The historian Tony Judt explained in the 1990s what we had learnt from the collapse of communism: “The state is a strikingly inefficient economic actor. Nationalised industries, state farms, centrally planned economies, controlled trade, fixed prices, and government-directed production and distribution do not work.” He added a caveat, however: “That is all we know.”

What we were yet to learn, as Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington show in their book, The Big Con, is that the state’s use of large consultancies replicates some of the inefficiencies and criminality of the governments that collapsed in the late 1980s...

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