A Few Words On The Whole Foods-John Mackey Thing

God, liberals, what can I say. Sometimes we annoy the hell out of me.

This is the second time the interwebs is in high dudgeon over something said/written by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. Mackey, who is hawking a book (Conscious Capitalism, and no, I haven’t read it) used the word “fascism” to describe the Affordable Care Act. This got liberals all upset, especially since they well remember his 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed proposing eight “free market” reforms that he thought would fix our healthcare problems better than Obamacare.

Let me interject here and say, Mackey is an unabashed Libertarian. I do not agree with Libertarianism. At all. I think his “eight reforms” — stuff like tort reform, selling health insurance across state lines, and removing government coverage mandates — are horrible ideas, many already proven failures. He also wrote that if only everyone would just eat a vegetarian, low fat diet, all of our healthcare woes would magically go away. This was an astonishingly simplistic, insensitive and childish thing to say about a really complicated national issue. But hey, one of my biggest problems with Libertarians is their juvenile belief in magical thinking.

Anyway, that was around three years ago. This time, people seem to be hung up on Mackey’s use of the word “fascist.” The thing is, I said the same thing myself back in 2009. Put aside all of the totalitarian/nationalistic baggage the word carries, and consider its economic definition. Aren’t we always told that fascism is the merger of state and corporate power? So how is a government requirement that private citizens buy a product from a private, for-profit corporation without also offering a “public option” not fascism?

Mackey now admits his choice of words was poor. I watched him on CBS This Morning say we needed a new term, one that doesn’t allude to authoritarian regimes.

This made me laugh. Mr. Mackey, I believe the word you’re searching for is “corporatism.” Funny that wouldn’t occur to the CEO of a big corporation. Ah well. Libertarians, what can I say? They always wear blinders. I have to wonder: if Obamacare mandated that everyone buy organic food, would Mackey have a problem with that?

Mackey is entitled to his opinions, as are we all. I don’t agree with him on everything. But it seems a shame that he stuck his foot in his mouth on the Obamacare “fascism” stuff, because really liberals should be behind a big chunk of what he’s saying now.

Again, I haven’t read his book, but I’ve read several interviews he’s given about it. And basically what he seems to be telling his fellow corporate CEOs is, stop being such selfish, greedy dicks.

For example:

“I really don’t think shareholders should come first, I think it’s fundamentally a bad strategy,” Mackey said yesterday at a Captains of Industry series interview with Norman Pearlstine, chief content officer of Bloomberg News. “Happy team members result in happy customers, happy customers result in happy investors. If you put shareholders first, you won’t get there.”

The event at the 92nd Street Y in New York was sponsored by Bloomberg Businessweek.

Mackey, 59, a self-styled “conscious” capitalist and longtime nonconformist, has written a new book in which he criticizes companies that focus solely on maximizing profit. The book, “Conscious Capitalism,” was released this week.

In the book, Mackey and his co-author, Raj Sisodia, a Bentley University marketing professor, discuss ways to create value and lift people from poverty. Mackey’s bottom line: making money need not be a zero-sum game.

I agree with that 100%. And I’m not a Libertarian. I also agree with this:

Mackey tells Inskeep that companies must have a higher purpose than just making money.

For example, when Whole Foods decided it wanted to stop selling overfished species of cod and octopus at its seafood counters, it didn’t just abruptly cut off its suppliers. Instead, the company gave its suppliers three years to come up with a better way of fishing; during that time, the seafood stayed for sale — but with a label of “unsustainable.”

In the end, Whole Foods, working with the Marine Stewardship Council (we’ll have much more on them later), was able to find one supplier of sustainable cod.

I agree with that approach. I also find it a little strange that Mackey doesn’t recognize the flaw in his magical Libertarian ideology: why aren’t all corporations like Whole Foods? Why isn’t everyone focusing on the big picture, why aren’t they all doing the right thing, instead of just focusing on profit? Does Mackey not get that a health insurance company doesn’t make money off of certain groups of people? Like, really, really sick people? That Libertarianism requires a whole set of presuppositions that don’t exist in the real world?

I guess not. But c’mon, liberals. Let’s join in the conversation here, instead of calling for boycotts over the misuse of a word like “fascism” — especially when a lot of us were saying the same thing two years ago.

So no, I’m not boycotting Whole Foods. Nor am I nominating John Mackey for sainthood. Remember this? Remember when Mackey created an online sockpuppet to bash rival Wild Oats in online stock forums? At a time when he was trying to buy that company? Hilarious. Also, not nice. John Mackey, you’re kind of a dick, too. Something else I can say about most Libertarians.

By the way, this reminds me of the one bumper sticker I want to see. It goes something like this:

Who Is John Galt? And Why Is He Such An Asshole?

Ha ha. Love that one. So, boycott Whole Foods if you want to, but I won’t. But I will ask my fellow liberals to stop reacting in such a knee-jerk way to the use of loaded words like “fascism” and whatnot. Please. This makes us no better than the Teanuts who call for the fainting couches every time a liberal says a mean joke about Sarah Palin.


Filed under boycotts, corporations, health insurance, healthcare, liberals, Libertarians

21 responses to “A Few Words On The Whole Foods-John Mackey Thing

  1. Sense and sensibility here……..not what you see very often in THIS state.

  2. Joel

    But, do you drive a car from the approved list of automobiles?
    I’m thinking of going cleek w/regards to balloon-juice.

  3. democommie

    Can’t boycott a place I can’t afford to shop!

    “if only everyone would just eat a vegetarian, low fat diet, all of our healthcare woes would magically go away.”

    If only I made enough money to live in an area where they have stores that sell decent produce at affordable prices.

    I had somebody tell me, some years back, that if you can’t pick your food off a bush or tree, grow it in your own back yard or kill it with a stick then you need to change. I replied that she drove a car, lived in an apartment with electricity and used a computer. End of conversation.

    • I’m pretty sure I don’t want to eat anything I’ve killed with a stick. That pretty much leaves small rodents and housecats. I ain’t doing that.

    • Mike G

      “if only everyone would just eat a vegetarian, low fat diet, all of our healthcare woes would magically go away.”

      If only everyone would just do all their food shopping at Whole Paycheck, we’d be spending more on food than we do on healthcare today.

  4. Mackey is totally wrong on one thing: vegetarian diet. Best idea is Primal Diet.

  5. kosh iii

    “Can’t boycott a place I can’t afford to shop! ”

    I agree. Nor can you boycott a place that doesn’t sell the best quality.
    I live near Rivergate, WF is too far to travel and I have gone there a couple of times in the past to check it out: the produce I bought was much higher and less quality than what I could get at the Madison Kroger. Kroger has a growing stock of organic produce and foods-better than(hersey alert) Publix or any other place.

    Now if only there was a closer Trader Joes……..

    • I shop at the Green Hills Whole Foods pretty much exclusively. I can’t agree on the quality of the produce. Whenever I try to buy the organics at Kroger or HG Hill’s, they’re usually spoiled or of extremely poor quality, and there’s a piss poor variety. I was always told that Whole Foods is such a big player in the organics market that they basically buy up everything suppliers have, leaving the dregs for stores that don’t specialize in organics.

      The best quality organics come from our local CSA-type market, Fresh Harvest. It’s all local. But you can only get pick-ups twice a week, and of course it’s going to be seasonal. Very little produce at this time of year. And the prices are reDONKulous. I can’t afford to shop there. One tiny head of lettuce that will make one salad is like $5. It’s unreal.

      Every year I threaten to do a more traditional CSA but my husband doesn’t really like that many vegetables, so I’m afraid it would be a waste.

      Oh and I love Publix but they have very few organics in the produce section. But they do carry most of my favorite brands of other organic goods. So it’s a good back-up.

    • Oh and another thing, we live near the Trader Joe’s in GH, and go there every now and then but honestly they don’t carry a lot of organics, either. I don’t know why everyone says they do! Maybe in larger TJ’s there’s a better selection?

  6. kosh iii


  7. Another Halocene Human

    You know, it’s like that guy who used the word “niggardly” in a DC council meeting, then refused to apologize. Not only did it rouse emotions because it sounded like he was saying the n-word (remember that deliberately provocative “knickers” rap?) but it also roused negative emotions because of an association between the Black population and poverty or being cheap. (Much as “scotch” used to be a not-so-veiled insult, not a badge of pride. “Scotch tape” meant “thrifty”, and that’s putting a nice gloss on it. Scots lived in extreme poverty in the 18th and 19th centuries.)

    This is a similar case. The term “fascist” is extremely inflammatory and has multiple meanings. Furthermore, it does not refer to government insurance mandates (seriously?). We have those for cars and sometimes for homes and have had for decades and nobody has called them examples of fascism. Because fascism is NOT an economic system. It’s a political system in which big money and big corporations essentially control the state, while the state sells this state of affairs with xenophobic propaganda.

    Libertarianism is not an economic system either–it’s a philosophy and a political theory. The economic system it is associated with is laissez-faire economics, but crony capitalism, oligopoly, etc work just as well. Many libertarians believe that if their political ideas are enacted a completely different economic system will emerge, but that does not appear to be the case from any real world experience.

    Libertarians like to use the word fascist because fascist politics are highly anti-individualist and conformist, and libertarians consider themselves to be unique individuals. Mackey calls the insurance mandate “fascist” because it denies him the right to be a special snowflake who takes care of all his medical needs with chanting and organic vegan smoothies.

    But state coercive power for a common welfare (hmm… eminent domain anyone? libertarians hate it (unless they’re profiting from it) and I’m sure they call it fascist, but why would we participate in their delusions?) is a very old concept that far, far precedes fascism, something that emerged in the industrial state with the advent of universal male suffrage. Get the rubes to blame the “other” while picking their pockets wholesale and crushing dissent. Nice scam if you can pull it off.

    George W. Bush’s first term had a lot of fascist elements. Now there’s something Americans don’t want to talk about, not even liberals. Too embarrassing, I guess. Bearing a cross and wrapped in a flag. Just as the sage predicted.

    • Good points. I do hate the comparison of mandatory auto insurance to mandatory health insurance. There is a public option where transportation is concerned — and other options as well. Walk. Ride a bike. Hitchike. But that’s a quibble.

      Yeah the phony Libertarians are the ones who had no problem with the Patriot Act but think Obama is fascist because of, well, everything he’s done in the past 4 years. That’s just fucking retarded.

      Yes, retarded. Another loaded word that elicits hissy fits by some people when only certain political persuasions utter it.

  8. deep

    I’ve never shopped at Wholefoods because my local health food store is wayyyy better and even more affordable than that place.

  9. In my humble opinion the Reps and Libs do not like Omama because “they” have a problem with people that have dark skin. Truly if it were a rep pres. those people would have no problem with the health care and everything else that Obama has proposed or managed, somehow to get accomplished.

    • Obamacare is a Republican plan. Cap-and-trade is a Republican plan. This is where we are, folks: every thing Obama does is decried as unconstitutional, fascism, socialism, Hitlerism, gawd whatever, yet most of them are modest, moderate, even conservative. Half of his gun control executive orders are things the GOP says they advocate — mental health, video games, enforcing existing laws. Yet as soon as Obama says he’s for it, suddenly it’s the end of the Republic as we know it. They’re such phonies.

      Republicans are so off the rails.