Escape from McKinseyland | The New Republic

Most troublingly, McKinsey’s influence radiates far beyond the individual companies he advises. As Bogdanich and Forsythe show, the firm was, from the beginning, an early and vocal champion of a number of controversial practices that would ultimately remake American business to the detriment of workers. In 1950, at the height of organized labor’s strength, a McKinsey report commissioned by General Motors and later published by the Harvard Business Review found that workers’ wages were rising faster than executive pay. On McKinsey’s advice, companies began inflating CEO compensation by linking executive salaries and bonuses to higher company profits, and adding stock options to compensation packages. That change would set off a CEO compensation arms race across the entire corporate sector that continues even today. When GM first hired McKinsey, CEO compensation was 20 times the average worker’s; As of this year, it’s a staggering 399 times higher. And it’s arguably a McKinsey success story, insofar as the firm did exactly what it was hired to do, with measurable and long-reaching results. The only hitch, of course, is that the incredible McKinsey-sanctioned windfall for CEOs comes at the expense of the rest of us. As the economist Thomas Piketty has argued, gargantuan executive compensation packages in the United States have widened the yawning gap between the one percent and everyone else. Over the same time period that executive pay has surged higher and higher, average workers wage’s have stagnated or fallen, even while worker productivity across the board has increased. And the trend only appears to have deepened in the wake of the tumultuous pandemic economy: Earlier this year, just as inflation snuffed out modest gains in workers’ earnings, The Wall Street Journal reported that CEO pay, by contrast, had “gained steam, putting compensation on pace to set a record.” Likewise, offshoring—a cost-cutting practice that took off in the ’90s and subsequently obliterated an estimated five million American manufacturing jobs—“had no bigger cheerleader than McKinsey, which had come to see itself as more of an international firm than an American one.” Over the next two decades, McKinsey not only encouraged several of its largest clients to offshore parts of their operations, but also released a number of articles and a book extolling the practice to the wider business world. During the ’80s and ’90s, the official McKinsey literature (consumed by industry leaders and policymakers alike) was also evangelizing both financial deregulation and the virtues of credit securitization, a kind of financial black magic in which banks bundle loans and other forms of debt into assets to be resold. The toxic alchemy of an unshackled Wall Street and the industrywide enthusiasm for fast-and-loose securitization ultimately led to the financial collapse of 2008, a global crisis from which banks were famously bailed out while workers were left holding the bag.

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