katherine Watt and Sasha Latypova have done excellent work on this).
But DoD is relatively incompetent (see: Vietnam) and the iatrogenocide has been implemented with ruthless efficiency. How should we understand McKinsey’s role in the iatrogenocide?
Here are the dots that I have so far (and please add more links in the comments if you have them):
McKinsey advises the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Clinton Global Initiative, the World Health Organization, The Global Alliance on Vaccines & Immunization, the Global Fund, UNITAID, and Partners in Health.
McKinsey advises every major pharmaceutical company.
McKinsey advises the regulators — FDA, CDC, NIH, and HHS.
McKinsey advises military contractors and the U.S. Department of Defense, CIA, NSA, DHS, CBP, and FBI.
In the first few months of the pandemic, McKinsey secured $100 million in U.S. government contracts to give advice on how to respond to Covid.
McKinsey designed the vaccine rollout in France.
Gavin Newsom gave McKinsey a $13 million no-bid contract to design the vaccine rollout for California (along with Blue Shield that received $15 million, also no-bid). Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, and Virginia also hired McKinsey as did Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and St. Louis. If you’re wondering why the pandemic response looked the same all across the country, it’s because the plans likely all came from the same McKinsey slide deck.
It wasn’t just McKinsey though. The vaccine rollout nationwide was crawling with management consultants. BCG made $165 million consulting for the Department of Health and Human Services during the first 18-months of the pandemic. BCG worked on vaccine planning in 11 states. Deloitte worked in 10 states. Accenture, Bain, Dalberg, and PwC also got a piece of that cheddar.
Pandemics in general and vaccines in particular are a dream come true for management consultants. Fear facilitates large, fast, no-bid contracts with murky performance objectives. Vaccine rollout requires massive coordination between the public and private sector — which is right in McKinsey’s wheelhouse. And when the campaign is a disaster that destroys public health and leaves the global economy in ruins (which is what happened), that’s even better, because it creates endless new consulting opportunities for McKinsey (secret contracts enable McKinsey to keep their failures secret too). Win, win, win!
V. Were the lockdowns McKinsey’s idea?
Jeffrey Tucker, President of the Brownstone Institute, has done important forensic work to figure out the timeline of exactly when Trump caved and decided to allow lockdowns nationwide.
On March 9, 2020, Trump was still of the opinion that Covid could be handled by normal means.
By March 11, 2020, Trump flipped and was now pushing for martial law to contain the virus.
Someone got to Trump on or before March 10, 2020.
When McKinsey Comes to Town provides a tantalizing new clue about what may have happened. Vice President Mike Pence was running the White House Coronavirus Task Force. But Trump’s son in law, Jared Kushner, built his own “shadow task force on Covid that included private industry and ‘a suite of McKinsey consultants’” (p. 72).
According to the Washington Post:
Some members of Kushner’s team are working out of offices on the seventh floor of Health and Human Services headquarters — one floor above the office of HHS secretary Alex Azar — while others are working out of an office in the West Wing of the White House, officials said.
The presence of Kushner’s team inside HHS is intriguing because McKinsey was already working for HHS before the pandemic started.
The Economist magazine is the Bible for McKinsey consultants. The Economist published the now-infamous “flatten the curve” graph on February 29, 2020 with the headline, “Covid-19 is now in 50 countries, and things will get worse: But there are proven ways to limit the damage.” Their recommendation?
With SARS-CoV-2 now spread around the world, the aim of public-health policy, whether at the city, national or global scale, is to flatten the curve, spreading the infections out over time.
The print edition of The Economist would have arrived in consultants’ mailboxes a few days later. They would have seen it or read it because it was everywhere. Somehow between February 29, 2020 and March 11, 2020, this idea became Trump’s new approach to the pandemic. The question is whether Kushner’s “suite of McKinsey consultants” was the delivery vehicle for this idea?
But my hunch, and it’s just a hunch at this point, is that McKinsey’s influence on the pandemic response goes well beyond this ill-advised graph.
When you think about it, the entire cockamamie pandemic response — 15 days to flatten the curve, six feet social distancing, plexiglass in stores, masks, Operation Warp Speed, mRNA, You are not a horse! — is the sort of whiz-bang sciency-sounding but not actually scientific advice that is McKinsey’s stock-in-trade.
Or said differently, the entire ridiculous pandemic response is exactly what one would expect if one asked MBAs with massive financial conflicts of interest to come up with a pandemic response — and they secretly designed it to enrich all of the different pieces of their far-flung global network.
We’ll likely never know the full extent of McKinsey’s involvement in the iatrogenocide. McKinsey’s contracts are secret and no one has an interest in confessing to one of the most egregious crimes in history. But everything about the pandemic response felt corporate, and not just corporate but cut-throat management consulting corporate.
As others have pointed out, the pandemic response was a well-executed business plan; public health was the pretext, not the goal. When one follows the money, a lot of it leads back to McKinsey and the corporations and institutions that McKinsey advises.
McKinsey presents itself as a quintessential American success story. Its own internal documents compare the culture of McKinsey to the Catholic Church (self-awareness and humility are not McKinsey’s strong suits).
I see McKinsey as a uniquely American tragedy. The people who work for McKinsey do not make anything other than profits. Pulling the 30,000 most promising young people out of society and turning them into mercenaries for capital is catastrophic for the United States and the world. The opportunity cost is the inventions that never happen, the statesmen who never lead, the peace treaties never negotiated, the literature that is never written, the canvases that are never painted.
But it’s so much worse than that. McKinsey has amassed great wealth and power. They could use that for good. Talent is not evenly distributed across the population. It behooves society to have the “best and brightest” apply their talents to something other than enriching themselves at the expense of others. Instead, power has corrupted McKinsey and they have used their talents to turn the entire world economy into a funnel that sends money into their own pockets.
McKinsey consultants of course would dispute all of this. They would claim that if they did not advise these companies, others would; that unprofitable companies hurt society too; and that they really do make the world better through asking questions that help leaders to better understand themselves. But as Derrick Jensen points out, one can only judge the merits of others’ claims based on their actions, and the actions that we can see from McKinsey are horrifying.
When I was working on my doctoral thesis on the political economy of autism, I had a contact inside McKinsey. My plan was to get my Ph.D. and then make the following pitch: “Vaccines make Pharma rich but they are going to bankrupt every other company across the economy; the costs of autism are so enormous that they will literally cause the collapse of global capitalism in our lifetime. [All of this is objectively and demonstrably true.] So let’s work together to build a coalition of companies (McKinsey clients) to withdraw these toxic shots from the market.”
I was so naïve. The more chaos, collapse, and disease caused by vaccines — to societies, companies, and governments — the more opportunities that creates for McKinsey to increase its wealth and power. McKinsey does not fear collapse, it welcomes it, even if that means the collapse of capitalism itself. We really do live in an upside down world given that I’m trying to save capitalism and McKinsey is not.
As it turns out I never got to make my pitch. My contact inside McKinsey called me a “child murderer” for even inquiring into the possible causes of autism. He never read my thesis. The McKinsey brainwashing was complete, my contact was gone. In the meantime McKinsey has made hundreds of millions of dollars off of the global iatrogenocide with many billions of dollars more to come as society sags and then collapses from the weight of vaccine injury.
If we are to survive as a species, we’re going to need to find an alternative to McKinsey. Not just the company, but the values, the short-term self-interested thinking, the elaborate layers of self-deception, the high-minded rhetoric that masks deep-seated pathologies. We’re going to need an alternative to the entire meritocratic system that has been captured, hollowed out, and corrupted by predatory capital. We’re going to have to wrest our societal conception of the good, the true, and the beautiful away from those who have squandered their talents on serving the Golden Calf. We’re going to have to rebuild a society based on ethics, empathy, love, and actual science from the ashes of the world destroyed by McKinsey & Company.
Blessings to the warriors. 🙌
Prayers for everyone fighting to stop the iatrogenocide. 🙏
Huzzah for everyone building the alternative society our hearts know is possible. ✊
In the comments, please let me know what’s on your mind.
As always, I welcome any corrections.