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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

Eric Berger says …

1. Obama care is not government health insurance. Private insurance companies will still provide the policies. 2. The free market system we had before Obama care did not work. There were 40 million un-insured people in this country and the US has some of the poorest health outcomes of an industrialized nation. Your comments were insensitive and counter productive. It's easy to be a critic when you have health insurance and make a lot of money. Try putting yourself in the shoes of the average person who is scraping by and doesn't have health insurance!

Dana Wilkie says …

Dear Mr. Mackey: Your poor word choice doesn't change the fact that you are obviously motivated by maximizing your short-term profits. A good corporate citizen would recognize that providing appropriate benefits for your associates also helps your company in the long-term (e.g. increased productivity & morale, decreased turnover & illness related costs). While I have enjoyed shopping at Whole Foods, I am going to shop with your competitors who demonstrate a holistic community commitment in the future. Shame on you.

Jack Scanlon says …

My wife and I long time shoppers at Whole Foods in Chicago. However, after your offensive remarks about ObamaCare we will never shop at Whole Foods again. Your statement shows how out of touch you are with the difficulties millions of Americans have to purchase affordable health care. You say let the free enterprise system work so people can get health care. Recent American history shows that the free enterprise system , by its high prices and rules such on pre- existing conditions excluded millions of people.

G says …

Obamacare is fascism. You had it right the first time. Way to cave, what a brave soul you are. Will never shop at Whole Foods again.

Christine Freiberg says …

Mr. Mackey, you were wrong to apologize and taking back the words to describe Obamacare as "facism". You were RIGHT the first time when you described it as fascism and I am extremely disappointed that you changed your course of action. I thought you had more courage than this. You have basically turned into a media wimp and am now reconsidering shopping at your stores because of this. A true leader will speak out for what they believe in and stand by their principles. Mr. Mackey, I am afraid you are not a leader.

Jim Butler says …

Dear John, Please don't worry about the state of American Business. Better, Smarter, more Socially Responsible and I dare say, American Businessmen with more Patriotism and love of their fellow Americans will display and engage the intelligence needed to thrive in this new environment. Please remember, you thrive at the whim of your customers. At this point, you aren’t necessary in the business landscape. You wouldn’t be the first national supermarket chain to fail (and yet the USA still survives…) So sleep well John, one of the great things about America is - that there's always someone enthusiastically waiting to do what you disdain. BTW It wasn’t the choice of words, it’s the archaic sentiment behind them.

SueD says …

Maybe I'm not understanding what John Mackey is looking for here, but .....I believe that Switzerland DOES have an individual health insurance mandate so I wouldn't say we should copy it in order to have "an alternative to mandated health care". I have read that, in Switzerland, insurers are not allowed to make a profit when providing the minimal, mandated insurance and are required to offer this basic care to everybody. (They can profit on "supplemental" policies.) Also, I read that the health insurance in Switzerland is not linked to employment (so, it is not the employers' responsibility to provide). These seem like some good features but would be a challenge to achieve with the current political climate in our country. (And, as some other comment asked, what did John Mackey do to contribute constructively during the healthcare reform process?) Obamacare is not perfect, but it does a lot of good, including introducing similar mandated protections to those that Swiss citizens have under their regulated healthcare system. As for Mackey, I think I (sort of) understand some of his concerns but his use of "fascism" was ridiculous, inflammatory, "foot in mouth". I don't understand why somebody who leads a company that has such great products and, reportedly, gives its employees good benefits would come out with inflammatory statements that anger so many in the company's customer base.

Jorgen says …

Shame on you - your worlds clearly showed what type of person you are. I will NEVER step foot inside your stores again!

Larry Scherwitz Ph.D. says …

Not only, a bad choice of word, but a bad choice of philosophy. Free market capitalism does not apply to healthcare as it does to grocery stores. Free market capitalism is part of the problem, as health insurance companies choose not to insure those with pre-existing conditions because that is good for the bottom line.

maggie says …

I am an American living in Toronto and I shop the Whole Foods in Yorkville on a daily basis and I am offended by the hypocrisy of Mackey. I notice Whole Foods has come into Canada in multiple locations and I dare say this economic opportunity for Whole Foods was influenced by the fact that all Canadians have a single payer health plan. I might add that when I am in NYC every weekend I shop the Whole Foods near Lincoln Center. I would like to say this one thing which will not need clarification: I have crossed the threshold of a Whole Foods for the last time. No more. There are multiple opportunities to shop organic and green now and I am choosing not to give my money to Mackey.

Gerald Semanson says …

"Free enterprise capitalist health care" is what we had before the Affordable Care Act was passed. It didn't help me with a cancer diagnosis and no job. It in fact couldn't care less if I lived or died. I'm quite sure many thousands of Americans with access (not) to free enterprise capitalist health care are dead and buried. For their sake, I sincerely hope we don't regress back to that kind of heath care.

M L Hitt says …

You, Mr CEO, do not get it...we need Obamacare because your "free enterprise" endorsed system has FAILED the American people. Calling our President that awful name will definitely lose customers.....did you not look at his winning percentages? I shop Whole Foods frequently and typically spend $200 plus each time. I will now go to Fresh Market where I can purchase the same quality, variety and the organics. Your stores are fun and nice, but not unique....we have alternatives and I prefer to spend my money where management does not throw out outlandish and unfounded accusations at our President. The office and the President deserve respect.

Lynda Bishop says …

As a shareholder of WFM, I would just like to say that John Mackey should stick to selling groceries and stop peddling his book and his ridiculous opinions. No one really cares what he thinks...

Karis Post says …

First, I am glad that you have reconsidered your choice of words. Incendiary speech does not help to increase communication and understanding. I was going to leave a comment that I would no longer be shopping at WFM after reading what you said, but I will continue shopping at WFM in Amherst, MA since you have moderated and nuanced your language.

Ron Bladon says …

Fresh Market, here I come! As a long time and consistent Whole Foods customer, I was disgusted with John Mackey's "correction"...this time throwing out the hate term "fascism" re: the current healthcare option. I will NEVER set foot in a Whole Foods sotre again. Tolerating this kind of hate speech should not be tolerated in America. Mr. Mackey has the Constitutional right to sspew his hate filled remark, but I also have the right to stand against that hate with my wallet. Count me as one customer gone forever!

whodatperson3 says …

Actually, you should have stuck to your guns. It is facism. For those who want him to shut his mouth... he's PAYING for the benefits. He should have MORE rights than you when it comes to this. If you want this 'healthscare', then YOU PAY FOR IT YOURSELF. See, it's easy when you're playing with someone else's money and not your own. You pay a minority portion of your employer supported healthcare, 401K, Social INSecurity, Mediscare and other taxes. The business picks up YOUR TABS. See... maybe you ALL who think the business should pay should shut their faces!

William Boles says …

Calling the Affordable Care Act fascist reduces the meaning and historical repugnance of the word to a cheap right wing delusional tirade. As your stores mostly cater to upscale and mostly progressive shoppers, I am surprised at your flippant responses to our health care issues. As a once loyal Whole Foods shopper, I will never patronize any of your stores in the future.

Ms. Doe says …

Free enterprise capitalism in health care has been tried. With each year that passed, it failed more and more people. Unfortunately, it succeeded in one major way-- it made unethical fat-cats in the insurance industry very, very wealthy, while leaving the sick without access to affordable insurance. The costs of medical care for the uninsured were passed on to the rest of society. Insurance premiums skyrocketed, hospitals struggled to cover the expenses of treating the uninsured, yet CEO's of insurance companies were given more and more generous compensation packages. Profits were privatized and losses were socialized. I know, I used to work in the health insurance industry and saw some of the abuses first hand. Ironically, your second paragraph above describes the Affordable Care Act: "...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." Please wake-up Mr. Mackey. You have become a liability to Whole Foods.

Kimberly Haynie says …

Your choice of words on health care reform is afwful but just as bad, if not worse, is your anomymous blogging which attacked rivals before offering to buy them out. Is that your idea of free market capitalism? Profits before people or integity? Whole Foods greedy behavior while concurrently claiming community ideals has been bothering me for a while. I will be looking for every opportunity to support your competitors after 20 year of shopping at Whole Foods.

randolph says …

With all due respect, Mr. Mackey, you don't know what you are talking about. You clearly need to reread your history if you think fascism is an accurate (note I didn't say appropriate) term to describe the Affordable Care Act. Try starting here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism And then spare us your Rand Paul style analysis, which seems stuck at the level of freshman dorm bs sessions.

William Patton says …

Mr. Mackey hit the nail on the head when he called the Affordable Health Care Act facisism. I would hope that he will stand by his initial statement and show the courage to defend his views on the government shoving laws down our throats that violate the Constitution and the majority view on many topics. Personally, I view this beyond facisism and see it as a communist take over of our great nation by an elite few. If we do not stand together and support our Republic, we will lose it forever. As a Patriot, I thank Mr. Mackey for speaking up. Never apologize, it is a sign of weakness.

ROBERT BUSNACH says …

THE ARROGANCE OF THE STATEMENTS MADE AND THE ATTITUDE THAT IT WONT MATTER TO SHOPPERS.. WELL YOURE WRONG. I AM POSTING ALL OVER THE SOCIAL NETWORK TO BOYCOTT WHOLE FOODS AS MANY OF MY FRIENDS ARE. DONT COME TO ARLINGTON, THIS IS A LIBERAL TOWN. WE DONT WANT TOU CHEAP ARROGANCE HERE. BOYCOTT WHOLE FOODS. YOUVE LOST ANOTHER CUSTOMER.

Ann Marie Kroeker says …

Good bye Whole Foods!! I have heard enough of your right-wing rhetoric. I will take my business elsewhere.

Richard & Joan S. says …

Mr. Mackey doesn't believe Whole Foods will lose their "base" due to his poor chosen remark. With a new Whole Foods soon to be built/opened in Rocky River (Cleveland), OH, my husband and I will not be customers of this store - and in conversations with our friends, neither will they. Mr. Mackey says he should have chosen another word - but, perhaps, Mr. Mackey spoke the exact word he wanted to speak. We will continue to be customers of Earthfare, also in Rocky River.

richard gamerman says …

the president is constrained due to separation of powers and it's checks and balances , you are not constain in any way, so who more resembles a fascist ? this president has been called a liar during the state of the union, a non native citizen, a socialist, and now this. you don't have to agree with him but he deserves respect. i'll go elsewhere for my organics, good-bye

robert busnach says …

THE ARROGANCE! YOUVE LOST ANOTHER CUSTOMER. YOU PAY LITTLE TO YOUR WORKERS AND NOW YOU INSULT THIS COUNTRY WITH YOUR SMALL-MINDED GREEDY OUTLOOK ON LIFE AND YOUR WORKERS. WE DONT WANT YOU IN ARLINGTON. BOYCOTT WHOLE FOODS. I AM POSTING ALL OVER THE SOCIAL NETWORK, AS ARE MANY OTHERS. YOU WILL SEE THAT YOUR WORDS AND ACTIONS DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. BOYCOTT WHOLE FOODS!

richard gamerman says …

the president is constrained due to separation of powers and it's checks and balances , you are not constain in any way, so who more resembles a fascist ? this president has been called a liar during the state of the union, a non native citizen, a socialist, and now this. you don't have to agree with him but he deserves respect. i'll go elsewhere for my organics, good-bye

Mike S says …

Oh darn! I won't have to spend hundreds of dollars at Whole Foods anymore. This not only hurts Whole Foods, but unfortunately all the well minded distributors and providers of their products. Mr. Mackey, what a shame. This was an opportunity to 'one up' Obamacare by stating you offer an advantage to single payer. Instead, you tout the free market and 'voluntary exchange for mutual gain'. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? When it comes to health, I would argue that most people don't want to 'shop around'. They just want a level headed system that isn't totally confusing (like what we have now). Have you tried to get healthcare yourself? Do you pay your own healthcare bills? It's a madhouse. Right now, you can receive a bill for some random test you did a year ago. There's no logic to it. Also, premiums are going up at an astronomical rate. Something needs to be done because to me, this looks like capitalism gone rampant.

Darlene Whitted says …

John Mackey Comments on the health care system makes it difficult to shop and support his stores. Mr. Mackey it is alright to disagree but it is not alright to be disagreeable. I work for two part time companies and pay for my own health care. A large percent of my pay goes to Health care and I welcome the affordable care act. Your heart is clear to your customers and to your own part time employees. We will have to join the Boycott for now until your views are clear and consistent.

Don Pohlman says …

Mr. Mackey -- You say in the above statement: "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." My question is: What do you think the Affordable Care Act is trying to do? Exactly this. Have you bothered to read and understand it, or is it just a lot easier to call it socialism, fascism or whatever pejorative term you can come up with? Health care is not being "mandated" under the law, and it's certainly not of the "one size fits all" type. You complain about "government regulations" that "dictate" the parameters of what health care should be. Do you prefer that those parameters be dictated by insurance companies, as they often are now, without any governmental check on them denying coverage to people? Is that what "conscious capitalism" would embrace. You and "Papa John" Schnatter have nothing to complain, but do so anyway. There are plenty of alternatives for customers of both of your types of business, however, under our capitalist system.

Lili says …

I guess you don't know who most of your customers are. Progressive, liberal and open-minded. So disappointed at you. I just spend $100 at your store in the Bay Area. I wish I had found out who you truly are sooner. I'm going to find someplace else to shop.

Stephen Gerringer says …

I am deeply disappointed in John Mackey's remarks, which are disingenuous at best (for example, despite his suggestion we follow the Swiss model, health insurance is Switzereland is COMPULSORY for residents, same as under Obamacare). The nearest Whole Foods is an hour away in Dublin, California; my wife and I have to plan special trips to shop there, and so have never ever spent less than $100 in any one visit ; however, we won't be doing that any more. I am actively promoting a boycott of Whole Foods among my many friends in California, Oregon, and New Mexico who shop there (all of whom support universal health care); that's the beauty of the free market – no one can force me to purchase goods from someone with values contrary to what I hold dear. I hope this rejection by a significant part of your customer base effects your bottom line more than doing the right thing by your employees.

Marshall Smith says …

Mr. Mackey, You have spoken truth. Do not back down. Thank you for your courage to speak the truth.

Grrace says …

New Leaf. Here I come. You just lost a customer buddy. Healthcare doesn't belong in a "free market" that's been monopolized. Getting rich off the sick is no way to earn a living. AND, I was tired of buying junk policies. Health Insurance Companies only sell policies they never intend to honor.

Fred Little says …

Perhaps Mr. Mackey should just acknowledge that what he's really about is less "conscious capitalism" than it is "enlightened predation" and devil take the hindmost. What it comes down to is this: he doesn't believe in a basic right to clean food, clean air, and clean water, but he does believe in his basic right to privatiize profit while the government works to insure his property rights and insure (through its inaction and willfully incapacity wrt fulfillment of the basic rights to clean food, air, and water) that a private market for what should be generally available public goods is the only game in town. In the end, Mackey isn't fulfilling a need or creating value, he's merely identifying an artificial market niche and extracting value from both that market and the broader society, which is to say that he's essentially a gentleman thief.

James Gibbens says …

I'm sorry but isn't the free market health care system what lead us to this point? The unregulated insurance industry has been scamming people for years and the systems are completely failing because of the free market profiteering mentality on sick and dying people. No one should profit because I get sick, it's immoral and should be illegal.

Doug says …

Dear Mr. Mackey,

Marian Cruz says …

It is good and well that Mackey is apologizing. The point is that a person in this position, making huge sums of money should be wise enough in choosing his words. If I'm not mistaken, a while back, he was quoted as saying our health care plan was socialist. This means to me that he is not relating to many of us that are not independently wealthy and especially, his hard working staff. When is he going to understand and relate to the majority of us? I am willing to pay a premium for organic and GMO free food, but not if Mr. Mackey continues to use such terms. Sincerely, Marian Cruz

Anthony Robinson says …

FIRST of all...it's not "Obamacare". It's called the Affordable Healthcare Act.!!! Secondly, Mr. Mackey: you do realize that more than likely 90% of your 73,000 employees are fans/supporters of your do called fascist President?!?! Not to mention that a vast mojority of your shoppers are also fans of your f"fascist" President?!?! You seriosly need to think twice about the pot you're pissing in...

Jackie Nees says …

You NEED to fire John Mackey. I cannot believe you allow someone SO out of touch with the world around us and the values held by his clients to run your company. It is a disgrace. I would rather see him publicly fired than gracefully allowed to resign. You need to send a message that this kind of alarmist, insular, not in my backyard, we don't take care of our own kind of mentality is not rewarded in the public sphere. I don't care what he's done for whole foods, he need to be GONE. I regularly spend hundreds of dollars in your stores monthly. I will be reconsidering my shopping practices.

Cody Rowe says …

I currently work for Whole Foods and have for almost 9 years. I too am frustrated by the governments control of healthcare. I am honored to work for this great company and while my healthcare is no longer free, it's still very affordable. My wife has a preexisting condition so I also know the struggles other Americans face when switching healthcare providers. I feel that Jon Mackey has every right to express his ideas or opinions freely for they are his own and his word choice should not reflect the entire companies ideals or beliefs. We as Americans still have the right of freedom of speech do we not?

Doug says …

Mr. Mackey..As the CEO and an American you have the right and I think the obligation to say what you said and to molify that is almost worse than saying nothing at all. I think you were 100% correct in what you said and I was heartened to finally hear someone from a large business show concern and voice them . We are headed down a destructive path. We need people like yourself to stand up and not cower.

Stacey H says …

So much ignorance in these replies. John Mackey is about as good a person as you can find. He's honorable, compassionate, genuine, and if any of you would take a moment to read his book, you would see that and know how misplaced your negative comments are. His leadership is the reason Whole Foods has been so successful for over 30 years. It's the reason so many people LOVE working at Whole Foods, and it's the reason we are healthier as customers of his stores! I shop almost exclusively at Whole Foods, and that will never change.

S. Wolferson says …

How is it possible that a man in his 50s didn't understand the "negative reaction" that would come from using the term "fascism?" Good Lord, if he's that ill-informed about history -- World War II was less than 70 years ago -- perhaps he is just as ill-informed about other matters, including health care. I know he doesn't think he'll lose any business because of his comments, but he did lose this long-time Whole Foods shopper.

Jarlene Skjolingstad says …

I don't believe you should have apologized. Actually, I feel you should've told your critics to shove it, but perhaps in a more diplomatic way. Your apology won't mean anything to them, and this blog, while I agree with it whole heartedly, touches a concept your critics can't grapple with. Tough love and firm stance is the only way to play ball with these people.

Sarah says …

I guess I will be buying my shirataki noodles elsewhere.

Kat Caleca says …

Whole Foods has just lost my business. And I have been a loyal WF customer for years. I work for a small non-profit organization - not a big business like WF. Before Obamacare I had a $5K deductible w/ NO coverage for mammograms, pap smears, etc. because my small employer could not afford decent coverage for us. With Obamacare, my employer now can afford a policy that provides me with decent coverage, including necessities such as annual mammograms and pap smears. I am sure that you make so much that you have NO IDEA what a hardship it is for middle income people to afford $300 annually for a mammogram, etc. You are FREE TO DISAGREE with our president, but when you stoop to name calling such as "fascism" you have LOST MY BUSINESS. Trader Joe's, here I come...

Phil Myers says …

John Mackey doesn't think his comments will hurt his business? Think again. I'm a new former customer.

Kimberly says …

Mackey's opinion is his personal opinion. Just like we all have. I really don't understand why so many people get worked up just because someone doesn't share in your beliefs. Oh well, more food for us!

jane says …

Didn't offend me! I appreciate your honesty. Thank you.

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