Monday, August 31, 2009

In Defense of John Mackey of Whole Foods

The Obamacare plan has met much unexpected controversy at townhall meetings. Initially, the objections and concerns were part of a grass roots movement to resist a government take over of healthcare. This caught the politicians by surprise and certainly made for some interesting TV viewing. But soon the professional spinmiesters appeared on the scene to try to smooth the situation over. Then astroturfers, both for and against, as well as labor unions began to appear at the townhalls, and more control was exercised over who was allowed to attend to ensure a higher level of support for the plan. Many in the news media editorialized that a quiet, reasoned debate was called for instead of the shrill voices of dissent.

Amid this backdrop, John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, penned a well reasoned op-ed for Wall Street Journal that represents a market-based alternative to Obamacare. In John Mackey's words: "While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction—toward less government control and more individual empowerment." I encourage everyone to read this op-ed to see the eight reforms Mackey lays out for transforming the health care system.

For his efforts to add to the quiet and reasoned debate, Mackey now finds himself embroiled in controversy. The hard-core left, eager to rush into the arms of the nanny state, are now protesting in front of stores and boycotting Whole Foods. In the past couple of days, they have starting calling for Mackey's resignation from the company. For most of them, there is only one answer to health care reform, and that is a full government takeover, and anyone who thinks otherwise has committed heresy. The problem for Mackey is that since his business caters to the PC tastes of left wing consumers, he has set his company up to potentially lose many loyal customers with statements like: "Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This "right" has never existed in America." This rubs against the grain of the thinking of the current administration, and undercuts the premise for Obamacare.

Many of the talking heads on TV suggest that Mackey, and CEOs in general, should keep their mouths shut when it comes to policy opinions, and concentrate on running their companies. Personally, I think that these efforts to silence critics of the health care plan are depicable, and I would like to see more CEOs expressing their individual opinions, not less. It is every citizen's right to express their opinion, and the more intelligent discussion we have on this issue the better. Mackey has presented a strong case for free-market alternatives to Obamacare and I applaud him for it, just as I would applaud any other CEO who presents a well-reasoned counter-argument in support of the plan. I have never been in a Whole Foods store, don't have one anywhere near where I live, but the next I drive by one I plan on making it a point to pull into the parking lot and buy something to show my support of a CEO courageous enough to speak up for what he believes.

What do you think about this situation?


  1. Back in 2008, this Whole Foods, CEO John Mackey (how old is this kid?), was caught posting negative comments (trash talk) about a competitor on Yahoo Finance message boards in an effort to push down the stock price. So now I am suppose to take this loser seriously? Please, snore, snore.

    It’s funny we hear Republicans say that they do not want “faceless bureaucrats” making medical decisions but they have no problem with “private sector” “faceless bureaucrats” daily declining medical coverage and financially ruining good hard working people (honestly where can they go with a pre-condition). And who says that the “private sector” is always right, do we forget failures like Long-Term Capital, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Enron, Tyco, AIG and Lehman Brothers. Of course the federal government will destroy heathcare by getting involved, Oh but wait, Medicare and Medicaid and our military men and women and the Senate and Congress get the best heathcare in the world, and oh, that’s right, its run by our federal government. I can understand why some may think that the federal government will fail, if you look at the past eight years as a current history, with failures like the financial meltdown and Katrina but the facts is they can and if we support them they will succeed.

    How does shouting down to stop the conversation of the healthcare debate at town hall meetings, endears them to anyone. Especially when the organizations that are telling them where to go and what to do and say are Republicans political operatives, not real grassroots. How does shouting someone down or chasing them out like a “lynch mob” advanced the debate, it does not. So I think the American people will see through all of this and know, like the teabagger, the birthers, these lynch mobs types AKA “screamers” are just the same, people who have to resort to these tactics because they have no leadership to articulate what they real want. It’s easy to pickup a bus load of people who hate, and that’s all I been seeing, they hate and can’t debate. Too bad.

  2. Paul, thanks for weighing in with your comments. All I know about John Mackey is what I've read in the WSJ editorial so I can't comment on anything else about the man. But I happen to think a two-way debate is healthy, whether it is the raucous venting of anger at townhalls over a gov't takeover of health care, or the protests over the Iraq war during the Bush administration... and may the best ideas win out. Legislation this far-reaching shouldn't be rammed through in crisis mode. It's both irresponsible and unconscionable that legislators would vote on a bill without even understanding the contents. Demographics are working against all entitlement programs with the aging population, increasing life expectancies, and the declining ratio of people working to people receiving benefits. It's hard to buy the idea that expanded coverage will reduce costs or that $500B can be cut from Medicare. If this is like the typical government program, the benefits are way oversold and the costs are way underestimated. I find the Mackey op-ed interesting because it is precisely the opposite of what you'd expect from the CEO of Whole Foods based on the liberal bias of its customers. Either Mackey is crazy or crazy like a fox to write this op-ed. And I think the customer reaction is predictable and perhaps short-lived. But isn't this the type of quiet, reasoned debate that all the pundits have been calling for since the townhalls heated up? All I can say is I applaud his foolishness.