Perhaps a series in the making?
I was trolling around Wikipedia late at night as I am wont to do on occasion and stumbled upon this fascinating (really!) entry for Boston Consulting Group, a firm dedicated to the dark arts of management consulting. Management consultants, for those of you who have never had corporate experience, are the engineers of Big Capital. They come in with a toolkit filled with buzzwords and best practices, making businesses more efficient by homogenizing them, and then charging a hefty fee. They’re those guys in Office Space who interview everyone to find out who to fire. They are also responsible for “strategy” (the military metaphor is not a coincidence), and thus are a prime site to analyze ideology, particularly the stories Capital tells and sells to itself, fantasies of frictionless accumulation, endless growth curves, and workers who approximate Sims characters in their malleability. These are terrible people who hold terrible meetings.
And in apparently terrible places to work — can you imagine walking down the hallways with people who invent terms like “globality”? It’s like hanging around with dozens of yammering Tom Friedmans. BCG prides itself on its “employee-focused culture” (translation: one helluva boozy holiday party), and landed on Fortune’s “Best Places to Work” list, the only management consulting firm to do so. Tokenism? I’m sure Fortune’s editorial board is the picture of objectivity.
BCG’s major innovation is applying the “experience curve,” which says that the more a company does something, the more efficient it gets. Thus, businesses should “capitalize on” (funny how that is always a synonym for “take advantage of”) these trends by always making more of whatever crap they make — pencils, cars, TPS reports. The prime source of efficiency comes from the workers themselves, who “become physically more dexterous. They become mentally more confident and spend less time hesitating, learning, experimenting, or making mistakes. Over time they learn short-cuts and improvements.” In short, they become more and more a smooth operating circuit inside a business: their bodies and minds steadily conform to the needs of their corporate overseers. And they produce more, though we shouldn’t presume that more productive workers are better compensated; these savings translate into profit and increased market dominance. All for an idea that says “whatever you do, do it more.” People talk about making an “ethical capitalism” and this is precisely why they are mistaken: Capital has decades of experience doing what it must always do, which is grow and conquer. There is no space for “sustainability” (a term that sounds suspiciously like management consultant jargon) except as a fashionable brand that allows you to capture market share. Become physically more dexterous or get out of the way.
Globality is another of these idiotic concepts dressed up in a Brooks Brothers suit: “the end-state of globalization – a hypothetical condition in which the process of globalization is complete or nearly so, barriers have fallen, and ‘a new global reality’ is emerging.” Chilling, no? This is one of those corporate fantasies of total control, an end of history wet dream when the neoliberal imperial project is complete and all questions are management-related — no politics necessary. Nations’ borders ebb away, governments recede, and corporations get about the business of “competing with everyone from everywhere for everything.” Shocking that this book could come out in 2008, after the leading instrument of toppling governments, U.S. military power, has been horribly discredited. Although, you know, with almost a decade of experience occupying Middle Eastern nations, you’d expect that the military’s experience curves are accelerating — we’ll be ready for Pakistan, Yemen, or Iran in no time, capturing more of that sweet, sweet market dominance. As our soldiers become physically more dexterous at their jobs (barring the occasional death or maiming), we can draw them down in our captured markets and redeploy them to emerging ones. See how it works?
In addition to having offices in every major financial center from here to Kiev, BCG boasts an impressive array of former employees, a veritable who’s who of the ruling class. GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt, who managed to tank his company’s stock by 80%. He was then appointed to Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, a move that no doubt inspires great confidence among the citizenry. Other all-stars formerly on the BCG gravy train: the CEOs of Pepsi, Red Hat, Bertelsmann Media, airlines, military contractors, etc.; such notable politicians as Benjamin Netanyahu and Mitt Romney; celebrities such as John Legend and the guy from Season 1 of The Bachelor. Consulting groups are a kind of finishing school for the ruling class: once you graduate from your top tier college (your major isn’t important), you become steeped in the work culture and ideology of the top 15% while paying off your student loans. After a few years, you get an MBA and try your hand at running a company (or a country) or you win some Grammys. Either way, your path to power will be smoother because all your ideas will align with the dominant ideology of politics-as-management, workers-as-capital, efficiency-at-all-costs. In short, what we see on this nice little Wiki is Capital reproducing itself.