Economic Advice and Rhetoric

Economic Advice and Rhetoric

Why do Consultants Perform Better than Academic Advisers?

Onno Bouwmeester

This book compares the approaches of consultants and academic advisers and provides an in-depth analysis of their advice argumentation. Both compete on the market for economic advice, with consultants enjoying a larger market share and usually obtaining higher fees. However, academics criticize them for overcharging, shallowness, and quick-and-dirty methods. So, are consultants’ clients misled or even cheated? Not necessarily. The book reveals that academics have drawbacks as well; their arguments are less balanced than those of consultants and their estimates contradict each other more.

Chapter 8: Advice on Advice

Onno Bouwmeester

Subjects: business and management, management education, organisation studies, strategic management, education, management education, politics and public policy, public policy


As demonstrated in the introduction, academics show disrespect for consultants’ approaches in their reflections. By this, we are made to expect that academic advisers follow their own ethos when competing with consultants. Many of them, however, seem to imitate what they believe consultants do, which is not what consultants really do. Consulting takes time to learn. Some adaptations that do not conflict with academic ethos positively affect academic advisers’ service by adding something new to it and they may add to its market value. Examples are academic advisers’ paying attention to practical rebuttals to strengthen conclusions or advice, and writing more like consultants by beginning reports with an executive summary. Not all academic adaptations harmonize with their traditional ethos, though, such as when academic advisers claim to be neutral experts, but present opiniative and unbalanced evaluations of positive and negative effects. These academic practices are problematic from the consultant’s perspective: academic imitation is partial and academic practices change while its ethos remains traditional. Consultants can argue based on opinion and they can value effects, but consider it a problem when valuations are unbalanced while claiming a neutral or impartial approach. We do not expect balanced argumentation from lawyers nor do we think of them as hired guns: it is perfectly clear that their contributions will be one-sided. Problematic is the ambiguous and often unbalanced valuation of academic advisers in contrast to their ethos and even compared to consultants. That practice contributes to an explanation of the lower market value of...

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