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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

Mary James says …

Free enterprise capitalism cannot work until wages and worker rights are restored. In its current state, it does nothing more than feed the greed of the 1%. Applied to healthcare it would drive the costs so high, hospitals would be closing everywhere. American corporations have proven they are only interested in bottom line and not the people who help them achieve it. Your comments reflected the apathy and sense of entitlement that you so quickly label others with. You can spin it any way you want but I won't be shopping at WF ever again.

Mary Lou Winters says …

I iive about 1 1/2 mile from your store in WP NY. I shop there regularly--no more--will be bringing your health ins policy i.e. anti Obamacare to the attention of all my friends--you are greedy and do not care about the health of your employees --I'm going to Costco--this really means a lot to me and influences with whom I do business

Edmond Yee says …

Affordable healthcare for WF employees; horrible. I recommend all in So California to spend their dollars at Trader Joe's.

Carrie L. Foster says …

I cannot help but think you are going back on what you originally said due to the base of whole foods is progressive leaning. At this point I am not sure if I am going back to whole foods, I could justify spending more money on good food, but as I gave up shopping for lower prices at walmart due to similar reasons, I am considering not going back to whole foods. I was really astounded to hear you comments this morning and appalled that you stated Obama care was fascism. Which is stating he is a dictator promote his agenda for the country on.

Chuck Williams says …

Facism, really ? Goodbye Whole Paycheck, Inc. There are other health food stores in my area.

Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says …

Although shopping at WF has been a budgetary challenge for me, I have been a regular customer because I am concerned about chemically altered food and cruelty to animals that are a food source. I want to be a good example to my grandchildren about sharing this world with the rest of creation. I hope my grandchildren will grow to be respectful and generous and will be willing to sacrifice for the good of others. Your attitude and words concerning the President and health care were not respectful or generous. Your apology is hollow. It sounds like the critical bottom line is money, not. I am so disappointed. I had almost convinced my children to shop at WF at least for the meat. I was willing to sacrifice and drive a great distance and scrimp on other items in my budget. No more. I will no longer be a customer until there is a true change at WF. Hopefully this will happen with the departure of John Mackey.

Deborah Gallagher says …

Okay, John Mackey, my husband and I are vegan. We have been thrilled that a Whole Foods opened in Des Moines, Iowa and often make the trip to shop and eat there. Now, we heard your remarks about health care this morning. What a turnoff. Hey, we well know how to eat right and don't really need your store to do so. Plus, we care about your employees so much that we're not inclined to shop Whole Foods until you change your attitude and actual policies. In short, you blew it with us. We know how to cook. We don't need you. You need us. We're turned off.

Mike says …

Whole Foods does some great things from a sustainability and health standpoint. That's why I was surprised and disappointed about your comments re: Obamacare. I am one of the many people in the country who cannot get private health insurance because of pre-existing conditions, so Obamacare provides my only source of potential insurance. I honestly don't care who (private versus public) provides the insurance; I just want the opportunity to buy some insurance. While the law may have shortcomings, I think your "analysis", including the reference to fascism or socialism, does not consider that basic point about the benefits of the law to people like me. You need to take your "business" hat off and think beyond what this means to Whole Foods.

DHB says …

It must be all those conservatives and Republicans that buy your food. How did an man like you get to the top? On the backs of your underpaid and under insured employees? Free market? When they have you by the short hairs, their hearts and mind will follow. I will not shop with you anymore!

Gerald M. Mccarthy says …

I am an active member in my community who shops at Whole Foods. Tonight (Jan. 17) I heard on the 'Ed Show' on MSNBC that the CEO of Whole Foods described the 'Affordable Health Care Act' as "Faschism". I am appalled at this comment. My wife and I have agreed not to shop at whole foods and have advised our adult children and our friends of the same until John Mackey retracts this horrendus statement. I am also following this email with a letter to my local newspapers.

Denise Archambault says …

It doesn't matter what "words" you choose - initially or later once you've heard from your PR team, your lack of desire to help provide a basic standard of living for your employees (despite the continued growth of WF) is despicable. I write simply to inform you that I will no longer shop at Whole Foods. I will take my dollars to retail outlets that live by values that I don't leave me without an appetite.

Tim says …

My family and friends used to spend a lot of money at your store (part of your 306% increase in profits under Obama). After Mackey's comments we have ALL agreed we have spent the last penny we will ever spend at Whole Foods.

Tom Rohall says …

Just saw your statements. Last time I spend a dime in your store. Your ARE the problem.

Yvettte S. says …

OK, fascism is a word that can no longer be casually used? This guy is woefully misinformed. Does he think we are all idiots? WHEN was it ever used flippantly? Word History: It is fitting that the name of an authoritarian political movement like Fascism, founded in 1919 by Benito Mussolini, should come from the name of a symbol of authority. The Italian name of the movement, fascismo, is derived from fascio, "bundle, (political) group," but also refers to the movement's emblem, the fasces, a bundle of rods bound around a projecting axe-head that was carried before an ancient Roman magistrate by an attendant as a symbol of authority and power. The name of Mussolini's group of revolutionaries was soon used for similar nationalistic movements in other countries that sought to gain power through violence and ruthlessness, such as National Socialism. 1. Fascism a. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism. b. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government. 2. Oppressive, dictatorial control. Thanks Free Dictionary Your intentions were loud and clear. You have lost my business.

Richard Murian says …

John Mackey has expressed himself just before I was planning to give my daughter a $50 gift certificate to Whole Foods. Now I am redirecting that small amount of money to some clothing stores she also likes. In the process, we have found out how poorly Whole Foods pays key people. I quite shopping at one major store because they sell gun clips and assault rifles. There are some exceptional products at Whole Foods but it will take a bigger apology or a new CEO before I ever enter one again. Richard Murian

grumpy says …

Don't apologize. Thanks for speaking up!

Kathy Weber says …

As a person who takes care and responsibility for my health, but nonetheless got cancer through no fault of my own, I think your comments are very short-sighted. Leaving health insurance to the continued vise-grip control of employers, and without the ACA, I would be uninsurable w/o employer-sponsored insurance. This seriously impacts ee mobility and leaves everyone open to bankruptcy if they suffer serious illness. Frankly, I don't trust CEOs like yourself and your condescending, paternalistic view on health insurance. I'm sick of "markets" being the unquestioned answer for everything - they are not. And it's very disappointing that a company like Whole Foods doesn't set the standard for good ee health insurance. Count me in as one of the many customers that will vote on this issue with my wallet.

katie gannon says …

Hey, you just opened a big new store in Tucson. We have a family of four that eats exceedingly well. We won't be spending a dime at your Tucson stores, preferring to support locally-owned food co-ops and small natural grocers. Whole Foods: Get a clue! Mackey is bad for business. Not a dime from us or our extended family until this jerk is gone.

Randolph Mantooth says …

Dear John Mackey. In America, you sir, have every right to say whatever you like. I, also have a right to spend my money where ever I like. Having said that, I must tell you, I will do my level best to NEVER spend another dime in any of your stores. When you call, or at the very least, infer that my President is a fascist, or is running a fascist country, you represent to me the very same mean-spirited, Party of "No", Tea Party extremists that are bringing this country ever closer to a second civil war. You are acting like all the other idiots out there who are saying remarkably stupid things, like; "I didn't really mean what I said" (Because my mouth is hurting my bottom line) "here is what I really meant....." No Sir....I take you at your word. Not your re-word. As sad as it is for me to eliminate you from my family's shopping regimen, the bright side is, I will save an enormous amount of money by not shopping at "Whole Paycheck" anymore.

boyd w wicks sr says …

worried about the cost of your employyes health care ? is yours the same as theirs ? maybe you and your senior staff take a paycut to cover the costs for your employees ?

Gerry says …

You simply want to keep more profits. You do not intend to cover your employers healthcare to make a statement. My statement to you is that I will never step into a Whole Foods again.

Deb lane says …

I couldn't wait until the new whole foods opened in my area, but after your comments I won't shop at the store.

Craig A says …

I have been a whole foods shopper for years and this makes me less likely to shop there. It is sad that business executives believe taking care of their employees is a form of fascism or socialism. Nothing short of a capitalist response, boycotting Whole Foods, is appropriate.

Linda Birchall says …

All of my family & husband's family here in Tulsa, OK, will no longer shop at your stores. I have been a loyal customer in Dallas, Houston & now Tulsa for over 15 yrs. My remaining family in Austin, TX have also agreed to boycott your stores. We do not agree with your fascism comments regarding the Affordable Care Act a/k/a Obamacare. You have become quite wealthy with your stores & your greed apparently knows no bounds. I can only hope your employees will be able to find better working conditions elsewhere. Fortunately, even in Tulsa, OK, we have a new store, Fresh Market, that is a much better alternative. Your lame attempt at an apology is not accepted. Hopefully, other customers will be happy to follow suit & shop elsewhere.

Albert Cumming says …

You lost me too. You are thinking like a rich well paid executive and don't have a clue about normal people. While Rommey might have nodded at your comments, the ordinary folk are the ones that buy your products. You just alienated a significant percentage of them. It doesn't show careful thinking, not too good for a CEO.

Brian Weiss says …

Uh, John. We've HAD a "free market" system all along for healthcare, and it has gotten us where we are - the world's most costly healthcare but far from the world's best results. So what is it that YOU advocate which would suddenly improve on this? In the capitalist paradise you posit, businesses do what is good for THEM, not what is good for society or their employees. That's what Whole Foods does. The idea that if we just leave it to the market, everything will be GREAT is demonstrably untrue. What is true is that healthcare insurance and thus healthcare will be unavailable to those with ANY kind of health condition, those who aren't employed by a major corporation, those who are poor, or those whose employers simply choose not to step up and offer a healthcare benefit. Your "fascist" statement was ugly, nasty, repulsive and it is very, very difficult to believe it did not in fact reflect your real feelings. The "bad choice of words" mea culpa is simply your version of "wardrobe malfunction" because of the outrage of so many. What you have forgotten, apparently, is that your customers still get to vote with their business.

jp says …

Why should healthcare be different for those that are "poor" or those with pre-existing conditions? I'm tired of the ignorance surrounding this position and those that are similar. Many with pre-existing conditions live a relatively long life, and with manageable illnesses that are not necessarily any more expensive to treat than taking a bunch of snotty-nosed children to the family doctor for the sniffles once a month. Further, without the threat of losing insurance, many of those will be able to go back to work full-time without limits on the "American Dream" that many like yourself have taken advantage of. How is that okay? How is it okay that I am told to let my cancer eat away at me if I want to make more than disability will allow me to make? Because that is what's going on. I will lose my life-saving treatment if I make too much money--which is below poverty level...where a nice slice of the "poor" pie comes from. I waited with so much anticipation for almost two years for Whole Foods to come to Virginia Beach, and I won't be going back now. How about you business owners just keep doing what you do best, and keep the controversial comments that affect others in very serious, personal ways, but only affect your profits to yourselves.

denise grayson says …

Mr Mackey, I watched you this am on CBS, I then decided that the extra steps I take whenever I am in a city your to enjoy the food court or pick up items, will be curtailed, much to my regret. I do this to make a statement. I and my husband are small business owners (pharmacy) we employ 10. We understand the need for profit and are capitalists too. I support president Obama, in his attempt to decrease healthcare costs. Trust me your fellow capitalist in the insurance sector will be making major bucks with the new customers. They had their influence in the making of it, surely you would know that. Your so-called re-wording to 'government -controlled healthcare', JUST MADE IT WORSE. For someone with such business acumen, you have just screwed with a large portion of your customer base. You really need to shut up now.

Kathryn Thomas says …

Too late for clarifying Mr Mackey, I will cease spending my money at the local Whole Foods and I've dropped a lot of dough there buddy. First socialism, now it's fascism and by the by, you don't know what your talking about, as many posters have ably pointed out.

Sandra says …

Good grief. Free capitalist libertarian mumbo jumbo. Fortunately, I have access to a wonderful Farmer's Market and several other stores that appear to care for their employees. good- bye Whole Paycheck.

David P. says …

So sorry that universal health care will reduce your millions in profits. If you ever decide to try to locate a store near or in Bloomington Indiana, rest assured that I and most of my friends will never patronize your retail store. We have a local food co-operative that is benefiting from President Obama's health care initiative. You are nothing but another self serving hole!

Randolph Mantooth says …

Dear John Mackey. In America, you sir, have every right to say whatever you like. I, also have a right to spend my money where ever I like. Having said that, I must tell you I will do my level best to NEVER spend another dime in any of your stores. When you call, or at the very least infer that my President is a fascist, or is running a fascist country, you represent to me the very same mean-spirited, Party of "No", Tea Party extremists that are bringing this country ever so close to a second civil war. You are acting like all the other idiots out there who are saying remarkably stupid things, like; "I didn't really mean what I said" (Because my mouth is hurting my bottom line) "here is what I really meant...." No Sir....I take you at your word. Not your re-word. As sad as it is for me to eliminate you from my family's shopping regimen, the bright side is, I will save an enormous amount of money by not shopping at Whole Paycheck anymore.

Sandra Hurd says …

As someone who has shopped at Whole Foods since the 70's when I went to the old store on Lamar, I am very upset by Mackey's comments. You have lost a loyal customer.

Jeff says …

I hope you go belly up. It would serve you right.

Nan A canter says …

If you care about your company you will treat your employees like the owner of COSCO treats his.

Ed Stephenson says …

I'm dumbfounded. What I assumed would be a corporate philosophy more like a Costco than a troglodyte philosophy worse than Kroger! To find out a Cashier is getting $10.41/hr and is expected to use that generous salary to provide their own health care. You should be ashamed. I'll now drive on by shop with those who have morality.

Vicki Johnson says …

I appreciate your focus on healthy eating so much and your stores are the absolute best. I wish everyone could afford to shop there. You are an incredible businessperson who was willing to take a huge financial risk to offer healthy products to your customers. I'm so happy you had the brains and drive to do all of the things you have done. You're a good businessman and thank heavens we have people like you in our country. Because of your exceptional business qualities, you are probably making a very good living. But, for someone who obviously has so many positive qualities relating to business decisions, however, I think you are greatly lacking as a decent human being. You seem incredibly lacking in compassion and just plain kindness toward your fellow man. I'm talking about your incredible poor judgment and actual stupidity in your choice of words in describing President Obama and your position on health care. Not everyone has the good luck or the good fortune or the circumstances to thrive the way you have. President Obama is looking out for middle class Americans, who really, in the end, will make up a large percentage of your customers. So, their well-being should concern you greatly. I am maybe a little sensitive tonight because I just got off the phone with my daughter who was sobbing at the other end of the phone, She has moved to a new community, Bozeman, Montana, with a pre-existing condition and she has been turned down by every single doctor she has talked to because, (she thinks) they don't like her insurance or they don't like something about her charts. She has insurance, Aetna; she is paying $500+ a month to be on her husband's health insurance plan; she is working full-time (although she does not have health insurance through her company). She thinks she may have a neurological disease like MS, but she can't get in to see a doctor. She is just plain scared. It is incredible to me that this is happening in America. But, your attitude is, 'survival of the fittest', every man for himself, if you can't make it in America, you must be lazy. I wish you knew our family history and how hard we have worked and how much we have contributed to our society. But how we are not wealthy....just happy. I really am just so fed up with guys like you. I see you as being the problem rather than the solution. Your rhetoric is irrational and childish and inflammatory and does nothing to move our Democracy forward. We ARE in this together, whether you like it or not. I know one thing. As much as I like your Whole Food stores, I won't go into another one. I know that won't mean a thing to you, but it makes me feel better to say that.

William Hartman says …

John Mackey shame on You! Your comments on NPR bespeak a sort of Freudian Slip on your part. How dare You call the President's and Congress' health care reform a type of fascism. You have lost me as a customer. I will no longer shop at my local Whole Foods Stores in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania Ave] and Mount Laurel, NJ.

joe sime says …

I consider your follow-up comments as an attempt to avoid as much negative pr as is possible. Your company will join with Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Papa John's Pizza in my list of those to not patronize.

Ed says …

Well, another corporation that I will never buy from again. I hate doing this because it hurts the employees who work there but may not agree with their boss, but I refuse to support these ungrateful and greedy corporate CEOs who just don't "get it." I am particularly incensed by Mackey's use of both "socialism" and "fascism" to describe something that he just disagrees with. He abuses his position of power by making such unsettling and irresponsible statements. Goodbye WFM!

Amelia Feuss says …

Obamacare is based on competition. You should read the bill. My money will now be spent at Fresh Market and the Farmers' Market. Ta-Ta Whole Foods.

Andrea says …

I think that if Americans started taking some responsibility for their health and control the things they can; Type II Diabetes, Heart Disease and most froms of Cancer--we would all be better off. Maybe, another question for everyone to consider is how much are you relying on medications and surgery to band-aid your health? Take control and own your life, be responsible with your health and get off the couch and exercise!

David Tucker says …

The free market has had decades to supply health care to the American People. The free market failed, Consequently the government acted. Its called representative democracy not fascism. I will not patronize your store in the future and will encourage family and friends to do the same.

Amzie says …

Don't appologise. There are plenty of us out here who agree with you. We have just been bullied in to silence. Yes bullied...I said it.

Michael says …

The CEO of a major corporation can't be so dense as to not realize he's using a loaded word when he calls something "fascist." I suggest that the first, offhand, comment reflects the real man; the follow-up is PR-driven damage control. Henceforth, I'll happily avoid shopping in Whole Foods.

ReGina Newkirk says …

When the idea of women's suffrage was introduced, many thought that men's roles would be diminished. Integration brought fear of mixed races and mixed societies. Many argued against gays in the military because it would decrease troop morale and demolish unity. And in 2013, we see that these fears were baseless and that we are standing on the right side of history. Change is painful and it is costly, but right is still right. I am all for discussions on how to make our country better (better, not how to make the rich richer), but the use of inflammatory and inciting language does nothing to propel real conversation. I have been a loyal WF shopper for over a decade, and it will sincerely hurt me not to shop there again. But taking a stand for what is right and the right way to do and say things is more important than organic foods and vegan options. And Mr. Mackey, two pieces of advice. One, always choose your words carefully. You can't unring a bell. And two, as a business owner, it's key to know who your customer base is. As you have one of the most liberal and left-leaning clientele I know of, this was just an unbelievably lack of good judgment. And that's just disappointing.

C, Murar says …

I would make the drive to the East side to shop. But NO LONGER. I bet you have health care, and don't pay for it.

Joshua Stevens says …

I work across the street from Whole Foods and go there almost every day I work for lunch. Well, I did anyway. Your company just lost another customer.

Rollin says …

Poor word choice, indeed, Mr. Mackey. And on NPR's Morning Edition at that. I heard the interview and was quite surprised. NPR listeners - and, I believe, Whole Foods customers - are said to be well educated and have a liberal bent. More than some other audiences, NPR listeners have an idea what fascism is (was) and not only hate fascism but know that your use of the word was way off base. You've instantly offended a large segment of your customers, and they aren't likely to be mollified by an opportunistic apology. In a way, though, I can sympathize with your plight. It makes no sense for health insurance to be tied to employment in a business whose core mission has nothing to do with health care. Hearing reactions from CEOs such as yourself, it's all the more clear that the only structure that makes any sense is Single Payer - everyone in Medicare or Medicaid, similar to how it's done in most other civilized countries.

Dav says …

I'm quite confused. You said that you want "free enterprise capitalism with a strong governmental safety net for our poorest citizens and those with preexisting conditions." How is this different than "Obamacare"? The ACA requires people to buy health insurance on the private market if not provided through their employer. It requires large employers to provide that health insurance as part of the compensation package (which has tax advantages, as the costs are tax deductible). You use Switzerland as an ideal. It also requires citizens to purchase health insurance. AND it also dictates the minimum coverage that must be in all insurance plans. In addition, private insurance companies cannot profit off of that minimum coverage. How is this any different than "government regulations dictat(ing) the parameters of what health care plans can be offered"? The free market fairies have not worked up to this point. We've tried that and it's led to tens of millions of uninsured people and health care costs shooting through the roof. There is cost savings in pooling risk, you should know that as a successful CEO. Stop clinging to your pure capitalist dogma and open your eyes... we have the most expensive health care system in the world with some of the worst health outcomes among first-world countries, and that has been with the MOST "free market" health care system in the world.

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