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Mackey Regarding Word Choice on Health Care

By John Mackey, January 17, 2013  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by John Mackey

In an interview with NPR on Wednesday, Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey discussed his new book, Conscious Capitalism, along with other topics such as health care. Today, John revisited his remarks on the Huffington Post and we are sharing them here.

I made a poor word choice to describe our health care system, which I definitely regret. The term fascism today stirs up too much negative emotion with its horrific associations in the 20th century.  While I'm speaking as someone who works hard to offer health care benefits to more than 73,000 team members, who actually vote on their overall benefits packages, I am very concerned about the uninsured and those with preexisting conditions. 

I believe that, if the goal is universal health care, our country would be far better served by combining free enterprise capitalism with a strong governmental safety net for our poorest citizens and those with preexisting conditions, helping everyone to be able to buy insurance. This is what Switzerland does and I think we would be much better off copying that system than where we are currently headed in the United States.

I believe that health care should be competitive in the open market to promote innovation and creativity. Despite the criticism of me, I am encouraged that this dialogue will bring continued awareness and a better understanding of viable health care options for all Americans. There is an alternative to mandated health care in free enterprise capitalism based on voluntary exchange for mutual gain. This alternative allows individuals and businesses to innovate and develop customized solutions to health care where a “one size fits all approach” fails.  Creativity and progress are stifled when government regulations dictate the parameters of what health care plans can be offered. Creative businesses, and the people who work them, can make something that has value for all stakeholders.

I need a new word or phrase to describe the state of health care now because it is something that I, like all folks entrusted with the wellbeing of a team, grapple with daily in this era.  I think for now I will simply call it government-controlled health care to distinguish it from free enterprise capitalist health care.  Clearly, I would prefer free enterprise capitalism in health care because it would greatly increase innovation and progress —just like it does in every other aspect of our lives, wherever it is allowed to exist. I hope those who are my critics, would recognize that we are all after an improved state of society, and not be distracted by the poor use of an emotionally charged word. 

If you would like to hear more from John, you can listen to him here:

CBS This Morning: “Bad Choice of Words”

Huffington Post

NPR Interview Part 1

NPR Interview Part 2

You can read more about John, his philosophy and his new book, Conscious Capitalism at:

Forbes: “Why Companies Should Embrace Conscious Capitalism”

Financial Post: “Making Money Need Not Be A Zero-Sum Game”

Investor Business Daily “John Mackey Built Healthy Food Empire”

Category: Company Info


1 Comment


Timothy Owen says ...
I used to spend a pile of cash at WF every month. When I found out they were pushing GMO, they lost my business.
01/17/2013 2:44:03 PM CST
Leslie Davison says ...
I thought that your word choice was right on, true and accurate. Don't apologize.
01/17/2013 2:47:33 PM CST
Vicki Reyna says ...
I understand why he has issued this....but that does not change the fact that what he initially spoke was TRUTH!!!! As far as I am concerned no apology or rescinding of the comment was required! Many in this nation will soon find out exactly what Obamacare will truly entail and they will NOT be happy with it!! As someone who is on Disability for M.S., I certainly want there to be changes in the way insurance companies and Medicare function especially for the disabled and elderly, but I do NOT want my health care to so damage the country that my children and grandchildren will suffer for years to come from its COST!!!
01/17/2013 2:47:57 PM CST
katharine petrequin says ...
I was thrilled when I heard you moving closer to my home...now, after hearing your remarks about the president and the new healthcare law I am appalled and will NOT be shopping in your store...
01/17/2013 2:48:50 PM CST
Steve Symonds says ...
I have been a loyal Whole Foods customer for years. That may sadly change as a result of Mackey's rant. Even his "corrected" statement is intellectually wrong and ethically offensive. America's "free market" healthcare system is demonstrably the worst value per dollar in the world. Healthcare here costs more than any other developed country -- and has the poorest results. On a world ranking, U.S. healthcare is right now there with Cuba's! Furthermore, more than 40 million Americans can't even get healthcare coverage. Mackey should be put out to pasture, frankly.
01/17/2013 2:48:57 PM CST
Zach says ...
Hey John, not sure if you'll actually see this but I'm glad you decided to clarify exactly what you meant and I wholeheartedly agree with your position but I have a question of further clarification: in the capitalistic free market healthcare system what other role do you think govt can and should play within that system other than a passive safety net, or if you think that's all they should do?
01/17/2013 2:50:19 PM CST
Joey says ...
I spend a lot of money at Whole Foods DAILY! One piece of advice, you run a business. Shut up and run your business! Nothing good comes from discussing religion or politics!
01/17/2013 2:50:25 PM CST
Miriam Jacobs says ...
Sorry John, Having the government support your business by providing health care for your employees, instead of you paying them enough and/or providing benefits that adequately meet their health care needs is unacceptable to me. It is also unacceptable for employees of such a successful business to have to do without healthcare. YOU, the capitalist, need to provide for your employees. This law assures that you do just that. Hotheaded, wrong headed, hyperbolic discourse currently IS our largest and most destructive problem. Fortunately, in my area there are plenty of other grocery stores providing organic and quality merchandise. You've lost me as a customer.
01/17/2013 2:56:52 PM CST
John Richardson says ...
Oh yes, our free enterprise health care system was such a glowing success in the past... not
01/17/2013 2:57:12 PM CST
Angela Brown says ...
The open market you want has been open for how long now and what have they done???? I have a pre-existing condition and health care was more than my mortgage monthly. Why? Until forced, the open market just used people like me. I will NEVER step foot in a whole foods again. Such a shame I used to really love it.
01/17/2013 2:58:19 PM CST
Linda Medure-Ritter says ...
I am a loyal WF customer for many years. I truly plant to start shopping at Fresh Market. John Mackey should be drummed out of the company. To equate Omabacare (and by implication the President_ with fascism is disgusting. He should apologize directly to the President.
01/17/2013 3:00:31 PM CST
john says ...
Well we know where his heart is - so, not another penny of mine, not for along while. BOYCOTT
01/17/2013 3:04:31 PM CST
gia vera says ...
Whole Foods has alientaed I was loyal customer of whole foods but i will no longer be shopping at your stores.
01/17/2013 3:05:37 PM CST
Dorothy Blalock says ...
I am very offended over your comparing President Obama's health care program to fascism. Your apology probably is only for fear of losing customers, which I certainly hope you will. I will never speak highly of your store again, and I will certainly cut back on my shopping there. Shame on you.
01/17/2013 3:07:50 PM CST
Andrew Lauterback says ...
You are living in a dream word if you think that all corporations will voluntarily provide their employees the health care we all deserve. In fact, today's reality shows just the opposite. Fortunately, I have health insurance, but preach your corporate conscience libertarianism to the millions of working Americans who are denied health insurance by their employers. This time you've gone way too far equating President Obama's Affordable Health Care Law with fascism. You can claim that it was a poor choice of words, but what is apparent is that you meant what you said but underestimated the reaction to it. It's in line with your other extreme right wing positions on climate change, collective bargaining, and the like. I've shopped at WF every since it came into Massachusetts and bought out Bread and Circus. I can't wait for Wegman's to get just a little closer to my home. I find your elitist and wacko views to be disgusting. Andrew Lauterback
01/17/2013 3:08:58 PM CST
Alisa Haley says ...
This trend of retracting/clarifying/apologizing unpopular public comments is absurd. Mackey said what he meant and meant what he said the first time. I have been a long time W.F. customer and will never shop there again.
01/17/2013 3:11:57 PM CST
beth britt says ...
I left a separate comment about John Mackay's use of the word Fascism, and my disappointment in the interview oveerall. Reading his comments above, while I believe that he is being sincere, I continue to be disappointed. I get that Obamacare is a challenge for a company that might have been trying to show leadership, and I myself am not thrilled by the program (personally I wanted single payer). But I have watched the political theater play itself out for the past ten years (and have some awareness of the past forty years), and as flawed as it is, this is the only substantive health care program designed to improve and expand health care overall (not just for whole foods employees) in the past 50 years. It was painful to craft and pass, reflected multiple compromises, and a complex political and economic reality. What exactly is Mr Mackay proposing? We should cancel Obamacare, and then pass some vague program similar to the one he heard about in Switzerland? What is his actual agenda for doing that, and where is the coalition that he has built to make that happen? Frankly, where was he the past ten years and how was he involved in passing the current law, and the Clinton attempt for health care reform? Is this truly his position? How do you possibly imagine that this is anything like a constructive contribution to either the political dialogue or the politics? Conscious Capitalism needs to be aware of the realities of the world, and not exist in an utopia, otherwise, its pretty useless and will easily be distorted by people who have completely other goals and agendas (and yes, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News wasted no time in repeating your statements).
01/17/2013 3:13:41 PM CST
jeremy says ...
This comment is in response to Mr. Mackey's comment on our healthcare. Hopefully this gets to you. I shop at your stores and as you are a successful businessman I am interested in your take on our healthcare system in America. However, I respectfully disagree with your comments. Simply stated, the free market has provided what our society needs in terms of healthcare. As you know, around 40 million people are uninsured and those people who have it see their premiums increase every year. These increases are way past the rate of inflation. Furthermore, those who do have coverage routinely have coverage denied for procedures and medication by insurance companies. I personally have experienced this as well as my mother. The point being we have a free market system and it is not working. Sure the US has many of the leading procedures and doctors in the world, if you have access to them. The point being unfettered capitalism left to its own devices eats itself. We saw this with the banking crisis which was a repeat of the same mentality that led to the Great Depression. We need some countervailing balance to the strength of private corporations and that is the government to put in regulations like for example no denying people with pre-existing conditions. Capitalism doesn't always lead to innovation, in fact sometimes big corporation work out right to stifle it. We saw record and movie companies try to do this with online distribution of IP. You could also you could look at are telecommunications infrastructure which is behind some other companies in terms of speed and pricing due to lack of competitiveness. Or look to the patent wars going on by Apple and Samsung, which scare start ups from happening because of litigation expenses. The examples are numerous where business put profits over everything else including service to the customer and ethics. But that is the point I think, not everything should be treated like a commodity. For example, we don't treat education as such because we value it too high. Shouldn't people's health be as important? I like to think your company is a bit different. Maybe in the longterm we could wait until all businesses develop the same morals as maybe your company does. But like John Maynard Keynes said, in the long term we're all dead. People are suffering and dying from ailments while we have been shuffling our feet on the subject since Nixon. Maybe we should model our system more like Switzerland or Australia. I don't know. But we need to look at this thoughtfully and truthfully. Furthermore, keep in mind the only reason this has become a subject of debate again is because the government forced the issue. Best Regards
01/17/2013 3:18:20 PM CST
Will says ...
I appreciate Mr. Mackey's visionary leadership and honesty. We need to honor individuals who speak truth to power and strive to bring real solutions to the challenges that face our country. Thanks for your voice!
01/17/2013 3:22:52 PM CST
Cynthia Wells says ...
Mr. Mackey talks about his concern for his employees then links the same program that will help them with Fascism. I'm sorry but I have shopped at Whole foods for the last time. There are other stores out there that offer "whole foods" that are thrilled to be able to be sure that their employees have health care and would never call President Obama a Fascist. BTW his word was changed because he is worried about losing business. Welcome to capitalism where we can shop where we want.
01/17/2013 3:23:10 PM CST
Anon says ...
I think Mr. Mackey should choose his words very carefully. He may be right, he may be wrong, but when it comes down to it, anything he says directly effects his team members, all 73,000 of them. From every day business, to stocks, etc. When you are the CEO of a multi million dollar corporation, you have to think before you speak.
01/17/2013 3:25:13 PM CST
Bruce Ferguson says ...
John: thanks for that Non-Apology apology. Your elected Congress passed a law that you don't like. Now you have to comply with it. To compare the president or his policies to fascism is wrong---and you committed that wrong. You demean yourself and insult others who've lived under fascist governments. Until today, I've driven by two other food retailers to buy from your store. No more. You lost a customer with your "...poor word choice to describe our health care system."
01/17/2013 3:25:49 PM CST
Betty Owens says ...
I have been a Whole Foods shopper since you only had one tiny store on Lamar in Austin. I was just at my local store in Montrose this afternoon. Mr. Mackey, either you don't know what fascism means, since President Obama is clearly not a dictator, or you deliberately used an incendiary word incorrectly to pander to those who oppose this President's policies. Moreover, health care is particularly ill-suited to a capitalist enterprise, which is built on the profit motive. Often, the most effective treatment is not the most profitable. A good example is Type 2 diabetes. The first line of defense ought to be counseling and monitoring of diet and exercise, which is often sufficient to control or reverse the disease, but that is not nearly as profitable as prescribing drugs. This is not a theoretical statement. Hospitals have tried diabetes clinics but had to shut them down because they weren't making money. If you truly want everyone to have adequate access to health care, you should support universal health care. Many people do not work for a company committed to providing adequate benefits. Whole Foods can't hire everyone.
01/17/2013 3:29:00 PM CST
Allison says ...
I will never shop at WF again. It's a rip off to begin with, and now that I know this guy's irrational political views, he won't get a dollar of my money again. Trader Joe's and Fairway - here I come.
01/17/2013 3:30:28 PM CST
Lesley Broat says ...
As someone who WAS employed until 10/12/12 and HAD health insurance for both myself & my daughter I agree somewhat with the statement above. Losing my job was both the best & worst thing that ever happened to me. I learned to not take anything for granted. I'm a 63 yr old widow with chronic health conditions and my daughter is 24, suffering from depression/anxiety and an auto immune disorder. We don't qualify for state aid and the cost of COBRA Insurance is more than my Unemployment insurance. I don't qualify for medicare or social security at this time, am unable to find a job; so what is there for people like my daughter and I. The thought of being 'on the dole' is frightening. Business owners like yourself need to step up and let the government know that there are 'shadow' people out there. People like myself who are willing and able to work, be responsible citizens, all we ask is a chance to prove our worth in exchange for some health insurance and a paycheck.
01/17/2013 3:30:40 PM CST