Reject the McKinsey Mindset

A commitment to free markets in the abstract does not oblige conservatives to defend McKinsey in particular

The trouble with socialism is socialism,” said Willi Schlamm, a former National Review contributor. “The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.” Conservatives, confronting the conundrum of woke capitalism, have had especial reason to consider this adage of late. Examples have abounded, but one pithy expression of woke capitalism was a letter, signed by hundreds of corporations and executives and published in the New York Times in mid April, reflexively and baselessly condemning election-integrity legislation such as that passed by the Georgia legislature.

Among the signatories was McKinsey & Company, the consulting behemoth. Its employees are hired the world over, ostensibly to improve other organizations’ internal operations. But the true nature of the company, as well as its recent history, gives its presence on that list an irony dark enough to be worth singling out even among the many corporate hypocrites and virtue-signalers who signed that letter.

McKinsey is one of the premier firms in the consulting world, with annual revenue of $10 billion and 2,600 partners. Its business model is more or less that of a typical consulting firm: Its employees parachute in to an enterprise that has decided itself needful of improvement, study that enterprise’s operations and imbibe its goals, then advise it on how best to go about achieving those goals. With such a remit comes quite an ego; ergo, McKinsey employees, whether consciously or not, partake of the essence of a kind of technocratic capitalism that can be difficult to distinguish from its public-sector counterpart. “Its partners like to think of themselves as the smartest guys in the room,” as The Economist put it. The best and the brightest, you might say. And with that tendency comes an inclination to view one’s fellow humans in the abstract, as cogs in various machines — projection, perhaps, on the part of many consultants who are themselves cogs in a machine.

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