It's Easy to Mistake Whole Foods' John Mackey for a Progressive Left-Winger. Nothing Could Be Further From the Truth.

The radical vision of capitalism behind Whole Foods Market.


"Intellectuals have always disdained commerce" says Whole Foods Market co-founder John Mackey. They "have always sided…with the aristocrats to maintain a society where the businesspeople were kind of kept down."

More than any other outlet, Whole Foods has reconfigured what and how America eats and the chain's commitment to high-quality meats, produce, cheeses, and wines is legendary. Since opening his first store in Austin, Texas in 1980, Mackey now oversees operations around the globe and continues to set the pace for what's expected in organic and sustainably raised and harvested food.

Because of Whole Foods' trendy customer base and because Mackey is himself a vegan and champions collaboration between management and workers, it's easy to mistake Mackey for a progressive left-winger. Indeed, an early version of Jonah Goldberg's best-selling 2008 book Liberal Fascism even bore the subtitle "The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton and The Totalitarian Temptation from Hegel to Whole Foods."

Yet nothing could be further from the truth—and more distorting of the radical vision of capitalism at the heart of Mackey's thought. A high-profile critic of the minimum wage, Obamacare, and the regulatory state, Mackey believes that free markets are the best way not only to raise living standards but also to explore new ways of building community and creating meaning for individuals and society. At the same time, he challenges all sorts of libertarian dogma, including the notion that publicly traded companies should always seek to exclusively maximize shareholder value (go here to read a 2005 Reason debate about the social responsibility of business featuring Mackey, Milton Friedman, and Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers). Conscious Capitalism, the book he co-authored with Rajendra Sisodia, lays out a detailed case for Mackey's vision of a post-industrial capitalism that addresses spiritual desire as much as physical need.

Reason TV's Nick Gillespie talked with Mackey earlier this summer at FreedomFest, where among other things, Mackey debated billionaire Peter Thiel on the role of monopoly and competition in business.

Runs about 16 minutes.

Produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Zach Weissmueller and Paul Detrick.

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This story was orginally posted at on August 12, 2015.

Go here for a complete transcript of the interview.