Obamacare

Whole Foods' John Mackey in USA Today on Health Care, the FTC, Unions, & More

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Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey, a Reason reader who has also supported Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, talks with USA Today in an interesting interview. Snippets:

Q: It seems like every grocery store has found a way to look or act like Whole Foods. How can you stand out now?

A: We're very pleased that we've had an impact on healthy eating in the U.S. Since we're a mission-driven company, that's fulfilling our mission. But that also means we can't sit still. Competition forces you to get better….

Q: You came out against the Obama health care reform, a stance counter to that of many of your best customers. Under a pseudonym, you posted disparaging comments online about former rival Wild Oats, which you now own. Who is the real John Mackey?

A: I did not come out against "Obamacare." I came out with alternatives to that. And I see the whole Internet phenomenon as much ado about nothing. I'm proud of my postings. I did 1,400 posts over eight years. If you go to the Yahoo bulletin board, everyone uses a screen name. That's the fun of it. But I regret doing it because it caused negative publicity for Whole Foods. I was investigated by the FTC, which dropped the investigation.

Q: What's the result of the Wild Oats merger?

A: The end result is that it's been great. Our Wild Oats same-store sales were up like 16% in the second quarter.

Q: Would you do that merger again?

A: No. We'll never do another merger that requires FTC approval. It was the worst experience of Whole Foods' corporate life. All my e-mails were examined by the FTC. The $30 million in legal fees. … For what? To prove we weren't a monopoly? Everyone knows we're not….

Q: You've been seen as anti-union. Why?

A: I'm not an anti-union guy. … In the private sector, I think unions are an important player. I don't believe unions should be legal in the public sector. Unions compete for the hearts and minds of your employees.Whole Foods can't stop anyone from joining a union. Our team members don't form unions because they don't want to. We wish unions would respect the rights of people not to join.

Whole thing well worth reading (including news that an "animal welfare rating program" will debut in January and inform customers "exactly how meat animals were raised").

Read Mackey debate Milton Friedman and Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers on "Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business" in Reason (one of our most-popular features ever).

Matt Welch and I interviewed Mackey for Reason.tv last year. Read the full transcript here or click below to watch a condensed version. Full Reason.tv interview here.

Bonus vid: Natural Food Fight – Whole Foods & Health Care.

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  1. “I’m proud of my postings. I did 1,400 posts over eight years.”

    Slacker! John does that in one day.

    1. Yes, but did Mackey spend two hours regurgitating semi-understood hogwash from C. S. Lewis? I didn’t think so.

      1. Someone has to pick on the atheists. You only get pissed because I don’t live down to your stereotypes.

        1. No, John, you live up to them. Who else will pretend atheists, who are basically the powerless equivalent of libertarians, are a horrible evil conspiracy of convoluted tricksters trying to destroy the world of theists?

          1. Where have I ever said anything like that? Seriously give me a link? I think atheists are confused and I find their intellectual pomposity amusing. But, I hardly think they are some world conspiracy. And to my knowledge I have never written anything that would cause someone to think that. You just tell yourself I do because you desperately want to believe that every believer is some fire breathing fanatic killing chickens at an alter in their basement.

            1. every believer is some fire breathing fanatic killing chickens at an alter in their basement.

              Religious bigotry is rife.

              1. What’s wrong with animal sacrifice?

            2. You think Dawkins (who I find somewhat annoying) to be some crazy motherfucker who wants to put religious people in camps. You think atheists are religious-people hating maniacs who will kill the Time Child on their tummy. Please don’t deny this as you state it all the time.

              1. I think Dawkins a complete nut and enemy of freedom. If he had his way, it would illegal for parents to teach their children religion or to run a religious school. He equates teaching religion to a child as being as bad as molesting them. He considers religous education to be a form of abuse. I don’t see how that is consistent with freedom. People ought to be free to teach their children whatever they want. If you think you have a right to tell people what they can and cannot teach their children. If you don’t agree with that, you don’t believe in personal autonomy and you don’t believe in freedom.

                I believe life begins at conception. And since it does, fetus are human beings and have human rights. My position on abortion has nothing to do with God. I defy you to find one instance where I have ever appealed to God as a justification for abortion being illegal. You won’t find one.

                You just don’t read or refuse to understand what I am saying. None of your strawmen of my beliefs are true and you know it. You just can’t accept the fact that someone doesn’t fit into your stereotypes. Thanks for proving my point.

                1. I believe life begins at conception. And since it does, fetus are human beings and have human rights.

                  Belief is not equivalent to fact. This is the central intellectual crime you constantly commit.

                  1. “Belief is not equivalent to fact. This is the central intellectual crime you constantly commit.”

                    Since there is no definitive answer to when life begins, it comes down to where you should draw the line. Any number of times I have made the argument on here that since you cannot have degrees of being (since to do so would be to say some people are less human than others) you should judge life beginning based on some set of objective abilities. Instead, you judge when life begins by when something is created that has a human beings genetic content and was created by two other human beings. That is a fetus. And that is a life.

                    You may not agree with that agrument. You may think it is possible to judge life by a set of abilities like thinking or feeling. And that is an argument worth having but probably not something we can ever settle.

                    And if you want to have that argument, we can. And indeed we have on any number of thread. But shut the fuck up with the bullshit about me just saying it is so because “I believe it”. That is just horseshit and you know it. You saying that just says that you don’t have courage or the honesty to deal with my argument.

                    I don’t care if you disagree with me. Lots of people do. But it is beneath contempt and totally dishonest to say I don’t make an argument or appeal to some kind of irrational belief about abortion.

                    1. But shut the fuck up with the bullshit about me just saying it is so because “I believe it”. That is just horseshit and you know it.

                      You don’t draw the line, though. God does, right? Why is it wrong to kill fetuses? Because God told you, right? If there is no morality without God, then all your co-called moral actions are only based in your belief in God.

                      If morality only comes from God, then you only believe what you believe because of your faith.

                      You have no other argument.

                    2. “You have no other argument.”

                      What argument do you have other than “I say so”. Certainly it is not always wrong to kill. There is self defense. There is concerns of justice. If you say that my belief that killing is wrong is based in part upon the judeoChristian ethical system and that is thus based on God, yes that is true. But my core belief in things like killing is wrong is different from my application of those moral principles to a practical situation like abortion. But those are two different arguments (why killing is wrong versus why abortion is killing). You assume killing is wrong to. We both proceed from the same assumption. After that God doesn’t play a role.

                      I don’t care if you agree with me about abortion. The argument has nothing to do with God. What I resent is the accusation that I don’t make an honest argument about it. And I do. I don’t know why you have to be such a prick about it.

                    3. Well said.

                  2. If we’re not alive, why kill us?

            3. Though just yesterday you wrote that atheists have to get used to the idea of there being non-atheists in the world.

              That was a good one.

          2. I agree. If I wrote a straight report about John’s religious particularities, it would be considered an extremely dishonest caricature of Christianity.

            1. Why is that?

              1. 1. You constantly and deliberately confuse ethics and morality to your advantage.

                2. The only interpretation of good and evil is your interpretation of your God. The only evaluation of the quality or relative worth of an idea is based on your interpretation of your God.

                3. Your constant atheist-baiting and your fanciful belief that that somehow isn’t bigotry.

                4. Your half-baked understanding of theology, apologetics, metaphysics, and teleology. And your joe-like ability to ignore any definition of same except your own.

                5. Your obvious belief that the only people who are good are people just like you. Your world is only about 20 ft. wide.

                1. “1. You constantly and deliberately confuse ethics and morality to your advantage.”

                  You cannot judge morality without appealing to something higher. That higher can be a lot of things. It can be God or it can be your will. Atheists chose their will. That is all I am ever saying. If there really is no God, then I don’t see how you can say that one set of morality or ethics is any better or worse than another. It is not that I think atheists are immoral or unethical. It is that I don’t see how they can even claim there is such a term as “morality” and have it have any meaning or that they can judge one set of ethics over another for any reason beyond personal preference.

                  “2. The only interpretation of good and evil is your interpretation of your God. The only evaluation of the quality or relative worth of an idea is based on your interpretation of your God.”

                  I don’t see how that is “dishonest Christianity”. Last I looked Christianity claimed to have a monopoly on the truth. And further, you must have missed my lengthy post yesterday about man’s inability to judge the greater good and the greater evil. I don’t believe anything like that at least at a personal level. If I could be the perfect judge of what is good and what is evil, I would be God. I can’t. That is really just another way of explaining original sin. It is not that we are born with some taint. It is that we are born in such a state that we can’t fully understand the Good and thus cannot help but commit evil even when we try not to.

                  “3. Your constant atheist-baiting and your fanciful belief that that somehow isn’t bigotry.”

                  All I have ever said is that atheists are kidding themselves if they think there is some higher truth or higher morality beyond the self if there is no God. I don’t see how that is atheist bashing. And further I have never said that atheists are any more or less likely to be evil than theists.

                  “4. Your half-baked understanding of theology, apologetics, metaphysics, and teleology. And your joe-like ability to ignore any definition of same except your own.”

                  Without specifics I don’t see how I can be expected to respond to this.

                  “5. Your obvious belief that the only people who are good are people just like you. Your world is only about 20 ft. wide.”

                  That is utter projection on your part. I have never said that theists are better people than atheists. We are all equally sinners.

                  1. I think Dawkins a complete nut and enemy of freedom. If he had his way…

                    …Christian babies would be roasted on spits and their parents would be sent to the gulag in cattle cars. Is that about right?

                    1. No. Dawkins says what he says. If you agree with it, defend it. If you don’t, admit Dawkins is a nut.

                      Why is the fact that Dawkins is an atheist make him immune from criticism? Why do you people defend him? I don’t defend theists whom I find to be repugnant.

                  2. What so cute is that you think everyone here has the same poor memory of past threads you do.

                    Whatever, John. It’s pointless to argue with you about a whole host of subjects. I’m not going to dig a dozen threads to disprove you, it wouldn’t make a difference anyway.

                    Exhausting your opponents is not the same thing as winning an argument.

                    1. John’s got the most impressive Gish Gallop this side of Kirk Cameron.

                    2. John’s got the most impressive Gish Gallop this side of Kirk Cameron.
                      reply to this

                      When you can’t answer the argument, just accuse the other person of changing the subject. I dealt with every argument made in a straight forward way. I never once changed the subject. You just don’t like my arguments but can’t think of a way to respond to them.

                    3. “It’s pointless to argue with you about a whole host of subjects. I’m not going to dig a dozen threads to disprove you, it wouldn’t make a difference anyway.”

                      I would like to see the threads. I can’t prove a negative. But, I don’t think the way you say I do. I will happy to explain to you what I do think on these issues. And you produce a post that says what you said that I said, I will take it back and apologize for posting it.

                      But unless you are willing to pony up proof that I actually think these things, I don’t see how you can make the accusation in the face of my denial and explanation.

                  3. You cannot judge morality without appealing to something higher. That higher can be a lot of things. It can be God or it can be your will. Atheists chose their will. That is all I am ever saying. If there really is no God, then I don’t see how you can say that one set of morality or ethics is any better or worse than another. It is not that I think atheists are immoral or unethical. It is that I don’t see how they can even claim there is such a term as “morality” and have it have any meaning or that they can judge one set of ethics over another for any reason beyond personal preference.

                    This is a common argument, but it is incorrect. Moral theory (ethics) is derived just as all fields of human knowledge are derived, from intellectual reasoning.

                    Moral theorists, whether objectivist or subjectivist, propose reasoned arguments to support their case and refute their opposition. It is not derived from authority nor “the will”.

                    1. “This is a common argument, but it is incorrect. Moral theory (ethics) is derived just as all fields of human knowledge are derived, from intellectual reasoning.”

                      If we could derive such things from pure reasoning, we could all agree on them. Morality would be like maths. Someone could write a proof and it would either stand or fall based on its internal consistency and how its assumptions match up with the real world.

                      But that is not how morality works at all. We have been thinking about these issues for over 2000 years and we can’t agree on anything.

                    2. “This is a common argument, but it is incorrect. Moral theory (ethics) is derived just as all fields of human knowledge are derived, from intellectual reasoning.”

                      If we could derive such things from pure reasoning, we could all agree on them. Morality would be like maths. Someone could write a proof and it would either stand or fall based on its internal consistency and how its assumptions match up with the real world.

                      But that is not how morality works at all. We have been thinking about these issues for over 2000 years and we can’t agree on anything.

                      No. The social sciences are not like the physical sciences. Purely empirical and quantitative analyses do not have the means to explain the philosophical and sociological realms.

                      And there is virtually no field of study that holds universal acceptance, regardless of how explanatory the evidence.

                    3. “And there is virtually no field of study that holds universal acceptance, regardless of how explanatory the evidence.”

                      I would say Math is pretty damned close.

                2. 3. Your constant atheist-baiting and your fanciful belief that somehow isn’t bigotry.

                  You say that like it’s a bad thing.

                3. 1. You constantly and deliberately confuse ethics and morality to your advantage.

                  What is the distinction? Ethics is the philosophical study of morality. The common usage is that “ethical” is equivalent with “moral”.

                4. 4. Your half-baked understanding of theology, apologetics,

                  I was married, I understand apologetics.

  2. So, he wouldn’t do a merger again. Excellent example of how the government slows down the economy, disrupting economic opportunities that could make everyone better off.

  3. “I wish unions would respect the rights of people not to join.”

    Me, too. A long while back I had a part-time job at a local unionized supermarket and had to join the union or not take the job. My first two paychecks were eaten up by union fees, dues, and upfront membership costs. I never perceived any benefit from being a union drone.

    And I’ve ranted about NJEA membership policies before, no need to rehash…

    There are also appreciable differences in CB unions and trade unions. Trade unions = much more gooder than CB unions like CWA, NEA, etc.

    1. What’s a CB union?

      1. CB = collective bargaining. Which all unions do in some measure, but some only exist just to bargain with management for benefits, salaries, etc. Usually they are highly structured around seniority and do little to help junior members. Unlike a trade union, which provides it junior members/apprentices with training in the trade so they have some sort of skill to do the job the union expects of them (or a skill they can take elsewhere in a non-union business).

        My husband is a member of a financially solvent pipefitters/welders local. His experience has been very positive and he feels his training time and dues money has been well spent, so perhaps I have a rosier view. I know there are some other trades locals in my area (IBEW, Operators) that have financial troubles due to poor management of their pension and healthcare accounts, which is leading to strife within the ranks.

      2. Collective bargaining.

  4. I like this guy but I hate the prices in his stores. Don’t much like the vibe, either. Felt something like having to get an enema at Starbucks.

    1. Your not his market.

    2. It’s not a store to buy all your groceries unless you’re upper middle class or wealthy.

      The one thing I really like is that they have a lot of processed foods with low sodium. Especially their breads, which taste as good as anyone else’s (better, in fact, if you don’t like the tons of HCFS they dump in most bread).

    3. Hate his prices? The Whole Foods 360 brand is often the best price for basic items (ketchup, mustard, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar) around.

      I love Whole Foods. Yeah, certain shit is expensive there, but shit…they had garlic spears this summer, and no one else did. That alone makes them awesome.

  5. I wonder how long before The New Yorker does an “expose” of Mackey?

    1. I hear he got his startup money from the Kochs.

      1. You should try their Kochlamari.

      2. He got is start up money from family and friends.

  6. The fact that he uses the dishonest propaganda term “Obamacare” tells me all I need to know about him: just another right-winger.

    1. What is propegandistic about calling it Obamacare? Isn’t the bill Obama’s signature achievement? Isn’t he proud of it? Why would he not want his name attached to it? People called Reagan’s economic policies “Reaganomics” and I don’t recall Reagan or any of his supporters being upset about that. To be upset about the term “Obamacare” is to imply that there is something about the bill to be ashamed of. Is there?

      1. You’ll have to pass it to find out what is in it to be ashamed about.

    2. So does using the dishonest propaganda term ‘Romneycare’ make one a left-winger?

    3. the dishonest propaganda term “Obamacare”

      I prefer honest propaganda terms like “Teabagger.”
      That one is still funny and never gets old.

    4. just another right-winger.

      I gotta shop there more.

    5. joe (in lower case)… is that you??? No, really, are you back!

      1. That’s what I want to know.

    6. Ah yes, only right-wingers use “Obamacare”. Like, uh, Paul Krugman. And Ezra Klein. Obviously, they’re both morons, but you’d be hard-pressed to call them right-wing morons.

  7. This guy almost makes me want to brave the throngs of hipster douchebags and unattentive parents and shop at his stores.

    1. Go there for lunch. They have a really good selection of pre-made foods and their sushi is really good. And after school starts the children tend to be minimal during the day.

      1. They’re opening a store in Foggy Bottom, I hear tell. I may check it out for lunch.

    2. Same here. I’ve never been into the local Whole Foods before, but I really like the idea of insufferable foodie progressives supporting a fuck-the-system guy like Mackey. I’ll have to check it out sooner or later.

  8. We’ll never do another merger that requires FTC approval.

    This is the sort of evil rat-bagger who is wrecking the economy and stalling the recovery by not putting honest, hard-working government accountants and regulators to work.

  9. Now there is a dude that is just WAY too full of himself.

    online-privacy.it.tc

    1. You tell ’em, Botski!

  10. The corp’rapetions, the corp’rapetions, “Screeewww the corp’rapetions!”

  11. “Some people believe corporations are a manifestation of an alien hive-mind society which is slowly conquering the Earth.

  12. We’ll never do another merger that requires FTC approval.

    Only in a world where people believe that the term “organic” is anything but a marketing brand would anyone think that Whole Foods was anything but another grocery chain.

    America has scores, if not hundreds, of grocery chains. How could two of them merging possible create a “monopoly”?

    1. There is no answer. “Monopoly” is a fantasy world of elastic definitions and after-the-fact crimes, where productive entrepreneurs are punished for their successes, all in the name of “the public good,” which is to say: collectivism.

      1. Yup. The idea that you could have a monopoly on a certain kind of grocery store is completely stupid. Like other grocery stores cannot compete with Whole Foods by offering the same products.

        1. But…but…Whole Foods is successful and gives customers what they want in a way that is hard for competitors to match. Don’t you see the problem?

  13. I knew people who were boycotting Whole Foods because of Mackey’s letter to the Wall Street Journal discussing his own ideas for health care reform. I don’t normally shop there, but decided I would as long as the boycott lasted.

    1. I would start shopping there, too if I had one in my town. Anything to piss off the hipster drones.

      1. Shopping at Whole Foods to piss off the hipster drones? Good one.

  14. Exhausting your opponents is not the same thing as winning an argument.

    Says who?

  15. They’ll never do another merger? So they are agreeing not to compete anymore? Sounds like collusion to me.

  16. But I regret doing it because it caused negative publicity for Whole Foods.

    So the whole “internet phenomenon” isn’t much ado about nothing.

    Does anyone detect that Mackey may be “hedging”? Is he moving towards a “Molly Norris” moment?

  17. I buy my Sunny Hemp Trail Mix at his store

  18. One word: Bison.

    Not cheap, but fucking awesome. Especially if fat intake is something you need to monitor, and refuse to give up red meat.

  19. costco has bison in my town.

  20. What a refreshing look at a true non-apologist for capitalism, John Mackey, who believes we haven’t really done our job at educating our people about what great things capitalism has contributed to the world. WOW! We Love Him and his incredible store that’s doing its best to give Americans another choice besides processed, GMO-laden foods offered in most supermarkets.

  21. The $30 million in legal fees. … For what? To prove we weren’t a monopoly?

    Somebody besides the two parties involved has to make money…

  22. I was a loyal customer of Whole Foods for a number of years. There are certain products that I use that are difficult to find and/or are more expensive elsewhere. However, I have recently ceased all shopping at Whole Foods and am conducting my own small boycott by telling everyone I know not to shop at Whole Foods. The reason? Whole Foods is a contributor to Planned Parenthood. I will never shop at Whole Foods again until it makes a public statement that there will be no future contributions made (in any amount) to Planned Parenthood or any other organization that is in favor of or promotes the murder of our preborn brothers and sisters.

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