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Mackey Regarding Word Choice on Health Care

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”

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1163 comments

Comments

Jim B says …

Do not expect to see me at your stores. On the plus side, even if you lose your job .... our new health care system will at least enable you to be covered.

JoAnn Murphy says …

SHAME ON YOU!!! Your true feelings came out and you are afraid of your bottom line.... PEOPLE deserve health care and you who present this wholesome healthy face SHOULD BE ASHAMED!!!!

David Eichenmiller says …

Thankfully I live in a region where there are options. Mr. Mackey is entitled to his opinion. I am entitled to take my business elsewhere. He has voiced his opinion with words. Mine will be voiced with my purchasing choices. His company joins a list of businesses where I will no longer spend money.

Jenn says …

I spend a good deal of money at WF but will change my habits indefinitely. When did companies really stop feeling the need to be socially responsible. Your employees and customers have made you a very wealthy man. The public supports your overpriced items because we (foolishly?) believe you try to do some good in the world. Do you really think your employees should be without health care? if you actually provided a reasonable option perhaps the Affordable Health Care Act would not have been necessary. A little bit less profit to your pocket isn't a horrible thing. Please review what Fascism actually means and while I appreciate your 'walking back' your comments, suspect it is only to boost the bottom line because customers like me are walking away for awhile. So disappointing on several fronts...

Whole Food customer says …

I am a long-time Whole Foods customer. I will NEVER shop there again. I urge all to stop purchasing foods to stop paying his salary !!! There are many alternative stores providing simila products and better prices. Dont let John Mackey's apology fool you - HE hates democrats and Obama!!! He has dont this before.

Diana says …

Mr Mackey, you are right on with your words. No apology needed. It will take awhile for others to wake up to the fact that this country is moving closer to socialism. There is nothing free in this life including healthcare. This administration will not be happy until every American needs to depend on them. They want everyone to believe that what they are doing is for the good of the people. NOT. It is about Government Control

Maurice Jordan says …

First it was dragging your feet on GMO labeling and now it's this horse dropping Mackey feels about people getting medical coverage who aren't born with a silver spoon up their tooter... The GMO thing I thought was just cover your bases, excrement filled as that was but after your CEO's comments on healthcare, I'm getting the feeling that your store is a wolf in sheep's clothing. You are whole foods, a HEALTH food store and your CEO has a problem with healthcare as well as not supporting GMO labeling more forcefully. I am no longer a customer.

Mo Jo says …

No longer a customer, you can count me out.

Mark in Colorado says …

Thank you Mr. Mackey, not for the clarification, because I think you got it right with your first comments. Obama is pretty much a fascist, in the dictionary sense, and I believe he may have leanings toward the more negative sense that you refer to in your clarification. For every person that says "I will never shop at Whole Foods again", there will be someone that will decide to shop there because they, like me, appreciate you saying it like it is. There will always be bullies that have nothing better to do in their lives than to try to demonize you simply because they disagree with you. Keep up the good work at Whole Foods and keep defending your PRIVATE business that you have every right to defend and make prosper. Would love to see you at a Colorado store sometime in the future (specifically a Denver store!).

Chris Johnson says …

"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. " But just how long to we have to wait?I am a teacher, my wife a Social Worker. We do not get the follow-up on prescribed dental care because of cost. I eliminate at least one prescribed medication due to cost. I live in fear that I will have an accident or illness that will require insurmountable health care costs. Look at all the other "Fascist Countries"; England, France, Canada...they seem to be fairing well when the Government plays a key role in the system.

Mark in Colorado says …

Thank you Mr. Mackey, not for the clarification, because I think you got it right with your first comments. Obama is pretty much a fascist, in the dictionary sense, and I believe he may have leanings toward the more negative sense that you refer to in your clarification. For every person that says "I will never shop at Whole Foods again", there will be someone that will decide to shop there because they, like me, appreciate you saying it like it is. There will always be bullies that have nothing better to do in their lives than to try to demonize you simply because they disagree with you. Keep up the good work at Whole Foods and keep defending your PRIVATE business that you have every right to defend and make prosper. Would love to see you at a Colorado store sometime in the future (specifically a Denver store!).

sarah volk says …

Health care starts with your own choice of diet. WF offers a wide variety of fresh fruits, produce, nuts, seeds, legumes, and healthier alternatives to our SAD (standard american diet) lifestyle. "Let food be thy medicine" somebody once said....a scholar or something :) Anyway, I'm just happy to be lucky enough to live by a WF store, and whatever Mr. Mackey's comments, thoughts are on the United States' healthcare system, I"m still going to buy from their store because you can't deny they have the best variety. If we were really concerned about health care, then what about people that live in food deserts? Has anyone else heard of this? A modern day act of racism (black or white). Look into it and then reflect on health care. Best wishes to all. Eat more plants and less animals, then I think we would all be a lot more happy and healthy. Psssst.....it's been scientifically proven.

Early Man says …

I guess you needed to apologize to keep people from leaving your store in droves. But your apology makes no sense. Clearly the old status quo is more to your liking of "free enterpirse capitalism in health care" but it did not result in the most efficient health care system in the world. Far from it. So if you are selling a bill of goods here, shouldn't we assume you are trying to do the same thing in your stores? The only health care system worth supporting is one that works, not one that satisfies some ideological test.

Kate says …

Now that I am aware of your attitude, I shall shop elsewhere.

Jayme says …

After hearing 2 part interview, Mackey chose words very carefully and knew exactly what he was saying. I will never shop there again and have several family members who shop (shopped past tense) . Many of us done with Whole Foods

Kala says …

Mr. Mackey, my family has been shopping at WF for years. We are Vegans and have appreciated the choice of foods, however, we will no longer shop at WF. You have health care, why, because you have enough funds to purchase it for you and your family. Your employees should have same opportunity. President Obama mother died from cancer because she did not have health insurance. Calling his plan a form of fascism is not truthful, however, we can disagree, but we do not have to be disagreeable. From my perspective you have disrespected our President and all Americans who now have an opportunity for health care. One thing I have come to ask, is, if you are a millionaire, how many people did you have to walk pass, ignore and deny an opportunity to keep more of your money. You have an opportunity to do what is right by your employees, and in turn, the good will of supporting your employees will out weigh any decrease of your profits. Now parting ways with Whole Foods on my way to Trader Joe's.

Lisbeth says …

Seeing how the capitalist feel about healthcare I can't help but wonder what happened when Social Security was instituted and employers had to pay equal amount. How many people who respond here would want there parents or others to not have Social Security?

Andy Kibler says …

I've enjoyed the Whole Foods shopping experience for many years but honestly I don't have the same high regard for WF after recently becoming aware of the extreme philosopy of John Mackey. I think the extreme views of many people in the country are at the root of our disfunction and I'm bumbed out that I have to make the choice to not shop at WF any longer. Thankfully Wegmans, Fresh Market and Trader Joe's will easily fill the void............and I'll save alot of money.

David Mitchell says …

With all due respect, Mr. Mackey is ill-informed. Through the ACA, the nation has taken a public-private approach to health care, much like many northern European countries. It is NOT a single-payer, government system. Private insurance companies will deliver care, and companies can self-insure. But there are standards to protect people. We have had Mr. Mackey's completely free enterprise approach to health care in this country for decades. Result: 46 million with no health coverage, higher costs than in any other OECD country, and worse health outcomes and life expectancy. How can he say that would be better when it has been demonstrably worse. Mr. Mackey should get his facts straight, not just avoid loaded words. Moreover, Mr. Mackey should gladly pay a little more to improve the health of millions of Americans, rather than cut the pay of his "team members." In the spirit of free enterprise that Mr. Mackey treasures, I will vote with my pocketbook and take my business elsewhere.

m.kenny says …

Was excited about the new opening of a Whole Foods in Del Mar, but now will not be after reading this. You've lost my business.

karen from ny says …

I am a shareholder and a shopper because my mom would go out of her way to get to a store. The comments by Mr. Mackey are disturbing. When you are a multi billionaire you don't, worry about healthcare. You can pay for the best. When you are a regular jane or joe making $50k or less, employer provided healthcare can mean the difference between getting treatment for manageable ailments or suffering needlessly. Current market based ins is so out of control it is forcing small companies like mine to reduce benefits or eliminate them all together. $1k/mo for singles $3k/mo for families. And then salaries and taxes on top of that. I'm not sure if boycotting by selling my shares & taking my business elsewhere is what I'll do, yet I will be considering it. Mr. Mackey should refrain from using the word fascism immediately. And maybe put his considerable resources and intelligence to find a better solution. Because these 10-20% rate increases are not sustainable.

Tony Pitts says …

Johnny boy, You said what you really mean the first time. Don't try and back peddle, it is obvious you and wf only care about your bottom line and not the health and welfare of your workers or your shoppers. My wife and I refuse to support wf in anyway.

Ken Clukey says …

Too late, Mr. Mackey. You've lost me as a loyal customer and I will never shop in any of your stores again until you are gone. Driving your company out of business for your warped values is the most patriotic thing we can do as Americans. If you need me, you can find me at Dave's Market.

Ned Champlain says …

Sorry, sir, your explanation does nothing to satisfy the question. Giving private industry .35 million new customers is nt in any way shape or form socialism. It is, in fact, capitalism at its worse.

tawni says …

It was incredibly reckless, Mackey, to say what you did. I have several serious health conditions and lived with them for years as I had no insurance (I was denied insurance because of my conditions). I did not have enough money to see a doctor on a regular basis or buy the medications I needed. My health deteriorated. Thanks to "Obamacare," I now have coverage. I am starting to feel better and have a little extra money each month. I am in my second year of teaching and only make 1550 a month after taxes. How much do you make a year? I digress... due to my health conditions, I am no longer able to be a vegetarian but was using what little money I had left each month to buy ethically raised beef from your overpriced store. Operative word there: WAS.

J J says …

Whole Foods continues to receive 0% of my food $$$ hopefully employees of WF will relocate their skills to a friendlier more caring business

Lane Kelemen says …

I'm a long time Whole Foods shopper. I have felt that the prices were in line with the quality, especially for the produce and fish. I regret to say that Mr. Mackey's word choice was more than poor and more than just because fascism has bad associations in the 20th Century. The comment was disrespectful of our government and president. Moreover, it reveals sloppy and histrionic thinking that takes political debate into the realm of smear, shrieks and nonsense. Perhaps Mr. Mackey should leave political analysis with those educated to make it and admit to himself that he is a grocer with lots of opinions and very little knowledge about politics that comes from outside his Libertarian bubble. If you want to talk politics, Mr. Mackey, finish your education.

Gigi says …

So glad to hear someone in higher ranks speak up with a clear vision, understanding, and true solution to this healthcare issue. Our government has no real resolve and is just wrecking havoc. I hope more people listen to your words and somehow they become implemented, otherwise we're in for a nasty surprise. Thank you for your courage in speaking on such a touchy subject with brave honesty. My loyalty to your store has been strengthened!

Sully99 says …

I'm glad to hear that Mr Mackey has apologized for such a careless use of words by a CEO of a large company such as Whole Foods. Having been in both your stores in Canada (Oakville, Vancouver) if any company can afford a helpful medical fee to their employees it is probably Whole Foods. I'm no raging socialist but maybe Mr Mackey needs to get out of the US a little more and discover that a lot of other countries may have some challenges in their health systems but there is a good civil logic to their systems. I travel the USA quite often and am amazed at the lack of good medical access that so many of his fellow Americans have to timely care. The only thing more amazing to me is the number and morality of the lawyers in the US; actually it's ridiculous. Thanks; Sully99

Judith McNeeley says …

I have been HUGE fan and customer of Whole Food Market for 10 years I am Detroit resident joyously anticipating the opening of Whole Foods Market in Detroit. I am also a healthcare executive and proud Democrat and supporter of our President. Mr. Mackey comments this week regarding healthcare reform have caused me to make a difficult decision, I will no longer be a Whole Foods Market patron. Sincerely, Judith McNeeley

John D. says …

I think it's great that so many leftists are openly stating that they are no longer going to be Whole Foods shoppers. If only they will honor their pledge; leftists have a bad habit of saying one thing and doing another. I'll be shopping MORE at Whole Foods than I did before this statement....though, could you knock down the price I pay for Justin's peanut butter? It is fantastic, but so expensive.

Maureen Dowd says …

This response rewords the original remarks and does nothing to change the meaning. What the man actually says is that corporations should be free to do whatever they wish in the name of profit. I have a Sprouts and a Trader Joe's within a mile of my house. In the past, I've made a point of going to WF as well, and have generally spent about $100 on each visit. I won't be going to Whole Foods ever again now that I know the character of this "misspeaking" CEO. He chose exactly the words that he meant and he meant the same thing each time. Strange that WF headquarters is in Austin--I love Austin, and I'm thinking that politically the majority of his customers there would tend to think as I do. WF should dump this guy.

James Rumsey says …

A disgusting interview that trumpeted petulant, hypocritical political positions, followed by a craven, disingenuous and wholly insincere "apology". The health care law has affected your business? So has your mouth. Not another dime of my money goes to Whole Foods.

Clifford A Kalb says …

Well, no more buying at Whole Foods. I wont give this guy Mackey sales so he can earn his 7 figure salary. How does he have the right as a CEO to compare the Health Care Act to Fascism?

Fred Levick says …

Dear Mr. Mackey, As a long term shopper and supporter of your company I must say that I was extremely disappointed in your comments regarding healthcare and find your "sorry I put my foot in my mouth" apology about misuse of the word "fascism" an even lamer display of your ignorance about the economics of health care. I'm all for free market capitalism, but the fallacy of your thinking is to presume that health can operate in a free market model. In a free market consumers with information can exercise choice just as I now can choose, in reaction to your comments, whether I wish to continue shopping at Whole Foods or to spend my money elsewhere. When an individual is faced with a health care crisis, classical free market principles do not apply. When I'm having a heart attack, or have discovered I have cancer, I am not in a position to exercise consumer choice, unless of course your view would make one of my choices the choice to do nothing and die. There isn't enough time to make an informed consumer decision based on price and quality, nor can I be assured that I can afford the choice or have access to a provider. You would be far better served, sir, by limiting your public commentary to those subjects you actually know something about, rather than display the shallowness of your understanding about a subject you obviously are not well versed in. And your PR advisors, or whomever gave you the horrible advice to parse the word fascism in defense of your initial brain-fart, should be taken to task for making you and Whole Foods appear even more insensitive to the market realities of health care, the plight of the working poor and 50,000,000 people in this country without health insurance, not to mention your disregard for the intelligence and values of your customers. Sorry to say I've lost a lot of respect for you and Whole Foods. Wonder how the employees you care so much about feel?

Bill says …

"Poor word choice"? No; more like your PR people were having a fit and pressured you into a weaselly semi-retraction. You certainly know the connotations of calling someone or something "fascist". Tea Partiers have been invoking the term (as well as "communist" and "socialist") with regard to Obama from the get-go. I was only an occasional shopper at Whole Foods, but now I'm disinclined to ever return.

E.G. says …

Calling universal healthcare fascist is irresponsible and willfully inflammatory. I think the point you may be missing is that customers don't want to shop at places where the management says incendiary hostile things (ahem CHICK-FIL-A!!! PAPA JOHNS!!! APPLEBEES!!!). I love Whole Foods and I shop there often. Well, DID, because I will now take my money elsewhere, where they don't make polarizing political statements with my money to back them up. Perhaps consider this, though: The majority of Americans -YOUR CUSTOMERS - voted for Obama, and also voted for Obamacare. Think about who you're alienating because you just HAD to publicly comment about healthcare. And let's be honest here: Nobody is going to believe that your bottom line is about anything other than money, no matter what you say now. It puts your whole company in a different light.

Mark Waldorf says …

Mr. Mackey, Your words were inflamatory. They were designed to reduce the President of the United States to a thug. I used to shop in Whole Foods weekly until this happened. I will not return. Your prices were higher than many competitors but I liked the store and it was relatively convenient. Because of your thoughtless behavior, I now drive an extra 10 minutes to purchase my food and will continue to do so. As a leader of the Whole Foods community, I expect more from you sir. You provided far less when you decided it was more important to grab some publicity than provide healthcare for your employees. These people are your family. I have seen many physically challenged people working in the store. Where do they get the help they need when the head of their work family turns his back on them?

SFMASTER says …

Wow! I never thought Whole Foods leadership would have values so totally opposed to good care and health. Most frustrating is that the basis for your arguments is so flawed. How does poor health supported by a "free market" system that punishes sick children, enriches insurance companies. Seems more like conspicuous capitalism for a company that surely benefits from zillions of government investments.

Brutus says …

Dear Mr. Mackey, Your use of the word "fascism" was TOTALLY accurate, and I'm glad you used it. It's rare that anyone in the "better foods and health" business has the nerve to stand up to our President, but you did and you should be proud. Obamacare will bankrupt the US and will take down Medicare and Medicaid in the process. These "safety nets," for which I have paid for for the last 40 years, will be degraded by Obamacare to the point where Medicare/Medicaid are no longer meaningful alternatives for seniors. Please continue to speak your mind and NEVER apologize for stating the TRUTH. Thanks, A dedicated Whole Foods customer

Kenneth Kaelin says …

Will shop no more forever!

Bo Gus says …

Mackey seems to have no issue with the corporate welfare system that gives millions in incentives, paid for by taxpayer dollars, to businesses- including those Whole Foods begs for when opening new stores. I would like to hear him rationalize that to fit his libertarian free market capatilistic ideals.

Lynn says …

I applaud Mackey to have the courage to tell what this administration really is. Wake up people. Please don't apologize. I have been a loyal Whole Foods fan and even more a fan now.

Jenna Resse says …

Mr. Mackey, We need more men like you willing to speak the truth. The govt IS F-A-C-I-S-T. Don't placate the progressives. Don't let them bully you. You have a loyal following and now I have decided to do ALL my shopping at Whole Foods. Stand strong and speak truth and be a light. Jenna

Debbie Long says …

John Mackey, you are right about fascism. I can't believe people got upset after you gave the proper definition of fascism. Fascism is a type of economic-government model just like socialism, capitalism, etc. We have to learn to separate fascism from Nazi Germany when talking about government economic policy. Maybe then we can see the true direction our government is heading in and decide if we want this type of government economic policy. Another failure of our education system?

Celia says …

Mackey understands the language of money so I'll speak to him that way - he will no longer see any of mine.

Carol says …

I recently have started shopping at WF but will no longer because of the CEO's remarks.

Rainer Loveiam says …

Whole Foods are not positively famous as a capitalist enterprise. The comparison with fascism was poor, indeed. However, whoever compares the American Health Care system to Cuba needs to go there and find out themselves. Check into a typical Cuban hospital and see what you get. Of course, you can pay more and check into a private hospital...for foreigners with cash and rich Cubans. Good luck.

JRo says …

The beauty of capitalism and a free democracy? I can choose not to spend anymore $ at Whole Foods and that's what this family is going to do. We are taking our business elsewhere. Hey Mackey, Every man for himself, right? Good Luck with Sir!

All Business Owners Across the Country says …

You go John - thank you for having the guts to tell it like it is. I will shop more often at Whole Foods even though I have to drive 2 hours to get to your closest store.

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