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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

David Rizzo says …

Mr. Mackey believes the Affordable Care Act to be Fascism. I support the act, so that makes me a Fascist in his eyes. I assume Mr. Mackey does not want Fascists shopping at his store. I will be taking my business elsewhere. Publicly alienating your costumer base is rarely considered to be a wise business decision.

Nick says …

I did read your clarification on Huffington Post. In case anyone is wondering, the "standard dictionary definition" of fascism is "a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts the nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, sever economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition." Is that what Mr Mackey meant? Here's another one for you: boycott: "to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (as a person, store, or organization) usu. to express disapproval."

Terry says …

Most of you didn't read his statement did you? If so, you might have noticed that whole foods does offer healthcare to his 73000 employees. Better than what the president is offering. Did you hear that congress op'd out of obamacare? Didn't think so. I only have one issue with what he said and that is now I will have a 60 mile round trip to buy groceries from this company. But it's worth it to show support for a company that cares about its employees and its country. Oh, and no need to apologize to anyone, especially a president who clearly doesn't support the constitution.

Matt_from_Boston says …

No longer a customer as of today. You don't share my values and I prefer to spend my money elsewhere. I grew up poor, John, and people without money who are in need of health care are not better off than people in Canada who might have to wait a while to receive it (and that's only for minor procedures) You have no idea what the real world is like. 1 in 8 Americans do not have health care and they would love to have Canada's system. Don't believe me? Ask them.

Deb says …

Hasn't this happened before!!?? Why does Mr. Mackey keep insulting the people who keep him in business? I will continue to buy some things that I can only get at Whole Foods. I will no longer spend my entire grocery budget there as it is clearly not appreciated. Trader Joe's is just across the street from Whole Foods.

Obie says …

Obamacarre is not fascist and your high food prices are not robber baron capitalism. Both represent quality products. However, in spite of the CEO's apology, it will be a long time before I will consider coming back to Whole Foods.

Stephen Esry says …

This apology is insincere. Time for new leadership.

Henry Tuttle says …

Honestly, with the polarized political environment in the United States today, it's rare to find someone who criticizes ACA (Obamacare) and still believe in enough social causes to consider himself even moderate. Consequently, although I don't know Mr. Mackey's position on other issues, I'm going to assume that he's siding with money over people. Of course, I could be wrong, in which case, if I see enough behavior by Mr. Mackey and Whole Foods that proves me wrong, I may resume my shopping at Whole Foods. Until then, Whole Foods no longer has my business.

Judith Pettibone says …

For so very many reasons, Mr. Mackey's choice of words was so inappropriate. But so is his attitude towards illness and people with illness, and health insurance. The idea that the founder and one of the CEOs of this company could be so foolish as to speak about this topic in such a manner, is beyond belief. Alienate one of your strong customer bases. No more WF for me. Apology, such that it was, did nothing. Board of Directors ... pay close attention, very close attention.

b swegman says …

Yeah, sure Mr. Mackey. Free enterprise capitalist healthcare. What a great concept. Guess which grocery store I will never set foot in again. Bye Bye.

Dr. Barbara Nowak says …

We need no clarification. We know exactly what you meant. I we vote with our feet. I will no longer shop at Whole Foods and will, instead, buy my groceries from our Co-Op and Farmer's Market. Shame on you.

Debbie says …

Call me a former customer. Any business led by someone who is so keen to engage in devisive rhetoric such as calling Obamacare facist doesn't get my business any more. I'm sick of the nasty stuff that takes the place of real dialogue.There are too many top business leaders who should be leading the way in helping our country find solutions and instead find it easier to use glib and ugly soundbites to dump on the current administration. The only thing that does is encourage the crazies in Congress to continue doing nothing - and we as citizens all lose. Adios Whole Foods. You won't see me anymore.

Jane says …

At a time when our president is struggling with radical, name calling conservatives over everything from women's health, to gun control, to "Obamacare", it is worse than a "poor word choice" to refer to our new health care system as "fascism." It certainly got my attention as I read the headlines in various media. The fact is, you said it, and it stays in people's minds. Why don't you (1) apologize to President Obama for the cheap shot, then (2) volunteer to help fix what you don't like about the system, instead of just apologizing for your overkill criticism. What was passed as Obamacare is far from perfect, given all the lobbyists (Insurance and Drug Companies, for starters) that got their hands on it, but it was passed, and some things are better already. Your book is one I am not interested in looking at, and I am reconsidering my shopping habits. Your so-called "Conscious Capitalism" comes across more as thoughtless, selfish whining and shameless shilling for your book. Good luck with that.

Ryan says …

Seems to me, should health care really be a business just like any other under Capitalism? Capitalism disregards ethics and morality, and only seeks profit. Your "conscious capitalism", not possible, if it is capitalism, it's not conscious. To say that health care should be "free enterprise capitalism" is to suggest a profitable business, it is to say, let's keep it like is been all these long years, and not change a thing. "Innovation and creativity"? In what? How the business is run to make more profit? Please.

Mark Blume says …

I like your store but your prices are way to high.And working until you're 70 is way to high too.In fact,how about retiring at 60 which would open more jobs for the young.I think we should have single payer health care for everyone.Maybe sitting behind a desk one thing but having to do REAL MANUAL LABOR until your 70 is OUTRAGIOUS...Thanks....

Mateo Pardo says …

I wonder if Mr. Mackey realizes that the Swiss system is made up of private, non-profit health insurance companies.

Dr. Ron Goodenow says …

Sloppy use of terms like 'socialism' or 'fascism' does nobody any good. There is just too much of this name calling around, and as long as I suspect it is coming from the top of this company I will shop elsewhere. Thank God our president was not portrayed with a Hitler mustache. Incidentally, most fascist countries had thriving free enterprise...ever hear of Siemens or Volkswagen????, and many socialist ones, as opposed to communist ones, have thriving mixed economies. Indeed, many on the right in America would consider the legislation and government role in the Swiss health system as 'socialistic' or 'government controlled', even though it is an interesting model that covers everyone while permitting providers and patients to offer or select and pay for supplementary services. But EVERYONE is covered. So while Mr. Makey has gone off the deep end, he, unlike many yakkers these days, has at least tried to pull back. This said, it is hard for me to believe anything said by this company about food safety and other subjects where there may be government regulation in the public interest.

David Land says …

Free-enterprise capitalist greed-based health care is what got us into this mess. I rather doubt that more of it is going to be the way out. Unless, of course, you think that the solution to being poisoned is more poison? I'll do my shopping — and look for intelligent ideas about health care — elsewhere, thank you very much.

David Land says …

Free-enterprise capitalist greed-based health care is what got us into this mess. I rather doubt that more of it is going to be the way out. Unless, of course, you think that the solution to being poisoned is more poison? I'll do my shopping — and look for intelligent ideas about health care — elsewhere, thank you very much.

N. D. Bentley says …

I support Bob Mackey and his intelligence completely. My head is about to explode with the issues of Obamacare. And oh yeah... as a small business owner... I did build that. And when I posted that on my web site, I had many many vicious comments. Unfortunately I find that supporters of Obama are a lot more likely to comment. And a lot more likely to be angry and hostile.

jacob weisberg says …

i have been a long term customer of whole foods so i took the time to listen the CBS interview and the Huff Post interview. His statements on the Huff Post are incredibly damaging. He does not sound believeable in how he chose to excuse his use of the word fascism. His definition of classic fascism is just wrong. He sounds like he believes that Obama case is fascist, it is just that the word is too loaded from its historical context. yes. He should resign to protect the company.

Henry Tuttle says …

As the head of an organization, the public positions that Mackey takes reflect on his organization. If he was selling deep fried chicken sandwiches, I'm sure he wouldn't lose any business with his pro-business, anti-people comments. However, when you are selling socially conscious products at premium prices, you are going to attract people who are willing to sacrifice for the general good - ie. liberals. Apologies are inadequate. Until Mackey steps down, Whole Foods has lost a customer.

Donna Scarpuzza says …

I have been shopping at WFM for over20 years. Good bye.

P Crosby says …

Seems like $ makes you rethink things- Bye -Bye. Only $200/mo won't matter but unlike you principles do matter Never did trust you or your Co P

Marie says …

I'm very sure that you regret comparing the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") to fascism. Now, you have a problem. You've offended much of your customer base. But it surely doesn't mean that you didn't mean it. Other CEOs have given reasonable responses (do a search on the Cheesecake Factory and Affordable Care Act, for example). I will be shopping at my local natural foods co-op instead of at "Whole Paycheck" from now on, if that's your attitude. You can be as open and honest as you want, but don't think that it won't affect your bottom line (ask Papa John's and Chik-fil-a). Of course, you've probably gained some fans from the conservative crowd, but they're not usually the natural foods, educated, elitist food crowd. Good luck with that.

Craig says …

Wow, what sad display from all of these comments. Fascism is an economic model and John used the term correctly. You debase the complex conversation when you have a knee-jerk reaction and associate the term with the National-Socialist party. John is also right in that Obamacare is shifting chairs on the Titanic, it does nothing to address the underlying issues with medical care in this country.

Larry says …

Mackey's word choice was not the problem it's his total misconception of Obamacare that is worrisome. Yes the government has become the overseer of health care in order to help control runaway costs while providing insurance for Americans who in the past could not afford it. This is being through health insurance companies. Long term everyone benefits. My wife and I will consider alternatives to Whole Foods before we continue to support a company that is run by such a myopic person.

Tim Rowan says …

John, Your retraction of "fascism" is admirable but you have a completely inaccurate perception of the Affordable Care Act. If you were to read it, you would discover that it still leaves the insurance companies pretty much in control of the U.S. healthcare system, just like they were before. Why do you think they were in favor of the ACA in its final version? Because they successfully watered it down before it reached the President's desk. After you dispel yourself of the myth of "Government-controlled healthcare," next you should look objectively at the healthcare system it is replacing. There was no such thing as a free market controlling healthcare for the last 100 years. It has been entirely owned and operated by the nation's largest corporations, primarily insurance and Big Pharma. If a real free market were possible, I would agree with you 100%, but it's not. These corporations, along with their Big Oil cousins, own Congress, some of the Democrats and all of the Republicans. The only entity able to loosen their iron grip on the throat of physicians, hospitals and patients is a Democratic-party led government. The answer to the problem you describe is not going to be found in free market idealism, but in the real world of manipulation, back-room deals, campaign donations and the revolving door between Congress and 6-figure positions on boards of directors. You should know this already, Mr. Mackey. You deal with the powerful, manipulative dairy and meat industries. You know better than anyone that there has not been a free market in this country in decades.

SLTX says …

On the contrary, Mr. CEO, I rather appreciated the first comment that you made. You were absolutely right. I hope that you didn't bow to pressure to apologize. No need for that.

Bruce Simdberg says …

Yes, a truly poor choice of words. As an Obama supporter and advocate of universal health care, I will not be motivated to spend my money at Whole Foods Markets anymore.

Martin says …

Mr. Mackey is obviously entitled to his opinions, just as I am entitled to shop elsewhere which I will be doing henceforth.

Lisa says …

I will really miss WF, but after those comments by Mr. Mackey, not another cent of my money will go there. Even "accidently" using the word" fascism" to describe the Affordable Care Act smacks of the kind of extremist view that stokes hate in this country. Thinly veiled as "conscious capitalism", I'd suggest Mr. Mackey spend some more time on the conscious part. His clear mis-understanding of the ACA is one problem, but using his priviledged position to spin contempt for this President is unforgivable. I hope he enjoys the company of the wacky fringe he is invigorating. P.S. Come spend a day with me in my urban level one trauma hospital and then tell me we don't need health care reform. Switzerland????Get off your high horse, dude.

Daniel says …

John Mackey has lost my business. I guess my wallet will benefit.

dkw says …

I heard John Mackay's interview on NPR, and I was dismayed by the words he used and the sentiments he expressed. He may support "free market capitalism" but the end result is that he doesn't appear to support the only way that the people who work for him and many others can get health care in this country. His preferred solution cannot be the enemy of the improvements on health care that are actually achievable in the US. It seems he thinks "I got mine and I don't care about those less fortunate." For that reason, I am no longer shopping at Whole Foods. The company appears progressive, but is clearly more about money than sustainable values.

Bonnie Lucas says …

I am a former WF employee - and Mr. Mackey, you were RIGHT ON when you related this health care plan to FASCISM. I had stopped shopping at WF recently because of the extra payroll taxes we are now paying, but with our 2012 tax refunds, I and about 20 of my friends are going to WF to buy a TON of food to show our support.

Jack Kelly says …

I won't be visiting your store ny more, sir. You didn't make a poor choice of words. I think you meant what you said. So no more Whole Foods for me.

DM says …

Good LORD PPL!! Pull up! All I hear is whiney citizens who criticize EVERY word of EVERY business owner. Get over yourselves and quit looking for people to be mad at! I'm sick at my stomach at how childish our country has become as a whole.... you should ALL be ashamed of yourselves.

Heidi L. says …

Well, yet another reason why I shouldn't be shopping at Whole Foods. Not only are the food prices so high, I'd have to be rich to shop there, but the CEO is an elitist, capitalist right-wing nut! I'm in my late 20s and have not been insured for YEARS. I don't know when I will ever get insurance. I'm not saying the Health Care law is totally free of problems, but its better than what we had. I've been so badly neglected plus having a pre-existing condition that I'd shudder to think of what would happen if we didn't have the Health Care law.

Elaine laing says …

Fascism ...I quit Whole Foods. You must be a right wing nut.

Ang says …

America's free market had landed it about 5Oth in the world when it comes to health -- or what some would call not even competitive -- and it costs at a rate more than double any other country. Why would anyone not want to change this? Why doesn't Whole Foods realize that the same people who care to find healthier food also prefer to have their cashier not come to work with the flu and sneeze on their purchases? The same people who value healthier eating would also value having more employees having access to healthcare. Your brand is your values and if you think customers don't value how the food ends up in the store and how the store is run, they can go to WalMart.

Trevor Rogers says …

I had alwasy assumed that Whole Foods was a progressive, left-leaning business, and as a result I was willing to accept the excessively high prices. Thanks for clearing that up. You saved me a ton of money this year. You won't get another dime from me.

Rob says …

Why doesn't he just move to Switzerland? Simple question.

Andra says …

You are all crazy. Whole foods is great. You complain about capitalism. What has the government done right. Medicare, social security, Fannie may, Freddie mAc, post office. Come on and you think health care would be run any different.

Necole Fabris says …

As a weekly patron of Whole Foods and a stockholder, I am deeply disappointed by your stance on universal health care. Health care is a RIGHT, and it is clear that the current for-profit structure does not work. CEOs increase their profit margins, the middle class are hampered by exorbitant premiums, and those less fortunate cannot even afford to take care of basic health needs. For such a socially and environmentally conscious company, your views on healthcare run counter to all that you appear to promote throughout your stores.

Joe of San Antonio says …

Mr. Mackey is correct in his assessment of Obamacare. If we do not excercise our Free Speech and speak the Truth, we are doomed. I am stepping up my spending at Whole Foods.

Bob says …

I think you made your point really well John. I will not step foot in Whole Foods again.

Jo Ann Augeri Silva says …

I am not persuaded by this CYA sort of double talk. These comments show a determined misrepresentation of what health care reform can and will accomplish. I think you showed your true feelings in your original comments, and nothing you've said here takes that away. "Need to find a new word?" Please.

Mark Reilly says …

Heard your CEO in NPR today a and I have to say that I will never shop at Whole Foods again. You should have him read Rise and Fall of the 3rd Reich where the anti-union business leaders sided to deny benefits to the working man and create profits .He is a profiteer !!

Miguel Lopez says …

I agree!! Obamacare IS Fascism, and Obama ("the Zero") governs like a king. I was proud to vote for the real American.

Cindy English says …

No more whole foods for me!

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