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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

Brian Boespflug says …

I am deeply concerned that Mr. Mackey cares little about the citizens of America and a lot about how to squeeze those at the bottom of the economic scale. I don't hear complaints from the folks at Trader Joes? Remember, the Republicans are shopping at WalMart. You need customers like me and that won't happen with this kind of attitude.

jerry says …

Tacky Mackey--I am done with Whole Foods. You are disgusting to actually believe that you created your business all by yourself with no help from the people, the government's liberal tax code, good roads, bridges, infrastructure all paid for by the people. Your insult to every one of your employees by saying that they don't deserve Obamacare or quality health care clearly defines who you are. Your board of directors needs to remove you from the position of CEO. You don't deserve that position. You have hate for your employees and your customers by believing that Obamacare is actually fascist. You sound like Limbaugh and Beck. I am done with your store!

Tom Vrba says …

"Authoritarian" would be a better choice of words. THANK YOU for consistently standing up for a healthier form of capitalism.

Donna says …

i have shopped at Whole Foods from the beginning however, If Whole Foods moves forward to hurt their employees by not maintaining good wages and paying for good health care, I will immediately stop shopping there. Whole Foods, also known as Whole Paycheck has inflated prices already, and is making great profits. Share the wealth with those that work for you which make the profit possible instead of being greedy and selfish. I am very disappointed in the attitude and concept from a firm that i believed was progressive and forward thinking. WOW... was I ever wrong.

jody says …

Your CEO needs to consult a dictionary before flaming so publicly. I do not know if I want to patronize a business headed by such a poor thinking man. He should be ashamed.

Bev Ritz says …

"John Mackey of Whole Foods is not the first CEO to publicly criticize Obamacare. Last fall, brand perceptions of Papa John's, Applebee's and Denny's took a beating after executives publicly said that Obamacare would force them to stop building restaurants, cut worker hours and raise prices." Another self-serving, whining billionaire. Mr. Mackey? It seems that you are following along the same path as Walmart--poor/low wages and treating company employees like second-class citizens. Why not adopt the Costco philosophy, which provides optimal working conditions for their employees (good wages & benefits) and Costco does not threaten the populace w/increased prices, all the while still making handsome profits! POSTED ON MY FACEBOOK, BLOGS & TWITTER!

Dr. James Hagman says …

Mr. Mackey simply does not get the point. Free enterprise capitalism has been an outright failure for the health care of millions of employees, including those of Whole Foods. His notion is that as long as health care makes a profit, this is in line with his libertarian views of a health American system. Unfortunately, those at the lower end of the earning scale, including employees of Whole Foods, do not have access to quality health care that they cannot afford. Mr. Mackey's comments have done a great deal of damage to the image of Whole Foods as a 'healthy alternative' to other groceries. With great disappointment, I will withhold my shopping dollars from Whole Foods until Mr. Mackey goes. I will spend them at 'healthier alternatives' that value employees as much as the produce they are hawking.- J. Hagman, Ph.D.

Bev Ritz says …

"John Mackey of Whole Foods is not the first CEO to publicly criticize Obamacare. Last fall, brand perceptions of Papa John's, Applebee's and Denny's took a beating after executives publicly said that Obamacare would force them to stop building restaurants, cut worker hours and raise prices." Another self-serving, whining billionaire. Mr. Mackey? It seems that you are following along the same path as Walmart--poor/low wages and treating company employees like second-class citizens. Why not adopt the Costco philosophy, which provides optimal working conditions for their employees (good wages & benefits) and Costco does not threaten the populace w/increased prices, all the while still making handsome profits! NO LONGER A CUSTOMER! POSTED ON FACEBOOK, BLOGS & TWITTER! Boston, MA

Diana Arlet says …

I have been a Whole Foods customer for five years. My family spends over $275.00 a week there and much more on the holidays. All the employees in the store where I shop are wonderful, gentle people who deserve to work in a good environment, for a good wage. They also deserve heath care. Service employees are not paid a high wage. Yet, these people are "Whole Foods". They are very much the reason I shop Whole Foods. John Mackey - respect these people and our government who is looking out for lower income people, the people who make your company what it is, and just part with some of your profit to take care of your employees. Show you are respectful of the people who work for you and make you what you are, and stop saying things that diminish yourself and Whole Foods. This is the second time you have insulted the U.S. presidency, the government, the people who work for you, and me as a customer. I will take my grocery business to other health food stores if these flip and callous remarks happen again.

Sarah Bland says …

You have no business throwing words like "fascism" around casually when it comes to fairly modest policy changes such as the ACA. I for one have heard enough inflammatory speech. It's time for everyone to take a breath and tone the rhetoric down. President Obama is not a Marxist, Socialist, or Fascist -- hell, he's not even much of a Liberal. For those of you who complain about the ACA -- do you know anyone who has died for lack of health insurance? I do. Do you know anyone who was "dumped" from a hospital without an operation for lack of health insurance? I do. These are people who have worked all their lives and because of illness at some point became "uninsurable." Hats off to our great free market system.

Dr. Guy McDonald says …

John, I'm glad Bismarck, North Dakota, does not have a Whole Foods store or I would be starting a boycot. Bottom line, if wages at the low end, say 50,000 dollars increased at the same rate as those at the top end has risen, that 50 thous would now be wages of 300,000. I'm guessing upon reading your thoughts that you are doing everything you can to enhance further the gross income inequity in this country. Shameful that you know so little about economics but I'm guessing the public that had supported you will educate you in short time.

bill Thomas says …

Conservatives invented Obamacare. The reason they gave was that the previous medical system forced (!) us to provide free medical care for those not responsible enough to cover themselves. Another word for that old system......the one you want to return to......is SOCIALISM.

Erroll Jacobson-Sive says …

Please publish the facts on your health coverage; do you cover everyone?Regarding pursuing the Swiss system, which is the third most expensive in the industrialized world, as far as I read that is exactly what we are doing. We are not headed to single payer. I found Mr. Mackey's statement repulsive and his clarification worse in a way.

Thomas Geehan says …

Been a loyal customer and share holder in WF but the comments from the CEO have really me made question my loyalty. I do agree that Switzerland has a good system but if I rember correctly the GOP just says no and does participate in democracy so how can it discuss and make logical improvements. Said CEO should stick to business and keep his political views to himself.

Jim Prager says …

Goodbye Whole Foods! Obviously Mr. Mackey believes what he said in spite of his remarks to the contrary. Actually he didn't change his belief just his choice of words. I don't share his beliefs or his rather lame clarification of his poor choice of words.I can purchase the same products I've been buying at Whole Foods at a number of other stores and now I will do so!

Michael McQueary says …

Perhaps Mr. Mackey needs to step down as CEO since his personal views conflict with the law. He obviously does not know what fascism is and does not care. I will reconsider shopping at Whole Foods till he does step down.

JelliDonut says …

Mackey, your poor choice wasn't in your words but in your attitude toward your employees. In one fell swoop you managed to let them know how little they mean to you AND alienate a good number of your customers. I hope the Whole Foods shareholders aren't as angry about your words and you aren't put into a position to have to worry about affording health care for YOUR family. There's a Vitamin Cottage just around the corner from my house and an ever-growing number of independent grocers are also opening not that far from my neighborhood. You and Whole Foods have gotten too big for your britches. I'm betting the little guys will appreciate my money and my values a lot more than you do.

Ann Gutierrez says …

I am already having to boycott a long list of corporate brands that are working against GMO ingredient disclosure...I am not sure where I will turn if I hear more reactionary comments from the Wholefoods corporate heads...My healthy food choices are as important to me as the health of every worker in this country...CEO Mackey needs to stop thinking about his bottom line or we won't be willing to contribute to it by shopping at WholeFoods...

Patrick Henry says …

John Mackey, what you said was true, do not apologize for the truth. I'd be more likely to buy from your stores if you stand by your statement.

Susan Taylor says …

The more I've read about Whole Foods, the worse it gets. Whole Foods is anti-union, it gets so called "organic" foods from unregulated countries, and does not ascribe to humane treatment of animals like they say they do. Talk about a wolf in sheep's clothing! Am so sad. Whole Foods has been my only store for many years. I thought they were better than the average big corporation. I'm going elsewhere but first I'm going to investigate their practices. I don't want to support any more CEOs like Mackey.

Kyle says …

I can't believe that a CEO of a company would make such a stupid statement. The majority of the country voted for Obama and his healthcare law. I think whole Foods needs to look at who shops there brand. In a study from the Wall Street Journal, majority of Whoile Foods Shoppers are Dems. Not smart! I will not shop there going forward.

Vicky Richey says …

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned on FB her frustration with not being able to find good fresh produce where she shops. I responded with three words - Shop Whole Foods. Now, after hearing the CEO's comments, I am discouraging everyone from shopping at Whole Foods. How sad to have a CEO who has completely let success go to his head. I will never shop at WF again. Fascism? Please!

Nancy M. says …

I agree with the Leslie~ No need to apologize. You just gained another customer.

Margaret Doyle says …

I have been a loyal and devoted customer for many years-I am also a devoted progressive who voted for Obama and subsequently, Obamacare. I was really disappointed to hear the remarks of your CEO...I am "quitting you"!

Charlie Pickett says …

THANK YOU very much Mr. Mackey! It was very refreshing to hear you tell the truth about the Affordable Health Care Act on NPR this morning. The ACA is just another very expensive step on the road to serfdom. Let us live free!

Jim Zakoura says …

I used to look forward to going to Whole Foods. I will never step foot in the store again. Never. Differences of opinion are fine, but these "fascist" comments were way beyond any norm of reasonableness.

Scott B says …

I am disapointed by this CEOs remarks. As a business owner for 30 years and employed for some very good employers I have not forgotten I did not have a thriving compnay with out my employees. Most of my empoyeers thought, as I have, that it is our duty to help our empolyees with health care. I believe this CEO would carry more weight with his statements if he put his money where his mouth is. Work with the Gov to bring this to fruition. Maybe he needs to be on the floor with his employees and see through his emplees struggles and help set up another type of system. As long as it happens, let's keep looking for the best way. Until we do let's try and make this one work. I will think twice about shopping at a store that does not care enough about it's employees to offer health care.

Susan Hammon says …

We have been a fan and supporter of whole foods whenever we are in the Bay Area. I was very disappointed in the comments by John Mackey. I think your company has been very successful financially in the past few years and I would of thought your personal philosophy on giving people "Slow Food" would also carry over into how you treat your employees. I think from now on we will support New Leaf.

Isabella says …

I am no longer shopping at Whole Foods because of your remarks. I will no longer support a business (after years of shopping there) that espouses such values. It's Trader Joes for my family now. I will miss the bread, but I can find good bread elsewhere.

DanielG says …

He attacked "single payer" back in 2009 and now he calls Obamacare "facist". I'm looking for an alternative to Whole Foods in my area. He has the right to say whatever he wants, but his clientele that he offends have the right to take their business elsewhere. But do we really believe that with Whole Foods' high-end prices that the company can't afford to continue to offer generous affordable benefits to their workers. Hmmm....wonder how much in income Mr. Mackey is receiving and how much he is leaving for the rest.

M. L. Payes says …

Done with Mackey's Whole Foods. As a taxpayer I see no reason to continue to support a corporate welfare participant increasing his wealth on the backs of the middle class without any concern for his customers. Compare our system with any other western civilized nation and we have the highest costs and the worst healthcare outcomes from infant mortality to longevity. You are pathetic.

Gianna Pomata says …

This is message for Mr. Mackey. I'm sorry, but I think that when you call Obamacare "fascist" you just show that you don't know what you're talking about. I'm Italian, and a historian of European history, and I can tell you that Obamacare has nothing whatsoever to do with fascism. If you call "fascist" any interference of the state with the market economy, you'd have to call fascist also the New Deal or the Social-Democratic policies of the Scandinavia states, which is just silly. Please, learn some history. In turn, I, who have been a faithful and enthusiastic Whole Foods shopper ever since living the US for the last twenty years, will try to shop around for another grocery store whose CEO does not align himself with these unenlightened, reactionary views. A little history-conscious capitalism wouldn't be bad...

Steven Burke says …

FASCISM: 1 often capitalized: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. Please learn what the word actually means.

Art & Elaine Davis says …

We were shocked and dismayed this morning when we heard you on NPR labeling the Affordable Health Care Act as a "fascist" initiative. We expect a leader of your stature to be careful and precise with your use of language instead of evoking images of World War II atrocities that are in no way analogous to the topic at hand. Sorry we missed you at your store in Overland Park, Kansas, today. We would have shared our thoughts with you in person. You do so much that is exemplary and positive. Please continue in that direction instead of descending in the other direction.

Lynne Soffer says …

I'm so sorry you seem to think this widespread reaction is simply a result of a "poor word choice." Thanks to this inadvertent revelation of your underlying attitudes and feelings, I have been made aware of your prior similar irresponsible (in my opinion) attacks on our government's actions. I find I can no longer support your ideas with my spending and shall no longer patronize Whole Foods. Too bad. I used to be a big fan. I shall miss the good food but I shall take my Facist, Socialist, Capitalist dollar to CostCo, Safeway, Berkeley Bowl and the farmers' market. Bye-bye! A Former Regular Customer of Whole Foods.

john says …

Government is on a warpath to control everything. Why? Control = fear. What happened to the concept of public servant. Public dictators of values & lifestyle has historically never won points with those that pay their salaries.

Kathleen VanderVelde says …

I am so disappointed in Whole Foods. I assumed you were a good company and a good employer. I NO longer want to buy healthy food from unhealthy employee's.

Adriana says …

I think the word you are looking for to describe the healthcare system in the U.S. is National Health Insurance System (NHIS - google it!). It's one of the most popular universal insurance systems adopted around the world.... including by Switzerland. Had you done your research before you posted this enormity, you would have realized that the U.S. healthcare system will be very similar to that of Switzerland AND that Switzerland also has a healthcare mandate. Yes, having insurance is mandatory in Switzerland, too. Fascists, ay?

Linda Barrett says …

As of this writing, they are building big, beautiful new Whole Foods store about 3 miles from my house. I was so excited when I found out that it was being built! I guess I will never know the wonder that is WF, as I cannot set foot in a store run by a man who cares so little for those that make his business run. When will CEOs learn to keep their political opinions to themselves? You are guaranteed to anger a large group of potential customers! And YOU had fair warning! Look at Papa John's, Olive Garden, Red Lobster-it didn't work for them! If you must raise your prices-just DO IT! I would rather spend an extra 25 cents for a loaf of bread and help someone have decent healthcare. I don't need to hear some CEO dump all of his nonexistent woes on his employees. Just raise your prices like you have done since the first time you did it...without a grandstand explanation. Why do you feel the need to explain it this time?

Anthony Van Vugt says …

That's a cop out! It is just not as matter of a bad choice of words. It's the arrogant attitude towards his staff and customers. Whole Foods won't have the guts to post this comment. But it won't be able to prevent me from supporting Whole Foods staff in getting proper health insurance or lobbying his board of directors to remove him from any public role in managing the company. As a starter, I and my supporters will no longer shop at Whole Foods. Also, as I'll only be there to demonstrate, remove my name from your email address list. Finally, please refrain from using the Australian Kangaroo badge.

Roger Olien says …

John runs a great company but he is amazingly misinformed about how our health system actually works. It's stretching more than one point to call it "free enterprise capitalism", vastly overstating the actual competition that exists. It operates more like a community-focused, government financed, and insurance-company regulated oligopolistic system than the grocery business. He also needs to look more closely at who has benefited from "an improved state of society"-- More likely him and the rest of the one percent than the rest of us in recent years..

Lynn Buhler says …

You have ruined Whole Foods for me. I have shopped there since it was Fresh Fields, seldom spending less than $300 per week. I have strong political opinions, but do not feel the need to have them guide my shopping choices, UNTIL the voice of a particular shop or business becomes intentionally, publicly aired in opposition to something I strongly support. By coming out so forcefully against Obamacare, you now leave me no choice. I am very, very sad to have to give up my years-long relationship with Whole Foods. It is your fault. Lynn Buhler

Charlie R says …

Your comments were just a little off he believes in socialism and not fascism. I will continue to shop whole foods and will ask more people to as well. So much for the liberals and tolerance !!

Nicole says …

Used to drop lots of cash at your Saint Paul location. Will be taking my business to Mississippi Market. Your arrogant comments are beyond offensive. Millions of people were murdered under fascism. Your regrets are too little too late.

Lynn Fox says …

At the prices you charge I find it difficult to believe you cannot provide adequate health insurance for your employees. Your words were offensive and your revisit was shallow. We, the insured, have had to pay for those not insured through higher heath insurance premiums. The notion that you chose not to insure your employees is what is wrong with the system prior to the Affordable Healthcare Act. Luckily there are many other choices where my food dollars will be spent.

C. Cross says …

Too little; too late. You have built an empire and are making billions of dollars and have the nerve to make a personal attack on our President. I believe you are only doing a "back-off" because of your concern about your Company. I will not do a "back-off": I will forever boycott Whole Foods.

Stef says …

Thank you for putting your opinion out there. I'd rather know how people really feel (and are planning to treat their employees) than to continue spending money somewhere that outwardly projects a feel-good green image while not being a whole lot better than Walmart. Good to know and sad to see that someone at your level has no idea what the term fascism means and so lightly throws it out there to try and score points. BTW, socialism is when the community/taxpayer has to pick up the tab which is what happens when people can't afford 'free enterprise capitalist healthcare' and go to the ER when it's too late for prevention and where they can't get turned away for not having insurance or money to pay for treatment.

tom says …

Mackey is just another CEO that will screw his employees and customers over providing healthcare, people who handle food shouldn't be sick or ill.

Jason King says …

Mr. Mackey, Hearing your inflammatory comments was incredibly upsetting. The business you have built is something I have admired. I also have several friends who work (or have worked) in your stores and have nothing but positive things to say about the working environment and culture of WF. However, I totally disagree with your idea that the free market spawns "creativity and progress" in healthcare. I have two personal anecdotes to share with you to validate my claim. First, about 12 years ago I was in architecture school working hard to get my degree and amassing quite a large student loan debt. Architecture school is demanding, and before a final review I had stayed awake for 2 nights straight, before collapsing from exhaustion. My classmates took me to the emergency room where I remained for a few hours, was given some meds, and released. It was really no big deal. When I graduated from the university (and was no longer on the university health plan) I was unable to purchase healthcare on the free market because of a pre-existing condition. Yes, exhaustion was now my pre-existing condition, and without paying nearly $1K/month I could not get healthcare. I felt as though I was being punished for using something I had paid for my entire life. I was an athletic. healthy 35 year old running a growingly successful architecture firm who was uninsurable. It wasn't until I starting teaching at a university that I was able to get healthcare on their plan. When I inevitably stop teaching, without Obamacare I would be pretty screwed. Second: My mother ran a small business in Texas, working her ass off, from the time she was 49-64. About 5 years ago she developed osteoporosis and it slowed her down terribly, eventually along with scoliosis it disfigured her to the point of barely being able to walk. Every penny she made was eventually put toward multiple surgeries/drugs/broken bones etc. She died last April in back surgery penniless after having declared bankruptcy. So, my friend, when I hear you call something that could help me, my deceased mother, and millions of other Americans "fascism" or to even speak disparagingly of it, I can't help but be offended. And that is why I will no longer be shopping in your stores. Sincerely, Jason King

Frank Patino says …

I am tired of having wealthy economically successful ignorant men spout out foolishness and ignorance. Anyone with a mild understanding of history and political terminology knows that there is absolutely no relation between Fascism and Romneycare/Obamacare to say such only serves to polarize our divided nation and to stoke the fires of extremism. I have been a Whole Foods client for many years, no more. In the future, please have your executives stick to selling food, not to put their ignorance on display while they offend the majority of the nation's voters.

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