KPMG audits the nursing homes it advises on how to beat audits

Too big to fail, too big to jail, and an existential risk to civilization.

Cory Doctorow


Two business-suited male figures seen side on; each has a bomb for a head, and each is holding a lit lighter that has ignited the other’s fuse. Each bomb is wearing a green accountant’s eyeshade. In the background is a fiery mushroom cloud. They wear KPMG logos on their lapels. Image: (modified) CC BY 4.0 Inspired by an illustration by Matt Kenyon for the *Financial T

Tomorrow (May 10), I’m in VANCOUVER for a keynote at the Open Source Summit and a book event for Red Team Blues at Heritage Hall and on Thurs (May 11), I’m in CALGARY for Wordfest.

Auditors are capitalism’s lubricants, who keep the gears of finance capital smoothly a-whirl, allowing investors to move their money in and out of companies without having to go pore over their books and walk through their facilities. Without auditors, the gears of capitalism would grind themselves to dust:

Unfortunately for capitalism, auditing is irredeemably broken. The Big Four auditors (PWC, EY, Deloitte and KPMG) have merged to monopoly, becoming “too big to fail” and “too big to jail.” These four gigantic firms have spun up fantastically lucrative “consulting” divisions that advise companies on how to cheat on their audits and attain incredible (paper) gains. The work of these “consultants” is worth far more than the accounting and auditing jobs the companies do, and the weaker the audits are, the more profitable the consulting is:

This crisis has been a long time brewing. Back in 2001, the accounting/consulting giant Arthur Andersen was at the center of Enron’s fraud, which lit $11B in shareholder capital on fire. Enron had been making everyday people angry for years, engineering rolling blackouts and incredible energy-price gouging, but no one cares about working peoples’ complaints. By contrast, stealing $11B from rich people was something the authorities couldn’t ignore. They gave Andersen the death penalty, trying to teach the surviving accounting firms a lesson about what happens when you fuck with plutes.

But those other firms learned the wrong lesson: the collapse of Andersen was so disruptive that it soon became clear that the authorities would never take another giant consulting firm down, no matter how egregious its conduct was. They doubled down on crime, and then doubled down again.