Reason Podcast

Can 'Conscious Capitalism' Make Business a Heroic Enterprise? John Mackey Is Betting Yes: Podcast

The Whole Foods magnate and his nonprofit colleague Alexander McCobin want to "elevate humanity through business" and make us all smarter, kinder...and richer.

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In 2013, Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey co-authored a business history-cum-manifesto titled Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. Drawing on his experiences with Whole Foods, Mackey outlined an unapologetically free market approach to commerce that also stressed far more than simply maximizing returns to shareholders.

"We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more," reads the credo of Conscious Capitalism, a nonprofit Mackey created to help popularize his ideas and engage entrepreneurs and policymakers.

I sat down with Mackey and Alexander McCobin, the CEO of Conscious Capitalism, to talk about the group's goals, activities, and reception on both the right and the left. The podcast was taped at FreedomFest, the annual gathering of libertarians held each July in Las Vegas, and we talked about everything from the Industrial Revolution to the human potential movement to McCobin's role in creating Students for Liberty, one of the largest libertarian organizations in the world.

For more on Mackey, including his legendary 2005 Reason debate with Milton Friedman and T.J. Rodgers of Cypress Semiconductor about the social responsibility of business, go here.

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Audio production by Ian Keyser.

Photo credit: Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/Newscom

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  1. What’s unconscious capitalism? You’re at an auction and you fall asleep, and some joker keeps putting your hand up t bid on stuff?

  2. No. It’s getting knocked unconscious by a mime wielding an olive loaf while you are negotiating prices with a hooker.

  3. We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more,” reads the credo of Conscious Capitalism, a nonprofit Mackey created to help popularize his ideas and engage entrepreneurs and policymakers.

    That is nice. If you can make a buck doing that, good for you. If you can’t, too bad. This really isn’t a sensible question. If you think your way of making a living is “noble”, good for you. No one else is required to agree with you and ultimately the market is either pass or fail. Your business being noble, whatever that means, doesn’t make it any more or less worthy than any other business that makes an honest profit.

    1. Stooge: So, for the paltry sum of 52 weekly payments of $19.95 I can get the value, the ethics, the nobility, the prosperity, and you’ll throw in the heroism for free?

      McCobin: But wait! There’s more…

      The rhetoric is nice but I can’t help but feel that they stole Tony Robbins’ schtick and added a pillar.

      1. Pretty much. Positional goods are real things. The old saying “you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle” really is true. These guys are just saying that you can sell a sense of nobility and well being to go along with a product. And you can do that.

  4. Can ‘Conscious Capitalism’ Make Business a Heroic Enterprise?

    It’s not already? Oh, right, I forgot: “EVUL PROFITZ!”

    1. Some profits are nobler than others. That is really all these guys are saying. And I say nuts to that.

    2. And isn’t it ironic that the founder of Whole Foods, otherwise known as “whole paycheck,” is telling the rest of us that his profits are good while mine are bad.

  5. if Mackey can point to unconscious capitalism I’ll listen.

  6. More realistically, business (not counting crony business) is simply as natural as beavers building dams or bees building honeycombs.

  7. “elevate humanity through business”

    #MeToo accusation in 3… 2…

  8. BTW, this is just my sad, little opinion, but Conscious Capitalism is exactly what’s wrong with Silicon Valley. Instead of just trying to make a buck by givin’ folks what they want, we get tweens acting like mystical gurus with head mics on TEDTalks, explaining why his app that pins a mustache to your selfie will fix third world poverty.

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