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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

Sara Arkle says …

I think you know this issue is not with the uninsured or folks with preconditions. The issue is rising healthcare costs for people like me - the employed with coverage through their employer. Even with that coverage, I can't bare to think of the out of pocket cost of should I develop cancer or need emergency surgery for some reason. Yes, healthy food is a part of the solution. You know what isn't part of the solution - a grocery store CEO spitting his political views. Find common ground with our President, stop inflaming the issue, and look for solutions. You are not leading by example or playing to win. I would expect more from a man in your position.

sally hopkins says …

I have been a loyal shopper at Whole Foods for organic and fresh food, by an enterprise whose values I thought I shared. But, I am looking elsewhere to shop, daily, when I hear how John Mackey characterizes health care and he stresses the free enterprise capitalism motto as his model.

George says …

The real lesson from this episode is that a financially motivated CEO who knows very little about healthcare and safety net services can get far more attention in the national media by calling the President a Fascist than can healthcare professionals who have useful solutions to our national problems. Fox and MSNBC and the other cable networks totally derail productive conversation and problem solving with dumb comments from uninformed and rigid Congress members, CEOs, and demagogues of both the left and right. The problem we have about moving healthcare forward in the USA has more to do with uninformed individuals setting up roadblocks to help maintain their personal wealth-power than it does with the competent and well-reasoned studies by qualified healthcare professionals. Our increasing tendency to listen most to those who use words like Fascist, Nazi, Communist, Socialist, Libertarian, racist, sexist, elitist. etc., about people who do not share their uninformed views rather than to those who seek to produce well-reasoned solutions through consensus and science is one reason for our national decline. Congress and CEOs and Cable News needs to stop polarizing and promote a process of consensus building. We should expect nothing less from them. Sadly we have gotten far less from Mr. Mackey than we should expect.

Mark Miller says …

I was so excited to hear that Whole Foods was opening in Palm Desert. I live in a neighboring city and would be willing to make the drive to shop at a Whole Foods. Well not anymore. Unless your fire John Mackey, I'll never set foot in a WF store again. It's comments like his that further fuel the hateful rhetoric that divides our government and country.

Steve S. says …

Mr. Mackey, Fascism is exactly the right word. I was cheering you when I heard you say it the other morning on the way to work. Finally someone had the balls to say it openly. I do regret however that the testicular fortitude that you enjoyed during the initial interview has been stripped away. You need to grow a second pair, because fascism is what we are living in. The degree of fascism would be up to the opinion of the individual, but we do live in it and everyone is scared to admit it due to political correctness which has gone awry to the extreme.

Ronald Mirolla says …

Mr Mackey has become a self serving hypocrit who cares more about his pockets than providing health care for his employees or being a leader in health foods. His stores are filled with GMO foods, sugar, fats and unhealthy foods. I'm a nutritionist and will never spend a dime in his stores again and will advise my clients to do the same.

S. Goldbeck says …

Mr. Mackey's comparing Obamacare to fascism is outrageous. A true leader is measured in choosing his/her words and should be measured by their words, particularly on such a sensitive topic. His rhetoric puts him among the far right wing, which I guess is where he belongs and now it appears he regrets stating his true opinion. On healthcare one only has to compare that provided in Europe's social democracies to the sad state of our health delivery system to see that the "marvelous" free capitalist health care system in the U.S. is inferior and broken. Why would we want to let it get more out of hand as he recommends? Perhaps there would be more "innovation and progress" and corporate profits, but I fear our Country's citizens would not profit by it. I am voting with my feet and will not darken Whole Foods' doors.

Michele Flanagin says …

Mr Mackey, As someone who has spent my entire career in healthcare leadership positions, it is apparent to me that the free market has been unable to solve the problems that we face of spiraling costs and the uninsured. Many are to blame for the current situation, but wishing, hoping and somehow thinking that the current complex market dynamic, and all self-interested parties will magically come to their senses and provide a solution is pure fantasy. While I don't agree with your position, I am actually most intrigued by your comment from a management/leadership perspective. Do you not understand who your customer is? Do you not bother to read market research? Do you visit your stores? Its not Fox News viewers who are shopping at your store for organic beef and paying a 30% premium. So as an American, you should feel free to exercise your first amendment rights. As a business leader, you should have the intelligence to squelch the urge to exercise your first amendment rights, especially since your views run so counter to those of your customers. I am sure your PR people are giving you the same message. You need to listen to them. In short, an astoundingly bone-headed, arrogant mistake.

Michael Fraioli says …

what is a "viable health care option" as you call it. What about folks with preexisting conditions? There are countless real life instances of folks hitting their insurance cap and their families going broke paying for their health care. What is their viable option?

Irene Strelecki Clark says …

My husband and I have been loyal supporters of Whole Foods for years, back to B&C days. Even owners of stock! Saddened and maddened to see and hear John Mackey spouting off as though he was wise about healthcare insurence policy. The local Food Coop will be our replacement for staples and that's a considerable chunk of change as we eat with care.

James Turner says …

Mr. Mackey, as a CEO you should be smart enough to keep politics out of business. Your customers do not care about your politics. We are capable of forming our own opinions. We go to Whole Foods to shop, not to vote. I was appalled at your description of Obamacare as fascism. I will boycott Whole Foods to register my disappointment.

Haskell Williams says …

I am very disturbed at the use of terms Mr. Mackey has chosen. Labeling does not become him or the company. I can no longer do business with a company whose leadership is as unconcerned about their WHOLE community, not just their client base. I love the selection of foods available at Whole Foods. I do not appreciate the selfishness (conscious or unconscious) that ignores hurting people. My wife is a nurse and comes home crying frequently at the lack of health care available to many of the people she sees--many of the college educated, but who have fallen on hard times and their health is crumbling because they cannot get help.

Judith Roberts says …

Recanting the word doesn't change the intent. Unregulated free enterprise in health care hasn't worked all that well despite having plenty of opportunity to. The poor still haven't been able to access decent care, insurance rates continue to go with coverage continuing to decline, and all the while, the medical industry and professionals keep on getting richer. The Whole Foods Market attitude has changed dramatically over the years, and my 28 year relationship with the store (it was Bread & Circus when I began shopping there) will now come to an end. With a quick internet search, I can find everything I went to WFM for elsewhere - and cheaper, up to 50% less! Bye bye John, you don't deserve my business, and will no longer get it. Stop whining, and do right by your employees.

Jack says …

Stay in the food business, Mackey. And be as nice as you can to your employees; they're not a commodity, they're an asset.

FuriousMB says …

When you are a national brand, you have to be smart about what you say. You no longer have the luxury of behaving like a regional store. You have customers from all walks of life. The CEO of a brand like Whole Foods cannot go firing off at the mouth comparing our President to murderous dictators. It disrespects the history of people who suffered under fascists and disrespect customers who support the President. Before anyone goes off on "he has the right to free speech." Yeah, we ALL know that. Stop yelling that same stupid phrase that no one is disputing. The CEO can say whatever he wants. But the first amendment does not protect him from the consequences of how his words will provoke people. This was incredibly disappointing press. I have three good grocery stores to chose from near my home, one of which is a WF. Draw me to your store with your products, don't make it easier for me to go elsewhere.

Emily says …

I think "corporatism" is a better word here. Totally get what you were trying to say, but yes words like fascism and socialism have taken on broadened meanings over the past century. The point is that government works hand in hand with big business to create a rigid one-size-fits all health care system, which can be problematic. Also, making it solely government-run would make it even more rigid and less responsive to consumers' needs and competition.

David John says …

Healthcare debate aside, what educated person - let alone a CEO - uses the term "fascist" to describe a Congressional healthcare bill or an elected official? It's intellectually sloppy at best, ignorant at worst, and just another thinly veiled right wing smear of the President. You had to consult a dictionary - you didnt study 1941in college? (and you're really confused why the term "fascist" is "charged"?) Your consumers are too smart not to notice that you just borrowed a meme from Fox News playbook. Retitle: Capitalist, Unconsious.

Ann Sullivan says …

You just opened a store in Orland Park, Illinois. I was so excited. But you opened your mouth and vomited your views. Whole Foods is completely ersatz, portraying itself as a progressive company with fair trade products. It's just another corporation with very expensive items taking advantage of people with a conscience. I'm sure you have health care...why do you think your employees aren't worthy of the same?

Jay says …

Thank u for the clarification, as a health care provider and strong proponent of US Democracy AND many aspects of US Capitalism. I must add, though, that there are problems beyond emotionality when using terms like fascism, mainly that there is NO scenario where it can be applied that is positive or, in this case, evidence based. Unfortunately this word is now part of the discussion for some, having a large megaphone requires one to be responsible. Again, I thank u for the clarification, and please be careful of ur choice of words in our politically charged times.

Andy Melichar says …

I disagree wholeheartedly. The people who dole out the idea of how a free market will solve all the problems in this country are the same people who find every loophole and rule they can use to their advantage to deny people health insurance and fair pay. We've basically had a free market system for our health insurance up to this point and it reeks of hyper-inflated pricing and rules so stringent you can be denied health coverage for having a pimple. The government is doing exactly what it is supposed to be there to do... to right the wrongs of our society by forcing business to behave in a way that is equitable to the people they employ. Now that we have laws in place forcing business to comply and offer health care that actually works and is affordable and accessible - who do we see complaining about it? Rich, righteous CEOs who might have to cut their bonus a little short this year to afford to insure their employees who are barely paid enough to eat. Boo hoo.

Joseph F Spiegel says …

Who are the Facists? It's apparent that Mr. Mackey sits too far above the playing field to have any idea of the obstacles confronting most of the players in the game. It seems to me that he should look in the mirror and ask who the fascists are. When you are above the fray, you forget and any office holder who is primarily interested in leveling the playing field at the perceived expense of the most well to do, you perceive as the enemy. I can assure you that I will do my little part to show my disdain for your elitism. I will resist shopping at Whole Foods in Albuquerque. When we lived in NYC, it was easy. We could buy what we wanted nearly everywhere. It is not so easy here, but if necessary we will buy mail order. Not from Whole Foods. Sincerely, Joseph F. Spiegel Albuquerque, New Mexico

Erick Williams says …

Your comment equating government regulation with fascism sent me to Wikipedia to learn more about fascism, because I have heard the same fascist label from people less respectable than you. Barack Obama is hardly a fascist by any definition. As a capitalist, you appreciate capitalist enterprises, which are sometimes innovative, at least the ones that survive and don't get too big. The new health care law can hardly be described as anti-capitalistic. It reserves central roles for capitalist providers and insurance companies. The public option was defeated. Mr. Obama, hardly a fascist, presided over the passage of that capitalist-friendly health care law. As an employer, you are concerned about the availability of health care for your employees. I'm sure that if you engaged with the Obama administration (rather than flinging insults from a distance) they would be as likely to address your concerns as they have so readily done with all the other corporate lobbyists. "Fascism" may be an impolitic choice of words to describe government regulation in a democratic society. You will find a better one. But I also challenge you to find an accurate word to describe the anti-social regulations from private capitalist sources that make our lives miserable – exploitative policies promulgated by the moguls in banking, insurance, pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

Tamara Hort says …

I think it's hilariously pathetic that this supermarket website now has a section dedicated to sticking John Mackey's foot in his mouth.

Irene Strelecki Clark says …

Glad to see so many folks are as outraged as I am. Will be supporting my local Farmer's Market and a Food Co-op from here on rather Whole Foods even though it means a longer trip by bike. Feel strongly one must back up one's values with economic choices

M Raisch says …

I am not so concerned about the choice of words. Speech is free here, however poorly crafted. I am much more alarmed that yet another intelligent and progressive (in some areas) thinker believes that Americanshave any choices in health care NOW- that they can afford, that is. And not being able to afford care means that there will be unnecessary suffering and death. We are far down the ranks in infant mortality and other benchmarks and for the first time, immigration and other poverty "sources" are NOT to blame. After living in Canada I'm convinced: if you are an employer and do not want to provide health care to employees, then join those of us who are hoping America will one day be ready for universal health care. You are trucking food on our taxpayer highways, John. You owe us, big time, for some of your success. As for me, sorry, after loving WF so, so much, I'm off to Mom's Organic local market for a while until I recover learning how really you do not get the plight of ordinary people.

John G. Faircloth says …

Mr. Mackey: It seems to be the lawyer's or image-handlers way out to speak of "poor word choice" at this juncture. You are the like the King who has no clothes. Even a child could detect your cowardice in seeking to take this way out of the shame you have brought on yourself. This is not about words. It is about your heart and your values. Your choice of words over the last several years reveals a heart of self-interest and greed; a heart that lacks genuine concern for the wonderful hard working employees of your stores. The Affordable Health Care Act is not about you. It is not about your business or its costs of maintaining a poorly paid work force. This Act is about the millions of Americans - half of them children - who now have health care. Most of the people who benefit from this Act cannot afford to shop in your stores. Indeed, your own store employees cannot afford to shop in the stores in which they work. Capitalists who fail to recognize their responsibilities to their workers - the people who make you money and who build your business - are not givers, they are takers. Clearly you have made enormous profits during President Obama's Administration. Clearly, you and your company can afford the cost of providing your employees with full health care. I shop in your stores on a regular basis. I love your stores, and I deeply appreciate your employees. Do you not know how deeply they resent your parsimonious attitude toward them and your customers? Are you blind to your responsibilities to the people who work for you and who shop with you and who have made you a very wealthy man? Despite your hubris, you did not build Whole Foods, your employees and your customers built it for you. You did your part, but no one is an island. No one is "self-made." I have shopped in your stores in five different states over the last 15 years. As much as I appreciate your products and your service, I am reminded that I got along just fine for more than 50 years without Whole Foods. It will be a hard thing to live without the luxury of Whole Foods, but I think that there is little else one man can do to influence a man such as yourself. I am not so proud as to assume that my thoughts will make any difference in your life, but I do have hope. You can be a great source of blessing to the rest of us, just as we have blessed you. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts.

Bill Gardner says …

Count me among those who will never set foot in a Whole Foods store. Another fruitcake CEO who has no idea what he is talking about. How does he feel about socialism in our country's defense? Maybe he'd rather just everyone get a gun and pay for a flight to wherever we're fighting a war at the moment. Our country's defense is entirely socialistic, where we all join together to pay for our military. And the poorest among us actually go and fight and die to protect the rich.

Tamara Hort says …

I'm just trying to get one thing straight here... WF didn't want to donate to help pass Prop 37 because WF doesn't want to get political, but then the co-CEO of the company calls Obamacare fascism on NPR radio, which is a very fired-up political opinion on a politically focused radio station? John Mackey, I just want to thank you for being honest about you are so that the good people who have shopped at your store can make a conscious decision about where they want to spend their hard earned money.

Bob says …

While I can agree with some of his comments about food and the cost of health reform, and I believe it's pefectly acceptable for anyone to criticize the Affordable Care Act, his descriptions regarding the program as facist or socialist were absurd. Comparing a program that expands coverage to millions at a comparable market price is not equivalent to programs that involve the mass extermination of millions. His comments are offensive, and no apology of convienience after the fact is going to make his perspective more acceptable. Should I be hungry and in the neighborhood of Whole Foods, I think I will look for a more inviting place to eat.

Kathleen Atkins says …

I'm glad you regret your choice of words, John Mackey. I was appalled when I heard you compare President Obama's health care program to fascism. I thought you were speaking irresponsibly in an already polarized and overcharged political climate. I admire Whole Foods--the concept and the stores in practice--and I had heard that the stores are well run. But I'm not sure I want to support your business enterprise if you continue to speak as you did during your NPR interview.

T Threadgill says …

No clarification needed. There is so much disinformation about heathcare reform out there that its ridiculous and now Mackey just added to it. I'll never step foot in a Whole Foods Market again for the rest of my life. Here in the Denver area is Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocery. I am now their loyal customer.

Victor says …

We like shopping at your stores.

CTD says …

I see a bunch of angry bees buzzing in these comments, but none willing to say that the mandate isn't fascism. But then, how could they honestly say it isn't?

Denise Kearney says …

I was sorry that there was no Whole Foods in my area, but now that I understand your philosophy towards your employees, I'm glad that I have not shopped at your store. I do not intend to patronize your business in the future.

paula.waterman says …

Good job in the interview John. You looked a little nervous but I thought your answers were thoughtful and you took your time to get it right. I'm very happy to have you out there educating more people on the ways to get healthy. This is a great company. Not perfect but great, nevertheless.

Jose Luis Murillo says …

I will not be shopping in your stores any more, you are not the only option in San Antonio. I will use the new Traders Joes and HEB Marketplace for my purchases from now on. I will also use the local farmer markets for my purchases. Jose Luis Murillo San Antonio,tx

Calvin Arey says …

My district voted for President Obama with 82% of the vote. I voted for the President four times. I am proud of those votes. My advice to John is to sell groceries and stay out of politics in the northeast.

Mike Webb says …

So the word was wrong to use. You should realize people don't mind capitalism. But, they do mind when a major corp that makes million upon million of $$ chooses not to play fair that they won't tolerate such behavior. So, you plan on places most of the workers on part time hours to avoid the cost of health care. To me it sounds like you were the type of child that took his ball and went home. I for one have never shopped at a Whoke Foods. In the future won't be shopping at a Whole Foods. This country is a Capalist society. I will spend my $$ at a company that holds my values. Mr. Mackey you are not someone that children should emulate. Good luck with your back peddling. You a re going to have to convince many Liberals that frequent your stores. Wouldn't want to shop at a store with workers that are sick because they can't afford care and come to work sick.

kathy says …

If it walks like a duck.... Of course it is fascism. As was the take over of GM, aka Government Motors, among other 'private' businesses. Stand firm.

sa says …

More like Greedy Capitalism, I'll be conscious shopper and shop elsewhere. I want to spend my money at another store, where the're fair to their employees and not greedy, like your company. Let see you create jobs without customers, Mr. CEO.

Bette Cooper says …

In spite of the generally higher cost, I have patronized Whole Foods more and more in the last few years. However, I will now consider all alternatives in the "marketplace" to Whole Foods. That capitalistic enough for you?

Maureen says …

The worst thing about John Mackey's interview on NPR was not his opinion about the Affordable Care Act, it was his statement that he wishes Whole Foods could have a greater impact on the health of Americans. He talked about the rampant addiction to sugar, fat and salt that contributes to the health crisis in this country. Although he is certainly correct about that, it is so hypocritical given the amount of products in his stores containing sugar and fat. Whole Foods' products are of course much closer to nature than foods in other grocery stores, but most of the baked products in Whole Foods are full of sugar, including the products they bake themselves. And the hot food bar almost always contains fat-laden macaroni and cheese. If John Mackey is really concerned about the addictive nature of sugar he should stop using cane sugar in his baked products and only sell products from vendors who use alternative sweeteners such as brown rice syrup and stevia. I challenge him to even go a stop further and not sell any processed foods! For a store named Whole Foods, there are way too many processed foods available there!

Shelly Christman says …

I heard the NPR interview, and after that, I went to my local WholeFoods, where I shop, and bought the book. I love what WholeFoods does, giving back to schools, and community. I also love the products you sell. Also of interest to me, in a world where corporate philosophy is all about making money, are the views of John Mackey regarding responsible capitalism and sustainability. You should be proud. As a provider of benefits and health care for many people in a corporation with a sustainable culture you have nothing to apologize for. Your personal opinion of the best adjective to describe the government's health care plan, as you see, it is just that, an opinion. We all have them. If others are irrate over a word choice in light of the greater issues occuring all around us, shame on them.

Tom Cee says …

To Mackey: Compettitve open market health care is the same as your ilk's so-called trickle down economy, The only creativity it promotes is in the area of con artistry. Most of the $$ has been pouring into the pockets (not trickling) of CEOs and other top-end management at the expense of the poor and disappearing middle class. Those here who agree with you and your ilk don't have a clue. Your initial nasty comments are the last straw for this family. All I see in my rear view mirror is you back pedaling Mackey. Bye Bye Whole Foods.

Eric Beck says …

Government dictates we buy car insurance, which protects us all. And our only choices are predatory capitalist insurance companies. The fact is, Romneyca...er, Obamacare has a firm basis in legitimacy. Mr. Mackey is full of (organic) beans.

N Kuehn says …

Nothing hostile, just taking my business elsewhere. I work with people with no insurance and if Bob Mackey really believes that no health care is better than some health care, I am sure he will put his money where his mouth is and remove health insurance for himself and his family.

Tim says …

Don't back off, Mackey. You were perfectly correct in both the technical sense (it *is* fascist) and in your general points. Having the government control privately owned businesses is fascist, and remains so even if you are under the misapprehension that it is for a worthy supposed end result. I think we need to start a Mackey for President 2016 campaign.

Rebecca Silverberg says …

I listened to Mr. Mackey's "clarification" and all it did is make things worse. He continued to disparage a medical care plan approved by our elected officials that will benefits his employees as well as other Americans. I will no longer be shopping at Whole Foods' locations in San Francisco. Safeway CEO Steve Burd is a far more responsible businessman, American, and human being. So, Safeway will now become my one-stop grocery store, and maybe Trader Joe's, but I am also going to check out their record on support for their employees. I will be posting this on FB and asking all my San Francisco/Berkeley friends to reconsider their grocery choices.

Joe Turner says …

John...don't back off. You told it like it is. My wife and I eat at Wholefoods in Raleigh 4 to 5 days a lweek. I am glad to support an establishment which is not afraid to speak out against issues which most will not. You fear of the federal gov't intruding in too much of our daily lives is well founded. We citizens must speak out as you have done. Keep up the good work. Joe and Linda Turner Raleigh, N.C.

CK says …

I shop at Whole Foods daily. It's right across from where I live in NYC. Correction: I *shopped* at your store daily. No more.

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