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John Mackey and Conscious Capitalism Have Won the Battle of Ideas With Everyone but Libertarians

Why can't free marketers celebrate entrepreneurs and titans of industry who change our world unless they admit they're in it only for the money?

Barb Burch, ReasonBarb Burch, ReasonThirteen years ago in the pages of Reason, John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, debated Milton Friedman, the Nobel-winning economist famous for declaring that "the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits," and T.J. Rodgers, the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor who was (rightly!) famous for publicly telling buttinsky activist-investor nuns that they had no understanding of how to create jobs (the Catholic schoolboy in me still thanks Rodgers every night during my evening prayers).

Mackey argued an early version of a business philosophy that he would later codify in a 2013 book, Conscious Capitalism, and a nonprofit organization of the same name. Contrary to Freidman's Ahab-like focus on shareholder value, Mackey said,

The enlightened corporation should try to create value for all of its constituencies. From an investor's perspective, the purpose of the business is to maximize profits. But that's not the purpose for other stakeholders—for customers, employees, suppliers, and the community. Each of those groups will define the purpose of the business in terms of its own needs and desires, and each perspective is valid and legitimate.

Friedman and Rodgers toed the standard libertarian line: Take care of profits and shareholders, and good things will follow. Markets are set up in such a way that profits happen only when what a business does is valuable and wanted; the business can keep making money only if it uses resources wisely and efficiently, which includes paying good wages to keep talented people around. The intricate interplay of investors, entrepreneurs, employees, raw materials, competition, and so forth guarantees that if a company is doing right by its financial backers, it will be doing right by its workers, customers, and society.

According to this view, any discussion of the "social responsibility of business" to do anything other than earn a buck (such as Whole Foods' support of charities picked by local store workers) is either cheap P.R. or a dangerous invitation to all sorts of new expectations and regulations layered on top of the already brutally hard business of keeping the lights on at your store, factory, or hot dog stand. (As Joseph Schumpeter noted in his 1942 book Democracy, Capitalism, and Socialism, in any given year more businesses go tits up than make a profit.) "Mackey's philosophy demeans me as an egocentric child because I have refused on moral grounds to embrace the philosophies of collectivism and altruism that have caused so much human misery, however tempting the sales pitch for them sounds," Rodgers complained, even as Mackey insisted that "my argument should not be mistaken for a hostility to profit."

Ian Keyser, ReasonIan Keyser, ReasonToday that 2005 debate reads like it's from the distant past, if not from a different planet. Friedman is dead, of course, and Rodgers retired in 2016 after helming Cypress for 34 years. Whole Foods is now part of Amazon and, more important, helped to transform the stodgy, old grocery business so fundamentally that my local Kroger store in Oxford, Ohio, has two Asian guys making sushi in plain sight eight hours a day and enough organic produce on every shelf that the local food co-op, a fixture in college towns, is barely scraping by. Walmart is not simply the largest seller of guns and ammo in America; it moves more organic produce than anybody else.

And here's the thing: Mackey's call for businesses to explicitly care about more than revenue per square foot or investors' earnings has effectively won the argument with just about everyone but libertarians.

"In the last 13 years, more and more people are beginning to see it our way," Mackey told me in a just-released podcast that was recorded last month at FreedomFest, the annual gathering of 2,000 libertarians in Las Vegas. "Honestly, I get the biggest pushback when I come to FreedomFest. I'd say the hardcore libertarians don't believe it, though people who run businesses tend to believe it....The enemies of business and the enemies of capitalism have put capitalism and business in a very narrow box, where it's all about greed, it's all about selfishness, it's all about just money, money, money.....There's a deep cynicism out there about business and businessmen, and economists fall into the trap. They say, 'Yeah, it is all about money. Get over it!' But I've known lots of entrepreneurs in my life—hundreds of them—and very few of them started their businesses simply to make money. They had some kind of dream or vision they wanted to realize."

It's not that America's business class has been magically transformed from uptight, Robert McNamara types in towering corporate skyscrapers or cigar-chomping, baby-stomping, tuxedo-wearing pigs into turtleneck-clad hippies who use organic deodorant or everyday-is-casual-Friday-clad hipsters riding penny-farthings to work. But there's no question that the firms and start-ups that define the cutting edge of contemporary capitalism—everything from Apple to Chipotle to WeWork—grok a Whole Foods vibe much more than they do, say, the ethos of General Electric, which was just dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average after a 100-year run.

People want to work for companies that not only have social commitments but live them every day in the office or store. Many customers willingly pay a premium by patronizing companies that express similar values or employ practices that accord with various environmental, philosophical, or social views. These companies (the successful ones, anyway) don't use such commitments as an excuse to deliver shitty service or products. It's more of a giveaway, like the toy in a McDonald's Happy Meal. And they face real wrath when they contravene their own stated commitments. Chipotle, which prided itself on using local organic ingredients and being transparent about its operations, is still struggling with fallout from a 2016 e. coli outbreak. People aren't just scared to eat there; they feel betrayed. In 1993, the fast-food chain Jack in the Box served food that killed four and injured 178 others. Its rehabilitation was simply about making customers feel safe to eat there, which is an easier lift.

As we move further into a post-scarcity economy, one in which our basic material needs are completely taken care of, we move into a world where our choices will be guided by more than simple questions of cost, availability, or even quality. Consumption has always been a symbolic activity as well as a starkly pragmatic one. Take it from a long-dead economist whom we can safely assume never wore sandals to work or called for team building via goat yoga or paintball outings:

"Choosing determines all human action," wrote the eminent Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises more than 50 years ago, sounding more like Jean-Paul Sartre than Adam Smith. "In making his choice, man chooses not only between various materials and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another."

In a world where supermarket shelves are crammed with endless choices, commerce is about speaking to consumers' moral and ethical values every bit as much as their plummeting blood-sugar levels. The same goes for workers: Given a choice between working for a company that offers a compelling, holistic vision of the world that aligns with your own and one that doesn't, which are you more likely to sign up with?

This needn't be a totalizing vision, in which everything we do every minute of every day must have deep ethical and spiritual meaning. Many of us may want to fully separate work from play or personal life. But as work becomes more artisanal and expressive (even cake baking is now seen as akin to painting the Mona Lisa), it seems likely that the fusion of work and personal values will be increasingly taken for granted. You can call it virtue signaling, but since when is signaling a shameful activity, especially among free-market libertarians, anarchists, and fellow travelers? All things being equal (or even just most things being equal), why wouldn't you want to work and shop at places that share your values?

Libertarians who reflexively recoil from ideas like conscious capitalism seem to do so mostly because they think it's an attempt to get with the cool kids on the left or because they view it as a betrayal of foundational values, insights, and axioms developed by Friedman and others under very different circumstances. Friedman made his original statement about corporate social responsibility in 1970, at a time when belief in what John Kenneth Galbraith called "the new industrial state" was at its zenith. Through a mix of market power and cronyism, massive corporations such as IBM, Xerox, Philip Morris, and GM had supposedly tamed the vicissitudes of the marketplace. They were immune from the ups and downs of smaller, less-efficient, poorly managed firms. These companies would exist forever and would provide cradle-to-grave employment, health care, and retirement for us all, taking over many basic functions of government.

Friedman recognized how wrong that consensus was: The great mid-century monopolists of the U.S. economy were already falling apart due to mismanagement, growing global competition, and failure to adapt and innovate. He understandably bridled at the idea that businesses should be concerned with more than their bottom line. They were about to go out of business, and here they were, talking about all sorts of things completely unrelated to profit. Politicians and activists had their hands in the supposedly bottomless pockets of America's leading corporate citizens.

But nearly 50 years later, we live in a very different world. Despite all sorts of ups and downs and a global recession, we are infinitely wealthier and better off. We live in a world of super-abundance that is provided not by governments but by endlessly churning, innovative businesses that change the world and then die off or limp along as zombie versions of their formerly great selves, barely remembered even by their biggest fans. There is just one Blockbuster video store left only a couple of decades after the chain changed all our viewing habits. Anyone remember just how great BlackBerry's phones were?

If the idea that where you buy and work should reflect your core values is ascendant, there's still a much tougher task for Mackey and his nonprofit, Conscious Capitalism. In the podcast, I also talked with Alexander McCobin, the CEO of Conscious Capitalism (and the founder of Students for Liberty). The group hopes to pull together companies and startups that share the vision that businesses should care about more than shareholder value. One goal is create a vibrant community that can share experiences and promote best practices, especially for novice entrepreneurs. Another goal is to change the way the world thinks about business.

"We don't want to just help the businesses out" by sharing advice and building networks, says McCobin. "We want to make sure we're sharing their stories with the world to change the narrative about business and society. We want to highlight all these businesses and business leaders who are making the world a better place, why business is a force for good, and to encourage people to go into business to make the world a better place."

The idea that businesses make the world a better place is a point on which virtually all libertarians wholeheartedly agree. It's common to hear libertarians say that Bill Gates (or Ted Turner, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, etc.) did far more for humanity during his days as a rapacious, profit-driven businessman than he has done as a philanthropist. Isn't creating cheap, ubiquitous, good-enough software or driving the price of home heating oil down to nearly zero worth more than free money for libraries?

That way of thinking reflects a disconnect that libertarians should engage with and work to resolve within our movement. We aspire to create a world in which individuals are free to pursue happiness in whatever peaceful way they want. We recognize that commerce and work, every bit as much as art, music, and writing, are expressive. Yet we can't quite celebrate entrepreneurs and titans of industry who change our world unless they admit they're in it only for the money.

Here's the full podcast with Mackey and McCobin. Go here to subscribe via RSS, iTunes, and more.

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  • Just Say'n||

    "In the podcast, I also talked with Alexander McCobin, the CEO of Conscious Capitalism (and the founder of Students for Liberty). The group hopes to pull together companies and startups that share the vision that businesses should care about more than shareholder value."

    Now I get why everyone says YAL is better than SFL

  • John||

    The group hopes to pull together companies and startups that share the vision that businesses should care about more than shareholder value.

    Hey man, let's give our money to a business that tells us up front it doesn't give a shit about giving us any return on our investment. Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.

  • juris imprudent||

    It worked for the dot-com bubble, sort of.

  • John||

    +1 Pets.com.

  • DrZ||

    I firmly believe that we need to invest in companies that ban plastic straws. It does not matter what else they do as long as they ban plastic straws.

  • Enemy of the State||

    And plastic stirrers. The rape of the planet must stop...

  • Johnimo||

    I have currently in my possession, a lifetime supply of plastic straws. I will add to my horde in order that I might share these plastic treasures with my friends in California, Oregon, and Seattle.

  • dchang0||

    Thanks, from behind the Iron Curtain.

    When Calif. banned disposable plastic bags, I ordered a bunch of disposable plastic bags from China for less than the grocery stores now charge.

    I used to use those free disposable grocery bags as trash bags, but due to the ban, I had to start buying trash bags, so the number of bags I use didn't change, just the amount I was paying for them. Of course, this is exactly as the plastic industry's lobbyists planned it, so I absolutely had to go buy my bags from China, to deny the US plastic industry their chance to force me to buy their garbage bags. And for extra measure, I bought my reusable grocery bag from the UK, so as to deny them that revenue too.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    What's wrong about caring about more than shareholder value? I cannot see how that in any way conflicts with libertarian values. I would also argue that you will not be able to find a single business person, other than psychopaths, that ONLY cares about shareholder values. Every business person cares about his or her values first, and that includes moral values.

    For example, picture a CEO that runs a medical company and is opposed to abortion. If the shareholders vote to start selling a profitable abortion gadget, should he not fight against it based on his values? In the end, he might have to quit his position, but should he not put his values above profit?

  • John||

    Sure he should. Like everything it depends on the circumstances. Are there times that your moral values should take precedence over profit? Absolutely. But those times are the exception. Most of the time your duty is to your investors who gave you the money to have the business in the first place.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    That makes no sense, John. You either put your moral values above profit, or you don't. If you pick and choose, then your moral values don't mean much.

  • John||

    That makes total sense. Not all values are equal. And sometimes values come into conflict. it is called a moral dilemma. It doesn't make sense to you because you have no idea how morality actually works. Don' you understand moral dilemas?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Not if he is a sociopath or a psychopath.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    John, you seem unable to debate someone without resorting to personal insults almost immediately. And then you wonder why people will not argue with you in good faith.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    This isn't an argument over libertarian values, or any values-- it's an argument about agency, and as usual the marketplace WILL decide.

    If I'm the sole shareholder of a corporation, then the two points of view on corporate purpose are one: I balance profit motive with broader values in every decision and must satisfy only myself.

    But if I'm an officer of a publicly held company, I've been entrusted with capital from other shareholders. Should I place other values above the profit motive? Personally I don't know, but whatever you do, knock yourself out-- and the market will decide when capital flocks to you, or your decisions drive you into bankruptcy.

    There is no "should" here, there is only what survives over the long term in the marketplace.

  • Horatio||

    Nail on head. Though it's necessary these days to add "what survives in the marketplace [devoid of government investment, regulation, other than the enforcement of property rights]."

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    If I understand your argument correctly, you are claiming that moral decisions made by someone running a business don't matter, because either such moral decisions succeed in the marketplace, or they don't, and ultimately will be canceled out by what the market wants. Thus, it makes no sense to focus on them if the goal is to have a profitable business. I believe this is wrong and short-sighted for several reasons.

    First, moral signaling DOES affect demand. It may be because of existing moral values combined with a lack of information, for example. Or, through education, a business person my create new moral values that increase demand for his or her profit, even though that may not have been the business person's intent.

    Second, all businesses depend on a system of property values, enforcement of contracts, and conflict resolution. Whether a business survives does not depend solely on the marketplace, but also on the success of the business in defending its property and contracts, and in resolving conflicts. What sort of a system is in place to deal with those issues depends on the moral values of the population. And, as well, how the business navigates the system that is in place also depends on the moral values of the people running the business.

  • NashTiger||

    I'm morally opposed to Autotune, but I'd host a Hip-Hop/Bro-Country music festival if they paid me enough (and gave me earplugs)

  • jay||

    wasn't this explained pretty well in that book,- the fountainhead, which we all read when we were 20.

  • Elilis Wyatt||

    Read it again. Slowly

  • Johnimo||

    The very best judge of the appropriate actions of a publicly held company are the values of the shareholders. If the stock price drops dramatically, but the shareholders still value the company, they will buy up all the shares and get rich, assuming the underlying corporation prospers. It's a really good system for determining "value."

    Example: I bought Apple when the stock price was $22.00 per share. Why? I liked the computers and could see all the problems my Windows friends experienced. Need I say more? No, I don't need to say more.

  • Qsl||

    As it is, most corporations do a shit job of looking out for shareholder value (look up any of the hundreds of articles about reforming company boards), and now you want added complexity on top of?

    Eh...

    The problem with looking into the abyss is the abyss also looks into you, and while its jim-dandy to only shop with business that share your view that Meddle is the greatest Pink Floyd album, do you really want said companies to scrutinize every aspect of your life before they will do business with you (or hire you)? I mean what if you adore the sentimentality of Wish You Were Here or the bombast of The Wall? Shouldn't you also have a place at the table?

    We've been down this road before, and it didn't go so well.

    And beyond that, there is the pomposity of "doing good", which necessitates agreement from not only shareholders, but distributors and on down the line. And if any of these don't share your vision, what then?

    And I could go on, but the bottom line is that price signals are too crude an instrument to quantify ethics. Run a respectable establishment, organize your business as a co-operative, or donate to charity if need be, but don't try to shoehorn into markets what they are ill-equipped to evaluate

  • JFree||

    I agree but with one huge caveat. Those who are working for these companies are agents of shareholders. And they have also rigged the control/governance of companies, tax treatment of dividends/options/etc, to entrench themselves as agents.

    So when they are making these pronouncements, they are spending someone else's money - without accountability - in order to reap rewards for themselves.

    Unfortunately most libertarians don't give a rat's ass about this problem. They merely want to whine about this one manifestation of it.

  • John||

    But that's not the purpose for other stakeholders—for customers, employees, suppliers, and the community.

    If you don't own the business, you are not a stakeholder. This is nothing but Socialist bullshit wrapped up in capitalist language. These people are dangerous morons.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    Yep. Socialists say "stakeholder" hoping you'll attribute all the baggage to which that word attends to the the word "shareholder". They are as different as fascism and libertarianism.

  • Horatio||

    I wonder how much risk these "stakeholders" took when staking a hold in Feelgood, Inc.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Now John, some of these people ARE invested........emotionally.

  • ||

    Yup. I own a business. While I respect employees, I don't accept them talking as if I owe them or they own a piece of the business. Want a piece of the action? Invest and assume part of the risks and debts involved.

    It's like athletes who call themselves 'businessmen'. Er, no. You're employees of your team (that's why kneeling on their dime is full of it in my personal opinion. Want to impress me? Do it on your own time and dime) who pay you so much you can branch out and incorporate - that's different. They never took out a loan or paid back debts.

  • Elilis Wyatt||

    Your "business ownership" is a fraud, because who are you to judge another business? And why should anyone give a flying handshake about impressing you?

  • dchang0||

    Obviously, the NFL teams whose players are kneeling should give a flying handshake whether Rufus is impressed because he is their CUSTOMER.

    Although, I do disagree with Rufus about whether these athletes are businessmen. They are, like rock stars or movie stars, running a business built around personal brand. That's quite a bit more than the typical employee has to do at, say, a Walmart or McDonalds. And they negotiate contracts for their pay, which is common in business-to-business transactions but much less common in employer-to-employee transactions.

  • Sevo||

    "Yet we can't quite celebrate entrepreneurs and titans of industry who change our world unless they admit they're in it only for the money."

    Who "we?

  • John||

    Why do any of them need to be "celebrated"? It goes without saying you should be able to run your business however you want, as long as you are paying your own way. If these clowns can get people to invest money in a business that is upfront about its desire not to consider providing a return on the investment to be a priority, good for them. Why should anyone celebrate that? They like it that way but maybe other people who run businesses just want to make money.

  • Trumptard||

    Yeah I could care less why they do it. I just want what I want at a good price.

    And yes it is about appealing to the cool kids on the left. What the hell happened to Reason?!?

  • KevinP||

    Whole Foods prohibits the carry of firearms in its stores in Texas, even by concealed carry licensees. At most stores, there is no armed security guard to protect the patrons. So the customers and employees have been left disarmed and defenseless.

    I don't find this holistic vision so compelling.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Man, where do you live, that you feel threatened while shopping at Whole Foods?

    "That last box of gluten-free waffle mix is mine, motherfucker! Step away. Step away, slowly."

  • perlchpr||

    Somewhere that I don't want to leave my sidearm in my car while I'm shopping?

  • Horatio||

    Well that crazy ass vegan lady didn't shoot up a meat packing plant - she targeted the left-wing YouTube office. A location filled with (statistically likely) unarmed lefties is just the place a crazy-but-not-stupid person would target.

    /sarc...mostly

  • dchang0||

    The Whole Foods near me is in a good neighborhood, but not too far away is a bad neighborhood. (This is common in many big cities--you can drive along one street and pass multi-million-dollar houses, then pass slums, then pass multi-million-dollar houses again.)

    When the race riots erupted in Baltimore, where did they go to loot? They went to where the upscale stores were. The leftist media didn't mention this, but the black activists directed the looters to avoid stealing from black-owned stores and to focus on other stores (often owned by minorities of other races).

    If a race riot breaks out in my area, the people from the slums will probably come to where the Whole Foods is and loot the shopping center there (especially the pharmacies, of which there are several including CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens). "Why do you rob banks? Because that's where the money is."

    So being able to carry concealed in a Whole Foods is not unwise.

  • perlchpr||

    They do that everywhere.

  • Sevo||

    Here's what we need to work on:
    Even private schools are now adding credits for 'giving back'. When that includes setting up a lemonade stand for persona profit, we're getting somewhere.
    I have no kids in school, but if I did, I'd be there in a minute pushing that agenda.

  • The Last American Hero||

    It will be a great day when the Air Force bombs a school bake sale.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    In high school, putting whores to work better count.

    I had to do a presentation in high school featuring a fictional start up business. Phones sex 900 numbers were just taking off at the time. So that was my business. The teacher bitched , but since it was a legal business, and he didn't set any other applicable exclusionary criteria, he had to let me present it. I got one of the hottest girls in the school to be my spokesmodel in exchange for doing no other work on the project.

    Now THAT is a business that gives back. It also was probably the onset feasible business presented on the class.

  • Sevo||

    Bravo!

  • TuIpa||

    What the fuck has happened to Gillespie?

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Absolutely nothing. That's not quite the real question you're looking for.

  • juris imprudent||

    It's the comedown from the Libertarian Moment.

  • Restoras||

    It happened? Damn, I missed it!

  • Trumptard||

    Yep good question.

    Time to clean house at reason. Could we have some libertarians writing for this magazine again?

  • The Last American Hero||

    So a company should spend money planting trees or paying its employees to do volunteer work instead of investing in R&D, marketing, or giving employees a bigger paycheck? At least when the company goes belly up, the employees will have more time for volunteer work.

  • John||

    Isn't the idea that spending money on those things is somehow better than making a profit a socialist idea at its core? This whole thing seems to be saying "businesses should engage in socialism so the government doesn't have to force them to do so.".

  • LynchPin1477||

    Isn't the idea that spending money on those things is somehow better than making a profit a socialist idea at its core?

    No, not in the sense of workers or government controlling the means of production. It does reflect a value system that is not *solely* individualistic, which is in no way opposed to libertarianism or conservatism.

  • John||

    If everyone has some kind of duty to the "community" whatever that is, then why shouldn't the government enforce that duty? In both cases you are telling people what they should do with their own money.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Where did I ever say that everyone has a duty to the community? I didn't say that anywhere. But to answer your question, the government shouldn't enforce it because not everyone will think that they have a duty to the community, and coercion is wrong. And Mackey isn't telling people what they should do with their money. He's spending money people voluntarily give to Whole Foods in a way that he thinks will make more people want to voluntarily spend their money at Whole Foods.

  • ||

    If everyone has some kind of duty to the "community" whatever that is, then why shouldn't the government enforce that duty?

    Because "government" =/= "community," no matter how many "It Takes a Village" bumper stickers try to imply otherwise.

  • jay||

    but there is nothing within a duty based philosophy they precludes force, so yes the door is open to them

  • Trumptard||

    I hate that stuff anyway. I have to do volunteer work that my company agrees with? No, I am here to do a job, and my volunteer work is my business.

  • John||

    We want to highlight all these businesses and business leaders who are making the world a better place, why business is a force for good, and to encourage people to go into business to make the world a better place."

    Most businesses fail. And those that do succeed do so by a very slim margin. This whole thing reads like a bunch of trust fund babies talking about how they want to change the world. Good for them if they have that luxury, 99% of people who start their own businesses do not.

  • jcw||

    I actually was pretty persuaded by this article until this happened:

    Friedman recognized how wrong that consensus was: The great mid-century monopolists of the U.S. economy were already falling apart due to mismanagement, growing global competition, and failure to adapt and innovate.

    which leads to:

    But nearly 50 years later, we live in a very different world.

    But in 50 years, we will live in an even different-er world. Conscious capitalism in this context is in many ways merely just a fad (however effective and persuasive); and essentially, just another way that companies are pursuing the profit objective. Who knows how companies will be acting in 50 years?

  • John||

    Yes, It is nothing but selling the sense of "doing right" along with whatever their product. If it works, good for them.

  • Jerryskids||

    As we move further into a post-scarcity economy, one in which our basic material needs are completely taken care of, we move into a world where our choices will be guided by more than simple questions of cost, availability, or even quality.

    That's the one that got me. Progress isn't an inexorable force sweeping us along the arc of history, ask a Roman circa about 300 A.D. about his post-scarcity society where everybody could afford to be fat and lazy and happy. Capitalism, which is nothing more than delayed gratification or "work before play", underpins the luxury of choices beyond mere survival, yet Nick - and Mackey - seems to just breezily assume that of course there's always going to more than enough to go around. The problem is, there's another group that just breezily assumes there's always going to be more than enough to go around and therefore insists we can afford such luxuries as free college and free healthcare and free shit for everybody. And they'll continue just breezily assuming there's more than enough to go around way past the point where we're Venezuela. Worrying about more than making a buck is a luxury, you have to make sure you're making a buck first before you can afford to worry about whether or not you're making a buck in a socially-responsible manner.

  • perlchpr||

    Worrying about more than making a buck is a luxury, you have to make sure you're making a buck first before you can afford to worry about whether or not you're making a buck in a socially-responsible manner.

    I absolutely agree, and they absolutely don't.

    "If you can't afford to pay a living wage, you shouldn't be in business." Etc.

  • Mickey Rat||

    There is no such beast as a post-scarcity economy. Scarcity, by definition, can be lessened, but can never be completely eliminated, as there can not be enough goods to satisfy every want, everywhere, at every moment in time without supernatural technology.

  • Gracchus||

    as there can not be enough goods to satisfy every want, everywhere, at every moment in time without supernatural technology.

    I'm not so sure about that, at least not anymore. For most tangible goods, there is a clear (if undefined) limit to how much satisfies people's needs. Most people don't want an infinite amount of potatoes or underwear at any given time, for example, so there has to be some finite number beyond which leads to over-saturation. While it's arguably not possible to produce tangible stuff for everybody now, it's possible that we'll be able to do this in the future. But by then tastes and mores will have changed, advertisers and inventors will create new wants (or more precisely, more derivations of the same wants), and so what would be considered "sufficient" nowadays would obviously change.

    This doesn't even bring up intangible goods (vacations, family memories, etc), or even how to distribute said quantities of goods to each and every individual, but it surely is within the realm of theoretical possibility in the near future.

  • Sevo||

    Gracchus|8.15.18 @ 6:42PM|#
    "I'm not so sure about that, at least not anymore. For most tangible goods, there is a clear (if undefined) limit to how much satisfies people's needs..."

    You are an ignoramus and ill-informed besides.

  • Mithrandir||

    You're a literal retard Sevo

  • dchang0||

    I certainly hope that the social media companies (voluntarily) stop their current form of conscious capitalism, which is to censor and deplatform conservatives and libertarians.

    No, I do not advocate using gov't force to go in there and make the social media companies stop censoring; my hope is that enough customers will boycott them until they change their behavior, AND I hope that someone comes up with a truly decentralized, free open-source alternative soon.

    Even if these two things don't happen, I doubt that these social media companies will still be censoring everyone not on the left 50 years from now, because they will become leftist groupthink bubbles so toxic that even hard-core leftists will #WalkAway.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Many customers willingly pay a premium by patronizing companies that express similar values or employ practices that accord with various environmental, philosophical, or social views.

    I will wager that most consumers look for the best product at the lowest cost. As much as their market will allow, businesses should keep their heads down and be agnostic on social issues. Keep your customer base as wide as possible.

  • John||

    Some people will. They are known as dumb white people for the most part. There always has been and always will be a good living to be made selling status to the upper middle class. The idea that the entire economy could be based on that is absurd. Not everyone has the luxury of making their purchasing decisions based on their "values". In fact, most people do not.

  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed||

    "Republicans buy sneakers too"

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    That sounds like a bunch of bullshit that no one follows. If that were true, we would not hear about Chick Fillet day or boycotts of Hobby Lobby.

  • Horatio||

    Chic fil a and Hobby Lobby were news because such things ARE rare. What % of the billions of daily transactions factor charitable or political activities of the parties involved you think?

  • dchang0||

    Well, given that ALL the biggest banks like Bank of America actively donate to many causes on the left and right (but seemingly never libertarian and certainly never pro-gun), we are all being forced to participate in some form of conscious capitalism even if we don't know it.

    Even if you try to limit your exposure with the big banks by going with a credit union, if you buy something with check or credit card, the chances are high that the vendor selling you the product banks with one of the big banks.

    So I would say the % of the billions of daily transactions that involve political activities is quite high, perhaps over 90%.

  • Horatio||

    Chic fil a and Hobby Lobby were news because such things ARE rare. What % of the billions of daily transactions factor charitable or political activities of the parties involved you think?

  • Sevo||

    BTW, Mackey did a good job for quite a while, but it is obvious in the Amazon take-over that he's not 'been watching the store' recently, so while he's welcome to his opinions, his stock- (not 'stake'-) holders were not impressed.

  • LynchPin1477||

    the business can keep making money only if it uses resources wisely and efficiently, which includes paying good wages to keep talented people around

    They say, 'Yeah, it is all about money. Get over it!' But I've known lots of entrepreneurs in my life—hundreds of them—and very few of them started their businesses simply to make money.

    Maybe I'm being too coldly analytical, but it sounds to me like the real difference between these positions is that Friedman was articulating a position that didn't take non-monetary compensation into account. More power to Mackey for offering alternative forms of compensation if that is what people demand.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The "conscious capitalism" you're talking about is an excellent marketing ploy that was especially effective in Whole Foods' target market when they started--baby boomers who were concerned about the environment and other causes directly linked to agriculture and produce. There is no good reason to think that particular marketing ploy will work in other industries with other generations with other concerns in any other market.

    Meanwhile, Whole Foods' model worked because it was delivering value to its suppliers and customers in spite of whatever sacrifices WMF was making for the benefit of other causes--not because of them.

    I bought WFMI back in 2001 and sold in late 2005, Ka-CHING!!!

    I assure you, the reason I put my money into that stock (the stock they used to buy out all their slower growing rivals) wasn't because I cared about the environment or anyone else but El Numero Uno.

  • John||

    Whole Foods marketing worked because no other company was doing it. If every grocery store was like Whole Foods, it wouldn't be so effective and someone would sell bargain basement and make a fortune.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Part of it was that they bought out your neighborhood health food/grocery store--and brought the benefit of scale to an industry that had been single mom and pop stores since these health food stores were started back in the '70s.

    They brought the benefit of scale to an industry that had never had it before.

  • John||

    Sure, but it was an industry that served a niche market. You can't say every grocery store should operate like Whole Foods. Whole Foods caters to a certain section of the market. Stores that cater to other sections cannot be expected to operate the same way. Some people can't afford to care about their "values" and just want a good deal.

  • perlchpr||

    There is very little overlap, I suspect, between people who habitually shop at Whole Foods, and people who shop at the Wal-Mart Supercenter grocery department.

  • Trumptard||

    They met a niche demand in the market. Good for them. It can't be applied to every business. ESPN is taking on social issues more and more, instead of just covering sports. They are losing viewers.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I pray for the day when they go out of business and all those progtards shilling for them end up on the unemployment line.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Good thing prayers are futile.

  • LynchPin1477||

    "Choosing determines all human action...In making his choice, man chooses not only between various materials and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another."

    wrote the eminent Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises more than 50 years ago, sounding more like Jean-Paul Sartre than Adam Smith.

    Only someone ignorant of the writings of Adam Smith could write that last sentence.

  • John||

    Serious question, how is this not just a volunteer form of what Elizabeth Warren is trying to make mandatory? Yes, it being voluntary makes it orders of magnitude better than it being required by law. But if it is the same thing, is it really that much better?

  • Just Say'n||

    This is the rally cry of "woketarianism": be progressive, but couch it in squishy free market terms

  • Sevo||

    Yes, it is 'that much better'.
    Being voluntary is all it takes. I can chose to waste my investments on companies which aren't interested in paying a return, and that is no skin off anyone elses' nose.
    It may be stupid, but it is voluntary stupid, so it's fine by me.

  • Trumptard||

    As long as we keep it voluntary and allow choice who cares?

  • jay||

    no, not all values are optional, you have a right to choose to be stupid, but it is still stupid, you have a right to be irrational, but rationality is the foundation of all virtue, so in a sense it is not an optional value, if liberty is your long term goal.

  • Elilis Wyatt||

    The moral is the chosen.
    Thank you for playing.

  • LynchPin1477||

    But if it is the same thing, is it really that much better?

    At an individual value judgement level only you can decide that for yourself. Being voluntary and existing in a competitive marketplace means that emergent market forces will answer that question in the larger context of whether it delivers enough value to enough people. Warren's preferred approach means that Warren and her circle get to decide for everybody.

  • jcw||

    I don't necessarily agree with the contention that this is the volunteer form, but to answer your question: Yes, things voluntary vs. mandatory makes them so so so much better.

  • John||

    In a sense yes. But if it is a stupid idea, it is still stupid if it is voluntary. It is just probably not evil like it would be if it were mandatory. My point is that there is a lot more that is wrong with Warrens proposal than just the fact that it is mandatory. In addition to being coercion, it is also a really stupid idea that will just waste a lot of money that could be better used elsewhere. The same is true of this.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    I say that free market capitalism works best when businesses are trying to broaden their appeal and expand their customer base and they stay out of boutique politics entirely.

    If all business start going in the direction that these social media jerks like Jack Dorsey are going in, where even the beer companies are like "we're the liberal beer company and someone else can be the conservative beer company", it will be an absolute disaster for the country.

    People certainly should and do have the right to choose what businesses they will and won't support based on politics, but the smartest businessmen will never allow themselves to get suckered into playing that game.

  • John||

    If we start doing business with each other based on politics rather than comparative advantage, we will no longer have a capitalist system. We will have a tribal one and be very poor as a result.

  • Azathoth!!||

    See: The 20th Century Motor Company

  • jay||

    values have a hierarchy, and reason(the title of this website) is the foundation. You can argue that freedom to choose is a value, but if in any situation, reason becomes subordinate to choice, such as the freedom to be irrational, then the irrational destroys the value of freedom. It is not the job of govt to enforce virtue, but that doesn't mean private citizens cannot do it through their choices in the market or in their relationships with each other, when possible. Reason and only reason leads to freedom. Forced charity, or voluntary stupidity do not, the last is better, not good.

  • Elilis Wyatt||

    The moral is the chosen.
    Thank you for playing.

  • ||

    But if it is the same thing, is it really that much better?

    I was thinking about it this morning. I don't recall what it was, but somebody on NPR said something so stupid I had to turn it off. It's, ultimately, why I severely dislike 'civil libertarianism'. If Tienanmen Square happened and the government cracked down on news reporting the event, that's bad. But if Tienanmen Square happened a privately-owned media along with a collective culture voluntarily decided "We just don't talk about that." It is, in many respects, way worse.

    I'm not in favor of making anyone do things against their will, but where the edge of someone's will is defined is far harder to arrive at than a property line and when coercion and force of will violates the NAP isn't always crystalline.

  • Dillinger||

    >>> Yet we can't quite celebrate entrepreneurs and titans of industry who change our world unless they admit they're in it only for the money

    sounds like a personal problem, mijo.

    if Mr. Biz is not making profits he's a drain on whatever neighborhood he's in - Mr. Biz goodwills the neighborhood whether he wants to (by donating extra) or not (by providing the 'hood with enough product he's in the black) ... this is a stupid argument i can't believe someone is a CEO of anything devoted to this debate

  • John||

    Neither can I.

  • Just Say'n||

    "People want to work for companies that not only have social commitments but live them every day in the office or store."

    People literally don't want that.

  • John||

    You mean people don't want to spend their days off doing forced fun events at a soup kitchen? For shame.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Some people do. Like, I've literally met several of them in the real world who want exactly that.

  • Just Say'n||

    The bulk of people can't afford to "want that".

  • LynchPin1477||

    They can want it, they just may not be able to afford to *act* on that want. But if more people are able to do so because "As we move further into a post-scarcity economy, one in which our basic material needs are completely taken care of, we move into a world where our choices will be guided by more than simple questions of cost, availability, or even quality", to quote the article, why is that a bad thing?

  • Trumptard||

    Some people like this. Most complain.

  • What's the frequency, Kenneth?||

    Yeah, I'm gonna have to call bullshit on "we." Libertarians recognize the right to do whatever the fuck you want as long as you're not infringing on the rights of others. When did "we" become collectivists, anyway?

  • ||

    Remember when Google was all original with the "Don't be evil." clause in it's corporate code of conduct? Neither do I.

  • Just Say'n||

    And now Google censors itself at the behalf of the Chinese government.

  • Just Say'n||

    *behest

  • Jerryskids||

    As a libertarian and somebody who doesn't believe in altruism, I find this whole article a mish-mash of nonsense. "Profits" are cold, hard cash and most old-school capitalists have a huge vault full of coins and bills they swim in like Scrooge McDuck? Kind-hearted holistic Mackey's money affords him the luxury of running his business the way he wants to, but that's not "profits"? How so? Money is not an end in itself, it's a means to an end. If you're using your money to get the things you value most, you're just as greedy and selfish as everybody else who's using their money to get the things they value most. Mackey's using his business to be "socially conscious", to "help" everybody else, which means he's a central planner who believes he know best what's good for society and in everybody else's best interest. Fuck that shit, lower your prices and let your customers spend the savings however they see fit, that's how you help people.

  • John||

    Mackey's using his business to be "socially conscious", to "help" everybody else, which means he's a central planner who believes he know best what's good for society and in everybody else's best interest. Fuck that shit, lower your prices and let your customers spend the savings however they see fit, that's how you help people.Z

    Bingo. That is exactly the issue here.

  • Overt||

    I think the point, Jerry, is that this is all attempting to draw a distinction and get a libertarian endorsement where none is needed.

    I earn a bunch of profits, and go buy a yacht
    I earn a bunch of profits, and turn around and put money into a charity of my choosing.
    I earn a bunch of profits, and instead of taking them out of my company, I have my company do a bunch of charity work.

    Each and every one of us probably has opinions about which is a "better" use of the money. But the hilarious part of this article is the suggestion that a libertarian should give a fuck.

    I see lots of reasons why an owner would choose option C instead of B. They were going to spend that money on charity anyways, but now they get a bunch of PR and in many cases make their employees more satisfied. That's a great business model if your margins will support it.

    But why is Nick so cranky about getting libertarians to cheer about that free choice? We should be cheering that people are allowed to make any of those choices. And supporting one over the other isn't libertarian at all- it is just personal preference.

  • Horatio||

    I'll be charitable(!) to Nick and assume his MO is to sell Libertarianism to the casually authoritarian cocktail crowd in DC and other metros.

  • John||

    Or as ken Shultz put it; Gillespie has turned Reason into a lifestyle magazine promoting the progressive culture and lifestyle with a dash of libertarian political values.

  • Trumptard||

    He needs to move on. Time to have a readers' revolt.

    Out with Nick and Matt and that man-girl who can't change a tire.

  • John||

    The fundamental problem with this idea is the conceit that a business owner knows how to "do what is right for the community". That is just bullshit. If we knew how to solve problems so easily, we wouldn't have any problems. Most of these doo gooder programs that corporations run for goodwill purposes accomplish jack and shit.

    I would argue that the extra return to your investors does more good for the world than that money being spent on some bullshit community program ever would. If these clowns have all these great answers, why don't they have the government spend some of the trillions of dollars it takes in in taxes every year to go execute them and leave businesses alone.

    You really can't overstate what a load of bullshit this is.

  • LynchPin1477||

    If these clowns have all these great answers, why don't they have the government spend some of the trillions of dollars it takes in in taxes every year to go execute them and leave businesses alone.

    Because then you have government forcing a particular vision on everyone instead of offering several different systems of values and approaches to solving problems with the best succeeding through competition and trial and error.

  • John||

    They already are doing that. They took my tax money. The point is that spending money for "good" doesn't accomplish shit. If it did, the government would have already solved all our problems and we would all be socialist because socialism would work.

  • LynchPin1477||

    The point is that spending money for "good" doesn't accomplish shit.

    Oh come on now. That is very clearly not true. Donating money to food bank does good. Donating money to an orphanage does good. If you are about animals, donating money to an animal rescue does good. Donating money to an educational scholarship does good. Donating money to a group of doctors that does free work in poor communities or countries does good. There are tons of examples of effective charities that require money to do their work. There are also lots of examples of ineffective, and even harmful charities.

    Your last sentence doesn't follow at all from your first few.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Mackey's using his business to be "socially conscious", to "help" everybody else, which means he's a central planner who believes he know best what's good for society and in everybody else's best interest.

    How so? He's offering a vision and specific set of values but if people didn't freely agree with them, Whole Foods would still be some tiny store in Austin if it existed at all.

    Libertarians also offer a vision and a specific set of values that we believe help individuals and society as a whole. That doesn't make libertarians central planners.

  • John||

    Isn't believing that your spending the money on someone's behalf is superior to them spending it themselves the principal conceit of central planners? Why is there some obligation to "do good" rather than just make, save and spend money if not because you know better how to spend that money than the people who would get it if you just saved it or spent it on whatever goods and services you enjoyed?

  • LynchPin1477||

    There are a few reason. For one, economics of scale can help overcome coordination and transaction costs. Whole Foods can also give visibility to specific charities or causes that people might not discover otherwise.

    But, I mean, at the end of the day if you don't like it, don't shop at Whole Foods. That's what so great about capitalism!

  • John||

    At the end of the day who is Mackey to say Whole Foods is a "better company" than a company that doesn't do all of that shit and just sells its products at a lower price or makes more money? The point Mackey is making if he is making one is that doing it the way Whole Foods does is better and preferrable than just operating for a profit. No it is not. I would argue that because spending money to "do good" is nearly always useless or worse, operating to make a profit is likely better for society.

  • LynchPin1477||

    At the end of the day who is Mackey to say Whole Foods is a "better company" than a company that doesn't do all of that shit and just sells its products at a lower price or makes more money?

    An individual free to hold and promote his own sense of right and wrong. Just like you when you say that a company that only focuses on profit is a better company than Whole Foods.

  • John||

    An individual free to hold and promote his own sense of right and wrong.

    Yes he can say that. But he is wrong when he does. And that is my point that you keep avoiding.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I'm not avoiding it all. I'm saying that whether or not it is "better company" is a personal value judgement. You are free to think the answer is no and others are free to think the answer is yes. The market will decide if there are enough people who say "yes" for it to be a financially successful company.

    However, I don't find your reasons for why the answer is so clearly no to be very compelling.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    A CEO is free to say anything he wants but he has a legal fiduciary duty to the stockholders to maximize shareholder value - not "stakeholders" or the "community" or anything else.

  • John||

    How about instead of spending my money on "socially conscious" programs, I just sell my goods cheaper and let my customers keep more of their money? Or maybe pay my employees more? Or just put it in the bank and let the bank loan it out to people who want to borrow it? Why is some half assed socially conscious program that I think up better than doing those things?

  • LynchPin1477||

    It might not be. Customers get to choose if they would rather take the lower prices or the social causes. Employees can work at another store where they may command a higher wage. Shareholders still expect a return on investment and can decide if the monetary return is large enough.

    This is an approach that gets to compete in the marketplace, but there seems to be a decent amount of evidence that there is a niche for it, and potentially a very large one.

    Honest question - how much of this is a hostility to "conscious capitalism" at its core vs a hostility to the specific values that Mackey promotes, and the types of people who share them?

  • John||

    Sure maybe customers want that. And if they want to spend their money on a sense of doing good, that is their right. That begs the question, however, of whether that is a smart thing to do or something that we should celebrate in a society. I would argue that it is not a good thing. It is people wasting money and resources on what amounts to virtue signaling.

    And yes, part of the objection to this is how appallingly naive and elitist it is. If every grocery store operated like Whole Foods, a whole lot of people would be a lot poorer for it because the food at Whole Foods is obscenely expensive compared to other stores. The whole thing is just a bunch of elitist, stupid rich people jerking off and a few opportunists taking their money. That is fine and good. It is a free country. But for Reason to celebrate it as some kind of new way of doing capitalism is unbelievably stupid.

  • LynchPin1477||

    As we move further into a post-scarcity economy, one in which our basic material needs are completely taken care of, we move into a world where our choices will be guided by more than simple questions of cost, availability, or even quality.

    I interpreted this as Reason noting that these types of considerations are luxury goods (which they certainly are!), but ones that increasingly large numbers of people can afford. At least, that is how I would phrase it. And to the extent that people can afford more luxuries, that's worth celebrating.

    Are Whole Food's charitable contributions effective? I don't know, and as someone who only shops at Whole Foods because of the higher quality of their meat and produce relative to my other options, I don't especially care. But I encourage them to try and support effective charities, to the extent that such things are measurable. Given the types that my local Whole Foods donates to (e.g. local park systems, the SPCA, child legal advocates), it seems like at least some of them are reasonably effective at helping people or things that people care about.

  • parisc2||

    This is just BS marketing to please the commies who shop at his crappy grocery store. Mackey should spend his time making his business serve it's customers better (it does a poor job i/m/o) and his employees, most of whom I would suggest are disgruntled.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Back when I was a youngin' and still read Ayn Rand, I remember a passage from an essay she wrote. If I recall correctly she was telling the story of a paper magnate whose company had produced hundreds of products that seemed mundane and basic, but Rand's telling was interesting. She pointed out how simple products like toilet paper and feminine napkins had "liberated millions of women" from drudgery and the difficulties that the realities of daily life placed upon them. All in the pursuit of making a buck. The passage was kind of an eye-opener for me. It helped bring me to the idea that merely producing goods and selling them to people who want them was a kind of force for good in humanity. The only suspicion I have about Mackey's "conscious capitalism" is that it feels like a signal. LIke he has to wink at us and assure is that yeah, sure he's in pursuit of profits, but behind it all, he personally has noble motives. In addition, if we use Silicon Valley as any kind of metric, when we start mixing "consciousness" with capitalism, you get a bunch of companies that start backing scientifically dodgy ideas that can actually make things worse, a constant readiness to "partner" with government on all kinds of initiatives and legislation, and even create a kind of ugly corporate tyranny and discriminatory practices all in the service of pursuing a "public good".

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    So yeah, I'm getting to the place where I trust the used car salesman in the plaid leisure suit who just wants to get me in that chevy impala, more than I do a young tech billionaire in cargo shorts with Angela Merkel whispering sweet nothings into his ear.

  • John||

    Rand is right about that. And Mackey is full of shit. The point of what Rand was saying is that providing a product at an affordable price is doing good. There is no need for a business to do anything but that. Mackey's claim that there is is nothing but socialist bullshit.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I don't know if Mackey is full of shit. That's my issue. The used car salesman wants one thing from me, my money in his pocket and that dodgy Chevy Impala off his lot.

    When Mark Zuckerberg says he's rolling out a new system of commenting to "make my Facebook experience better", I honestly have no idea what he's doing. He may be trying to aid the Obama administration in the 2012 election, or maybe thin down the messaging from a political group he doesn't like... or maybe he got a memo from a leader in Europe he met with during a sumptuous dinner who pressured him into silencing voices the EU doesn't agree with.

    In the end, I have no problem with Mackey- he's laughing all the way to the bank, I ain't. So if he wants to pursue "conscious capitalism" and hit the interview circuit about it, more power to him. I just don't give it much merit as a concept.

  • John||

    I don't have a problem with Mackey. If this business model works for him, good for him. My problem is with Reason and Mackey claiming that this is some kind of model for capitalism rather than just a way to scam stupid people with money to burn.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    In the end, Mackey is merely a capitalist. He knows his customers, and he knows they want everything to be "conscious", so he's selling "consciousness" to his customer base the way the used car salesman seals "Genuine Vinyl Seats".

  • LynchPin1477||

    That was an important insight on Rand's part and not one that is promoted enough by capitalists. I don't think Rand was a particularly effective ambassador for the morality of capitalism but she was right that capitalism is moral.

    I don't think that is opposed to Mackey. I think he would just argue that the paper company should focus on things like getting their raw materials in environmentally conscious ways and pay their employees well. AFAIK he isn't calling on the government to prop up failing companies that try that approach and are punished for it in the market place (and if he, he and I part ways at that point).

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    AFAIK he isn't calling on the government to prop up failing companies that try that approach and are punished for it in the market place (and if he, he and I part ways at that point).

    I don't suggest Mackey is doing this, or asking for this. And I'd go further and probably agree with what Mackey is trying to accomplish on the "consciousness" side of his capitalist endeavors. But that's just it. Once I get the "consciousness" signal from a company, now I feel like I have to assess what it is they're trying to pursue outside of the buck-making endeavor to make sure I'm not keeping GMOs out of the hands of starving kids because GMOs are bad mmkay.

    Long before PC 2.0 even got off the ground, I remember back in the 90s that beer companies like Budweiser produced advertising literally aimed at the gay community. It wasn't a big social signal, it was just some quiet advertising because they sold their beer in gay neighborhoods and gay bars so someone trying to make a buck at Budweiser said, "Hey, I know!".

    That was a perfect example how a company in the simple pursuit of dollars was willing to reach out to a somewhat marginalized community in pursuit of their dollars.

    Another example was all the gay clubs that were owned by the mob back in the 40s and 50s.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Once I get the "consciousness" signal from a company, now I feel like I have to assess what it is they're trying to pursue outside of the buck-making endeavor to make sure I'm not keeping GMOs out of the hands of starving kids because GMOs are bad mmkay.

    OK, I think that's a fair criticism. Obviously, you potentially limit your customer base if you choose values that some people don't want to support.

    And just to be clear, my comments in this thread are not meant to endorse Whole Food's or Mackey's *particular* set of values. I'm on board with some of them (trying to give animals a less miserable life, for example) and not on board with others (any anti-GMO or psuedo-scientific organic zealotry). That's a case-by-case thing. I'm just pointing out that I don't see anything wrong with him and other companies trying this approach and letting the market decide, AND that more people *might* find the world to be a more pleasant place (by their own subjective standards) if businesses forsook a bit of profit and invested that back in to *effective* charities or provided non-monetary benefits to their employees. Or not! The markets can sort it out.

  • swampwiz||

    > Another example was all the gay clubs that were owned by the mob back in the 40s and 50s.

    The little guy - he wouldn't be fucking the Jew, would he? 'Cause that would be bad for business.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    My last example would be all the 'shade grown' and 'small coffee farm' push about ten years ago. Turns out, that whole thing was somewhat of a scam and became a kind of cartel in and of itself which ended up hurting a lot of coffee growers.

  • Mickey Rat||

    I don't think it is opposed to Mackey, but Mackey is, at least rhetorically, opposed to it.

  • Eddy||

    As to the buttinsky nuns - before the Pope changes it, here's some paragraphs from the Catechism:

    "2432 Those responsible for business enterprises are responsible to society for the economic and ecological effects of their operations. They have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits. Profits are necessary, however. They make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment.

    "2433 Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants. For its part society should, according to circumstances, help citizens find work and employment."

    The nuns were for racial and sex preferences, which seems to go against the second paragraph quoted above.

  • Eddy||

    Someone should take a screen shot before the Pope sticks in a paragraph that profits are inadmissible.

  • Eddy||

    And before the Pope orders "citizens" changed to "the people of the world"

  • Horatio||

    Ummm...isn't this whole thing proving Milton Friedman's point? That competition for employees, customers, and investors in the pursuit of profit leads to social goods already? This whole thing is such utter elitist bullshit. You have to HAVE lots of profits in order to spend investor money on non-business ventures. To have so much profit that you engage heavily in charitable spending you either (1) are a fucking rockstar at providing what customers want, and bully to you, or (2) in bed with government to ensure profitability and/or lack of competition. Given that option (1) almost always means you are overcharging your customers and are susceptible to competition that is happy with a lower margin or spends their money making a better/cheaper widget.

    See: organic milk industry.

  • John||

    ^^THIS^^

  • Dillinger||

    ^

  • Overt||

    This also brings up another point of contention with Nick's article. He says this:

    "more important, helped to transform the stodgy, old grocery business so fundamentally that my local Kroger store in Oxford, Ohio, has two Asian guys making sushi in plain sight eight hours a day and enough organic produce on every shelf that the local food co-op, a fixture in college towns, is barely scraping by. "

    Is that really a sign that "conscious capitalism" had an effect, or that Whole Foods exposed a market for high margin items? Yeah, all the stores have added a bunch of high margin products. But those stores are still there doing their old "stodgy" brand of capitalism! Within a 5 minute drive of me there is a Whole Foods and Ralph's. And shocker, the Ralph's hasn't adopted employee voting, or other crunchy signaling. They are just selling those same high end sushi rolls and organic dates marginally cheaper than Whole Foods. That they still exist shows that there is a market for both.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    As we move further into a post-scarcity economy,

    As we move further into a post-scarcity economy, there sure seem to be a bunch of politicians very interested in introducing scarcity.

  • Horatio||

    Was incredibly disappointed with Gillespie on this. I thought "post-scarcity" was something college socialists spouted. More abundance might literally mean less scarcity, but "post-scarcity"?? As if we will ever have all the time in the world, everything we want, without anyone expending energy to acquire those things.

  • John||

    The idea that there will ever be a post scarcity world denies the existence of positional goods and the possibility of black swan type disasters. It is without doubt one of the dumbest ideas out there.

  • rudehost||

    It also assumes human wants are limited which assumes facts not in evidence. A seeming lack of scarcity is always met by more desires.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "According to this view, any discussion of the "social responsibility of business" to do anything other than earn a buck (such as Whole Foods' support of charities picked by local store workers) is either cheap P.R. or a dangerous invitation to all sorts of new expectations and regulations layered on top of the already brutally hard business of keeping the lights on at your store, factory, or hot dog stand."

    And right on cue:

    "Corporate America is focusing too much on getting shareholders rich, so the federal government needs to intervene to hold businesses accountable, Sen. Elizabeth Warren told CNBC on Wednesday.

    To that end, the Massachusetts Democrat introduced legislation, the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would require corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue to obtain a federal charter.

    That charter would obligate company directors to consider the interest of all stakeholders, like employees and those in the community where the company is based, and not just those who own the stock. While charters, which define the obligations and structure of American companies, are done at the state level, Warren's bill brings it to the federal level."

  • Eddy||

    HAMILTON: "Wait, when I said the federal government could charter a banking corporation, I didn't mean to set this kind of precedent..."

    JEFFERSON: "Well, guess what, bitch, you did!"

  • Brian||

    Eh, I think this is a bit of a false choice.

    "Go after profit" can translate into a lot of actions, many of which can look like "satisfying the purposes of other stakeholders", like employees and the community.

    Companies do PR for a reason, and part of that is because of the bottom line. People actually don't want to buy products from/work for KillYouCorp if they have an alternative.

    Hell, look at Facebook. I bet they wish they could do some things over again, and it would have a lot to do with their bottom line, and not so much democracy, even though that's ostensibly the problem.

    Just because something indirectly effects profit, doesn't mean it's removed from profit.

  • Overt||

    FWIW: I think the Whole Foods model of employee governance is great. If you want employees to stop bitching about their benefits, tell them "Here is your budget, spend it how you want." We do that in my company all the time. "Here is the travel budget for this year. You guys figure out how you are going to meet your goals. Here is the training budget. You all decide how you want it spread around." It has not only resulted in less bitching and moaning, but has also allowed our teams to be more responsive to changing dynamics. Rather than put a bunch of constraints on these people, the only constraint is how much money they get. And it is amazing how creative they get in meeting that one objective.

  • swampwiz||

    I have no problem with corporations deciding to devote part of its profits to altruism; any entity is free to determine its level of philanthropy. it is the job of the government to decide how much profit a corporation is allowed to have after-tax, and as well to push the money around socialistically.

  • SIV||

    TL:DR

    Did Nick finally come out as a communist?

  • Trumptard||

    Basically

  • LynchPin1477||

    Not in the slightest

  • SIV||

    So, yes.

    I always knew it.

  • Rossami||

    What this article (and most of the comments above) miss is that paying attention to other stakeholders is how you maximize profits.

    If you don't care about your customers, you won't have them for long. If you don't care about your employees, ditto. If you don't invest in the community, you'll either have a) a host of problems from regulatory busy-bodies trying to punish you for your indifference in the short-term and/or b) a loss in your potential workforce and customer base in the long-term.

    Being "responsible" is entirely consistent with earning a profit and with diverting some of that profit to investments other than shareholders. It just requires a planning horizon that's further out than the next quarterly report. There is nothing anti-libertarian in that view.

    Now, you will get libertarians (and lots of others) up in arms when you try to compel that approach to business. Companies, like individuals, should be allowed to make bad and even self-destructive decisions - and deal with the consequences of those decisions.

  • Enemy of the State||

    Every $ that management diverts from shareholder ROI is a breach of fiduciary duty, a form of theft...

  • Sevo||

    Rossami|8.15.18 @ 6:19PM|#
    "What this article (and most of the comments above) miss is that paying attention to other stakeholders is how you maximize profits."

    Lefty asshole assuming imbecilic assertion amounts to argument.
    Fuck off; history has proven you wrong more times than I can count.

  • Morgan44||

    Yeah it seems like managerial common sense. Create a culture or work environment that inspires people to give you their best effort. Make sure your customer listening systems are refined enough to develop an emotional, not just a transactional relationship with customers. Give a damn about the communities where you operate to avoid all the friction costs associated with communities that would like to keep you out. Treat suppliers like partners rather than indentured servants and you're more likely to receive their best work and best ideas. Philanthropy is really a separate issue and not something I look for when investing in companies. This whole notion of "giving back" implies that you took something in the first place. If a company operates with an attitude of caring for the stakeholders that play a role in its success, I think that operating mindset has real staying power and I wouldn't penalize such a company if they didn't have a philanthropic bent.

  • Enemy of the State||

    The goal of a business is to make money. None of the other "concious" shit happens unless the business meets that goal...

  • rudehost||

    I have no issue with corporations pursuing whatever agenda they want and it doesn't have to be profit.

    That said

    I expect my attorney to represent me not a series of stakeholders in the community
    I expect my doctor to look after my well being not the needs of the hospital
    I expect unions to look after the interests of their workers not the interests of shareholders

    When I am paying you to do a job you represent me and my interests. That is what corporate boards are. They are the paid representatives of the shareholders. Nobody is going to insist that unions consider the interests of a wide variety of stakeholders including public shareholders so I don't see why boards should be beholden to anybody but the people who hired them. If the majority of shareholders want you to pursue social justice fine by me and they can express that by voting in directors who care about those topics.

  • PG23COLO||

    To show a genuine respect for ideas and the people who hold them, Nick Gillespie should differentiate between libertarian and conservative, which are two very distinct species. He describes "FreedomFest [as] the annual gathering of 2,000 libertarians in Las Vegas,"

    The people who gather together for FreedomFest are a hodgepodge of libertarians, conservatives, and others, but Gillespie's description demeans the word libertarian by equating it with conservative. Many at FreedomFest support Trump the bully and economic fascist who wages economic war against anyone and any country with which he differs.

  • Azathoth!!||

    You are neither libertarian or conservative. You are a leftist interloper trying to destroy both libertarianism and the ideas that fall under the blanket term 'conservative.

    So fuck off.

    slaver.

  • ||

    As we move further into a post-scarcity economy, one in which our basic material needs are completely taken care of

    "Completely taken care of" at what prices? This statement sounds like everyone gets food & shelter ("basic material needs") for free -- which is obviously untrue. The stench of Marie Antoinette's "let them eat cake" is strong with this one.

  • Sevo||

    And assholes like you keep posting here.
    Fuck off, you pathetic excuse for humanity.

  • Sevo||

    Ya know, some times I blow you off too easily, and then go back and find gems such as this:

    "Absolute maximum profits can be found in those companies which pay based on profits, also lowest per-unit costs."

    To dumbshits totally ignorant of business practice, that might mean something. To those of use who look at the cost/sell number spread-sheets it is a total mystery.
    And then we get:

    " REAL libertarian understand incentives, the driving force of market economics overall."

    Uh, yeah, and purple, too!
    So like Gracchus, you too deserved a detailed criticism of your bullshit, asshole.

  • Sevo||

    I dismissed this itinerant lefty imbecile upthread by pointin out that s/he is an unschooled imbecile, but let's be more detailed for other such dumbasses:

    Gracchus|8.15.18 @ 6:42PM|#
    "as there can not be enough goods to satisfy every want, everywhere, at every moment in time without supernatural technology"
    Gracchus reply:
    "I'm not so sure about that, at least not anymore. For most tangible goods, there is a clear (if undefined) limit to how much satisfies people's needs. Most people don't want an infinite amount of potatoes or underwear at any given time, for example, so there has to be some finite number beyond which leads to over-saturation. While it's arguably not possible to produce tangible stuff for everybody now, it's possible that we'll be able to do this in the future. But by then tastes and mores will have changed, advertisers and inventors will create new wants (or more precisely, more derivations of the same wants), and so what would be considered "sufficient" nowadays would obviously change."
    Cont'd

  • Sevo||

    Cont'd:
    No it is not possible, as would be clear to anyone who has read the least bit of history and given it an honest appraisal. You, as a common proggy imbecile, assume *you* can define "needs" as apposed to "desires". You can't; you do not have the least criteria to do so.
    If "needs" were easily met, once we no longer had to spend out time scraping lichen off of rocks, and could trade for it with the skins we pealed of those dinosaurs (c'mon), we had met our "needs"
    Well, your lefty buddies (and I'm guessing you, as a hypocrite) now define cell-phones as a "need", pace that lying piece of shit Obo.
    To even begin a study of which you are totally ignorant, you might search 'scarcity --- economics', but I'm sure the data there will be ignored by you. Reality is a bitch.

    "This doesn't even bring up intangible goods (vacations, family memories, etc), or even how to distribute said quantities of goods to each and every individual, but it surely is within the realm of theoretical possibility in the near future."
    Arm-waving bullshit. Fuck off.

  • Gracchus||

    Awww, I think poor ol' Sevo has a crush on me. At least that's what it seems like given how passionate his replies are....

  • Hank Phillips||

    Will Nick ever make it past page three of Atlas Shrugged?

  • SQRLSY One||

    Ayn Rand worshiped the almighty dollar or self-interest. She would not have liked or understood John Mackey... Simply put, ENLIGHTENED self-interest is better than simple self-interest... Self-interest with a horizon limited to me and me alone. Should I even care about my family and my cat and my dog? Ayn Rand never spelled this out for us. This is why there are no significant characters in her books that are children... The presence of children makes one start to ask about BROADER definitions of self-interest.

    And you know what? If one's behavior makes clear to others that we are interested in the benefits of ONLY ourselves, they catch on, and treat us likewise! Charity and consideration of others ARE valuable virtues, and Ayn Rand can take a hike! I'd vote for John Mackey over Ayn Rand all day, every day!

    Total blinders-on self-interested behavior to the exclusion of others, means that others start treating us likewise. "You reap what you sew", AKA, "what comes around, goes around". I don't think Ayn Rand "grokked" that. Others around us are more than cogs in the wheels... They are intelligent, calculating social animals.

    I like profits, yes I do! But short-sighted uber-capitalists will abuse the systems by running and crying to the politicians for special favors, and they WILL abuse monopoly powers as long as they can sustain them.

  • Elilis Wyatt||

    If you'd read Rand, you would not have made such a fool of yourself.
    Her point was that helping others was not a moral obligation.
    She celebrated charity ... and defended consent of the governed.

    Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand
    15. GOVERNMENT FINANCING IN A FREE SOCIETY

    "Any program of voluntary government financing is the last, not the first, step on the road to a free society—the last, not the first, reform to advocate. It would work only when the basic principles and institutions of a free society have been established. It would not work today.

    A process of liberation would be much more rapid than the process of enslavement had been, since the facts of reality would be its ally. But still, a gradual process is required—and any program of voluntary government financing has to be regarded as a goal for a distant future.

    WHY? ... Consent of the Governed

    Rand was Jeffersonian -- "Consent of the Governed" is the SOLE requirement for a moral POLITICAL philosophy. Which CAN be separate from MORAL philosophy ... IF one CHOOSES to live in a SOCIETY

    You've been manipulated again.

  • JeremyR||

    I dunno, I'm not seeing any of this being put into practice. Wages aren't going up for the everyday worker; automation is taking jobs

    And many choices are illusions. Instead of having 50 flavors of Pringles or Gatorade, wouldn't it be nice to have some actual choice? Other brands?

  • Elilis Wyatt||

    Wages aren't going up for the everyday worker

    Sure they are. You've been manipulated on elementary arithmetic. When well-paid jobs are declining -- thanks to Democrats, who also spread your lie -- median or average wages are useless. I'll explain. Slowly,

    If one person loses a $75,000 job and can only replace it at $45,000, then average and median wages decline, and the rich have a higher share ... even if nobody else loses a dime. You'd need 100 or so decimal places to see it, but the arithmetic is elementary.

    automation is taking jobs

    That's what the crazy Luddites said at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. that factories would replace the spinning wheel and generate widespread poverty, Today, we ridicule their ignorance. Which SHOULD be obvious. Just look around you.

    For a society to OWN more stuff, it must first CREATE more stuff. Virtually everything owned, by every household in America, would not exist if not for automation. Would you really prefer the living standards of 200 years ago?

  • PaulTheBeav||

    Good intentions have an expiration date. Greed does not. If you need someone to do something for you, it's best to rely on their greed to get it done. If you rely on their good intentions you may find yourself screwed.

  • tlapp||

    Well said. Channeling your inner Milton Friedman.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    It strikes me that much of this discussion is missing an important distinction - a private company versus a publicly traded enterprise. If you own the company yourself, by all means, stand up for whatever moral or ethical principles you believe in. But, if you're a public company, it isn't your company, it isn't your property, to engage in that moralizing with. You've been entrusted by the company's stockholders, the people whose property the company actually is, have entrusted you, as their agent, to act on their behalf and in their best interests. Acting in pursuit of your moral goals with their money, is only marginally different (the difference between fraud and theft) from the "altruist" generous with everyone else's money that he extorted from them through taxes.

  • ||

    But even in a private business your principles can negatively impact those who depend on their jobs.

    For example, I'm libertarian. I loathe the progressive left. I operate in an industry where the government has a large say in things. I can pound my chest and challenge all the stupid shit they do (and believe you me it's pretty bad) but this will jeopardize the business. So I put on my pragmatic hat and run the business as it ought to be - as a fricken business. Free of political and philosophical bull shit.

    You have to be this way. You have to be stoic, cunning, agile and whatever. You have to adapt and accept the things you can't fight or change.

    That's why I've survived so far.

  • ||

    "...I'd say the hardcore libertarians don't believe it, though people who run businesses tend to believe it...."

    Mackey lives in his own world.

    I live in mine.

    I don't make millions and billions. My number ONE priority is to ensure the viability of my business over the long-term. That means all the boring, stodgy stuff like cost cutting, keeping an eye on expense, paying bills, covering rent etc. If I don't do those simple things, my business goes under and I failed myself, employees and the community at large (as if anyone really cares if I survive or not. But that's my experience in dealing with clients and municipal governments over the last 10 years. No one cares as Sonny said in 'A Bronx Tale'.

    And yes, I keep a focus on creating profits. I take those profits and save it for a rainy day and/or lease hold improvements including 'giving back to the community'. That's MY decision.

  • ||

    (cont'd).

    Yes, we've encountered several 'do the right thing' moments and we do indeed try to incorporate this into the business where viable and feasible. I'm not gonna do it for its own sake. I do spend more on food than I need to because that's my value (probably because of my Italian heritage) but even there the rise of the cost of food make it difficult. Never mind I operate in an industry where government subsidies distort pricing and wages. We do add 'value-added' activities and maintain our own garden and give to various charities as well as lend support to others. We do what we can.

    But it's not a means to an end. The first lesson I learned when I opened my doors? Man, I need to make sure this thing stabilizes, flies and remains viable. That means what Friedman said. Everything else DOES take care of itself. If you go backwards, don't be surprised you get overwhelmed.

    Just my take.

  • teeduke||

    All this sounds like pandering of the worst sort. Businesses faking they care about this or that may be able to pull it off for a while. But beware the fickle twitterati. They are a nasty bunch and will turn on you in a minute, depending on which one of their number is offended.

    The sensitivity training garbage we were introduced to some years ago has spawned a population that has become ultra-sensitive, their nerve endings twitching to be constantly soothed and ever so eager to bitch about and burn down what they don't like at the moment.

    We have become a nation of spoiled brats.

  • LifeStrategies||

    But you ignore the obvious: Even though Capitalists may be in it just for the money, everybody benefits from what they do with it. In a nutshell, there are only four things that happens to that money: they spend it, save it, or invest it. Or the government takes it as taxes.

    1. They either spend it on goods where it indirectly pays the wages of labour. Or they spend it on services which directly pay wages.

    2. Or they save it in a bank who lend it to a company which pays wages or buys services.

    3. Or they invest it in a company which expands by employing people and paying the wages of labor, or which buys goods and services from other companies and/or invests it as capital expenditure which produces good and services more cheaply.

    4. The only negative is when the government takes it as taxes to subsidize current consumption rather than useful productive activity. Remember that money is fungible.

    In the absence of the debilitating economic effects of crony capitalism, leaving money and profit in the hands of rich people is not only VERY PRODUCTIVE, it benefits the poor.

  • rpullman||

    Wegman's transformed the supermarket in the 80's and 90's. Better place to shop, and work, as well.

  • vek||

    As a business owner, I have always believed that you need to have a little something else besides JUST making as much cash as possible. I think public companies however need to put their fiduciary duty first, as opposed to private businesses who can just do whatever they feel is right and bear the full brunt of the consequences.

    That said, even public companies should have a little wiggle room in their for moral values. I'm a rabid capitalist, but I think businesses should temper that WHEN THEY CAN AFFORD TO by trying to be good to workers. There are self interested reasons in their, like turnover rate, but also just because it is the "right" thing to do. However one cannot always afford to be generous, and when you have to be hardcore I believe they should.

    As a nationalist, I think one of the things that has hosed this country the most in the last several decades is massive companies no longer giving a shit about the health of their home country or its economy. Outsourcing millions of jobs to shave off 10% on costs for items only marginally cheaper to make abroad, etc. A guy like Henry Ford never would have considered supporting a communist dictatorship over Americans to save a marginal amount of money.

  • vek||

    At the end of the day it comes down to particular situations IMO. I have MY values, but I also don't agree with the values pushed by lots of businesses... But that's freedom I reckon.

    I am free to NOT buy stuff from lefty companies supporting things I really don't like, even though I in fact also care about worker rights etc like some lefties do. So it's just a case by case thing. It should all sort itself out in the end.

  • Joe Emenaker||

    From the article: "Many customers willingly pay a premium by patronizing companies that express similar values or employ practices that accord with various environmental, philosophical, or social views". I read that as "It's the job of the market to effect conscientious behavior on the part of the corporation, yet, just a couple of months ago, this very website ran an op-ed bagging on tweeters for reminding a social-media influencer not to eat at Chick-fil-A because of the anti-gay ideology and actions of the company's owners. So... which is it?

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