Economics

CEO Capitalism Caveats Competition Continues

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Remember Bill Gates' "creative capitalism" brainstorm? It's going to be the new system "where governments, businesses, and non-profits work together to stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit or gain recognition doing work that eases the world's inequities."

At the time, I fretted that creative capitalism would be subject to the same problem as compassionate conservatism—we could wind up with a collage of the worst bits of the state and the market, rather than the best. For much more discussion on this topic from smart people, go here.

Not to be outdone in the alliteration wars, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, a self-identified libertarian and a supporter of the nonprofit that publishes this website, offered his response yesterday at FreedomFest, an annual conference in Vegas "where free minds meet": Conscious capitalism

Conscious capitalism doesn't include much of what Gates called "a direct role for governments." Mackey views himself as something of a libertarian—he candidly admits that "I'm not a big fan of government"—and says that "economic freedom is what results in poverty reduction," and "big government aid projects" don't. 

For the beginnings of this line of thinking, check out Mackey's contribution to the Greatest reason Feature Ever, a debate between Mackey, Milton Friedman, and Cypress Semiconductors founder T.J. Rodgers on corporate social responsibility. (Question: Is corporate social responsibility now an outdated term, what with all these newfangled competitors?)

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  1. You know, “Creative Capitalism” sounds a lot like what they used to call “state Capitalism”. In fact, some people called it “Fascism”! I guess that name doesn’t play well in Peoria.

  2. Geez, alliterated to death.

  3. I have a name: laissez faire capitalism.

  4. Yea, it bears a striking resemblance to something very European from the last century.

    Does one get snappy uniforms with the Creative Capitalism Club?

  5. Episiarch,

    I like your idea better.

  6. Conscious capitalism = capitalizing on people’s conscience about the environment. Have you ever talked to whole foods shoppers? They really think they are saving the world. They also think that their shit doesn’t stink.

  7. I think the problem comes from the idea that morality and ethics can be collective virtues. I believe that’s wrong–those are individual traits, not collective ones. Many people can share them and act on them in similar ways, of course, but asking institutions, organizations, or other collective groups to have such traits is wrongheaded.

    I guess I’m the kind of libertarian who views the flaws of the free market more as flaws in human beings, not so much as flaws in the system itself. If we were angels, we’d behave better and the system would be less imperfect. I’d rather we focused on convincing people to behave better as individuals than on worrying about collective behavior.

  8. If we were angels, we’d behave better and the system would be less imperfect.

    How many angels can dance on the roof of an Amtrak car?

  9. Have you ever talked to whole foods shoppers? They really think they are saving the world. They also think that their shit doesn’t stink.

    Ahem…

    I shop there weekly.

    My shit does in fact stink sometimes (although my organic diet does seem to reduce the odor :-))

    And I in no way believe that I am saving the world, or even a small part of the world.

    I do believe I am getting quality produce and meats though.

    I suppose I could easily say:
    “Have you ever talked to libertarians?? They hate poor people and think they need to hoard guns for the coming revolution.”

    And then I too could be as big an ignorant judgmental douche like Pinette.

  10. Pro L –
    I’m the same way. I get tired trying to explain why the free market doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll only get the cheapest possible goods, absent any considerations other than price.

  11. CT,

    Um, some of us collect very useful guns, quite different than hoarding.

  12. Why are grocery stores always so chilly?

  13. sorry for perpetuating an insulting stereotype ChicagoTom.
    guess it was the natural foods co-op I was thinking of. So do you think all the other shoppers shop their simply because they believe the quality is better to the tune of 20% higher prices?

  14. And then I too could be as big an ignorant judgmental douche like Pinette.

    Well, at the prices you’re paying, ignorant douche you are*.

    * I shop at Whole Foods for very specific things that they do better than anywhere else, or actually have cheap. The rest of their prices are fucking crazy. And I love to cook and have really fresh, quality ingredients.

  15. Why are grocery stores always so chilly?

    To make the slender hot chicks with still firm breasts look even hotter.

  16. And how come my organic eating friends look down on me for buying produce at Safeway? Also, all the carbon footprint calculators tell me I’m more evil than ChicagoTom. It’s certainly not because produce he buys is easier on his digestive system than the produce I buy is it?

  17. And how come my organic eating friends look down on me for buying produce at Safeway?

    Because you concort with mentally defective busybody freaks who really should have better things to do than attempt to dictate the lifestyles of others?

  18. Didn’t a whole foods in Chicago get shut down for mice.

  19. H man,

    Chicago mice would actually eat there?

  20. So do you think all the other shoppers shop their simply because they believe the quality is better to the tune of 20% higher prices?

    I wouldn’t even pretend to know what “ALL” the other shoppers think.

    I know that *I* believe the quality is overall higher (not for every product they carry). I also know that I believe the quality and selection of their fresh produce and their meats is worth the 20% premium that I pay based on my personal shopping experience when compared to the other supermarkets in my area that I shop at.

    And many of the WF shoppers that I interact with also believe that.

    Saving the world or bowel movement odors don’t ever come up as a reason for shopping there. But maybe I’m running with the wrong crowd.

    Um, some of us collect very useful guns, quite different than hoarding.

    Guy, you must have missed the point of my comment. I was purposely stating a falsehood to make a point about ignorant sterotypes. In fact I could care less how many guns one has or for what reason they have them (as long as that reason is legal)

    And how come my organic eating friends look down on me for buying produce at Safeway?

    I think you need better friends….one’s who aren’t judgmental assholes — then again maybe they are just responding in kind to your attitudes towards them for shopping at WF? I dunno.

    Because you concort with mentally defective busybody freaks who really should have better things to do than attempt to dictate the lifestyles of others?

    Just so we are clear here….

    WF shoppers looking down on someone for shopping at Safeway are busy-body freaks trying to dictate lifestyle choices.

    Safeway shoppers (and libertarians) who mock WF shoppers are merely using their 1st amendment rights to ridicule others and in no way trying to influence anyones lifestyl choices.

    Do I have that right?

  21. Guy, you must have missed the point of my comment.

    Nope, saw our point and added my own joke.

    You sound a little testy today.

  22. Didn’t a whole foods in Chicago get shut down for mice.

    Yes – the one in Lincoln Park – for excessive mice droppings in their walk-in Coolers. Apparently they had been previously warned.

    I suspect it was really a secret protest against gov’t health inspectors by Mr. Lackey 🙂

    Now I don’t believe that only Whole Foods has this problem, and since my now deceased step-daddy was a health inspector for the City of Chicago, I would bet that someone forgot to grease the palms of their health inspector.

  23. You sound a little testy today

    If so, I apologize.
    Didn’t catch the joke — my bad.

  24. WF shoppers looking down on someone for shopping at Safeway are busy-body freaks trying to dictate lifestyle choices.

    Not quite. It is the same deal as jackasses who feel the need to fuss at others for adding Tobasco to a raw oyster, or bitching about what one puts on a steak. It is the snotty attitude, probably not shared by all WF shoppers and certainly not monopolized by them. It was a comment on the set of people that the writer of the comment decides to hang around with.

    The free advice implied would be, if it is that big of a deal stop hanging around with them.

  25. Tom, where do you live that the other area supermarkets have such inferior food to WF that you’re willing to pay their crazy prices? I enjoy WF, but I literally laugh out loud at most of their prices. Then I go to ShopRite or Stop & Shop and get just as fresh stuff for vastly less.

  26. “Creative Capitalism,” ‘eh? Why is it that fascists always seem to hit on happy-sounding phrases and symbols to label their systems?

    For instance, the swastika is an ancient symbol that — for thousands of years, across several cultures around the world — indicated many positive things, including the joy and energy of creation. But after fewer than 20 years of Nazi employment, it is now reviled by a significant portion of the world’s population. When all the dust settles, people will remember how lousy capitalism was under the “creative” capitalists, forgetting the qualifier.

    Actually, the thing described by Gates sounds more like old-fashioned “mercantilism,” which indeed descends into fascism, the more the nation relies on its military to implement foreign and domestic policy. I’d rather use that term than “creative capitalism.”

  27. Tom, where do you live that the other area supermarkets have such inferior food to WF that you’re willing to pay their crazy prices? I enjoy WF, but I literally laugh out loud at most of their prices. Then I go to ShopRite or Stop & Shop and get just as fresh stuff for vastly less.

    Epi, I’m in a upper middle class suburb of Chicago — bordering the west side.

    Locally the two BIG chains near me are Jewel (used to be part of the Albertson’s family though I am not sure anymore) and Dominick’s (subsidiary of Safeway) — I also have a Super-Target with groceries a few miles away.

    The Super Target is the worst. I have bought produce and fruit from there (tomatoes, cucumbers peaches etc), and it has gone bad within 2 days. I think it’s a function of not enough turnover. They have a huge produce section but few customers actually buying produce. They do have really good bread though.

    The Jewel and Dominicks are better than Super Target and I do shop there as well (especially for Deli meats and cheeses and anything packaged), but they don’t have a high selection of Organic goods and the stuff they do have isn’t usually that much cheaper than WF. Also, it seems that sometimes their produce isn’t as fresh. WF seems to have a higher turnover of their produce. I wanted to buy a bag of potatoes one day — and every bag at the local supermarket had potatoes that were sprouting too much for my taste.

    I find the produce/fruit at Whole Foods to be tastier — plus they usually have Heirloom tomatoes which I love and they aren’t usually available at the other supermarkets. WF also tends to have a better quality consistency in my experience and a greater availability of less common fruits / veggies. (for example Napa Cabbage — WF had a ton of it, but Dominicks only had 3 heads of it — and it was priced higher than WF)

    As for meats, the prices at WF are high but I really do prefer that taste of them (especially pork products). Plus the selection. My local grocery stores don’t have ground lamb, or grass fed beef or bison/buffalo. (I will also shop at Trader Joes for meats — they are more reasonably priced).

    I know I probably gave you much more info than you wanted — sorry for the length.

  28. Guy,
    No, Chicago mice apparently do not eat at Whole Foods. According to the quote from the store manager, the mice were not found near the food. Skepticism may be in order.

    Chi Tom,
    You’re probably right about the greased palms. Every building has some sort of pest in it there is no getting around it. It’s sure one heck of an oversight though. I am curious as to how graft would be written up in the accounting books, though. Operational expense I would guess.

  29. Dominick’s (subsidiary of Safeway)

    WHAT! When did this happen? Nobody consulted me!

    Next thing you will be telling us is that Korvettes has merged with Goldblatt’s or something.

  30. FWIW, I love the produce section at Super Wal*Mart.

  31. Wasn’t Whole Foods actually founded by a libertarian?

  32. NNG,

    RTFP, use the Home button on your kb.

  33. Ah shit, thanks for pointing that out.

    Someone should have told Jonah Goldberg, though.

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