When he started his first organic food store in Austin, Texas in 1978, Whole Foods Market CEO and co-founder John Mackey had no idea that he would eventually usher in not just a revolution in how we shop but what we buy. If you dig being able to buy dozens of types of once-exotic apples, or cheese, or wine, or soaps, or countless other items, you can thank Mackey in part for helping to create cathedrals of commerce that have vastly enriched our day-to-day lives and vastly expanded our palates. (Full disclosure: Mackey has contributed to Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.)
In August, Mackey became one of the most controversial businessmen in America when he penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal outlining his company's free-market-oriented health care system and offering eight concrete reforms that would reduce costs and improve access. Noting that health care is not "a right" as that term is properly understood, Mackey forcefully argued that increasing government intervention into health care is precisely the wrong thing to do: "The last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction-toward less government control and more individual empowerment."
The response from the left to Mackey's op-ed was swift: Advocates of single-payer health care, union activists, and others called for protests at and boycotts of Whole Foods, despite the fact that the company provides affordable and well-regarded coverage to its employees.
As a cutting-edge entrepreneur who is comfortable quoting astrological signs and Ludwig von Mises, who practices veganism and sells some of the best meat in America, and who chases profits and is an outspoken advocate of charitable giving, Mackey confounds conventional political categories. As an advocate of what he calls "conscious capitalism," Mackey is that rarest of businessman: an articulate and passionate defender of free enterprise and free individuals.
In late September, Mackey sat down with Reason's Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie to talk about health care reform, corporate social responsibility (on which Mackey has written for Reason), why government interventions rarely achieve their goals, and how Mackey came to his unstinting belief in free markets.
Approximately five minutes. Shot by Dan Hayes and Meredith Bragg. Edited by Meredith Bragg.
This is an abridged version of an hour-long conversation with Mackey. For the full interview and downloadable versions, go here or click below.