The Consulting Trap

How Professional Service Firms Hook Governments and Undermine Democracy

Table of contents

  • Preface: : Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste
  • Chapter 1:: What Is the Consulting Trap?                                             
  • Chapter 2:: Actors: The Rise of Transnational Professional Service Firms
  • Chapter 3:: Programs: Evading, Auditing, Financializing, Privatizing                  
  • Chapter 4:: Strategies: Networking, Institutionalizing, Commodifying, Brokering
  • Chapter 5:: Resistance: Challenging TPSFs
  • Chapter 6:: Escaping the Consulting Trap                                              
  • : References


The Consulting Trap does a deep dive into how governments have become hooked on private consultancy firms with dire consequences for democratic decision-making, public accountability and accessible public services. Hurl and Werner contend that firms like McKinsey, Accenture, KPMG and Deloitte increasingly take responsibility for core public services, trapping governments in cycles of dependency. Through orchestrating tax avoidance for the wealthy while engineering austerity for the rest, these firms have created the foundations for the deepening privatization of the public services, further entrenching their power.

Drawing on case studies from Canada and around the world, Hurl and Werner investigate how big consultancies leverage social networks, institutionalize relationships, mine and commodify data, and establish policy pipelines that facilitate the quick diffusion of ideas across jurisdictions. Drawing from real world examples, The Consulting Trap offers strategies for how these powerful firms can be resisted using people’s audits, public consultations, access to information requests, and social network analyses.


“The book draws back the veil on the power wielded by transnational corporate players and contributes to a variety of societal debates including the deficiencies of the liberal democratic system, the regime of inequality and austerity, and the urgent need for reform of how politics is done and includes some thoughts about how countervailing power might be developed to make things public and enable a more democratic system.”

- Stephen McBride, professor of political science, McMaster University

“A timely and important look at how governments around the world are outsourcing their role to huge private service firms, replacing the responsibility of elected officials, promoting deregulation, and privatizing public services, while passing off huge costs to unsuspecting taxpayers. Meticulously researched, The Consulting Trap tells a story we all have to hear.”

- Maude Barlow, author and activist

The Consulting Trap is a comprehensive, international and rigorous ‘roadmap and resource’ for those interested is seeing how governments come to be over-dependent on transnational firms such as the big consultancies and who wish to do something about it. It is the first book which not only charts the negative outcomes of ‘consultocracy’ for us all, but points to ways in which it can be challenged. It is both critical and positive - a must read for those interested in keeping the administration of government democratic and ‘public’.”

- Andrew Sturdy, professor of management and organisation, University of Bristol, UK

The Consulting Trap shines a bright light on the murky world of professional service firms as they have been reformatting the state to serve the interests of private business more effectively. This meticulously researched and highly accessible book is essential reading for critics of neoliberalism and advocates for democracy.”

- William K. Carroll, professor of sociology, University of Victoria