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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

Aaron says …

I appreciate the thought defense of your comments. That said, comparing the health care situation here to Switzerland is silly and you are smart enough to know that. You are also smart enough to know the market place has left tens of millions without health insurance, smart enough to know that Americans are not even close to the healthiest people in the world despite the high costs we pay, and smart enough to know that both the power of your brand and the power of your intellect would have or at least could have served those millions of people and your country better than you have over the years of this debate. There are lots of smart people who have worked this problem. Very few agree with you on the solution- certainly not people in the health care business. I wish you had chosen a more constructive path.

William C Rhodes says …

I live in downtown Phoenix and since moving here in 2010, have driven 30 minutes each way to get to the WF in Chandler, AZ Never again. Store's foods and goods all seemed so, so healthy. Who knew the CEO was so toxic. I;d rather let my health slip a notch than continue to enrich a wicked, willful, and low-minded man. So, so sad for the Whole Community.

Dan Hume says …

Oh No! somebody call the thought police, a view contrary to the chairman

Jamie Boyd says …

I loved your choice of words. You should be free to express your opinions just like every one of these people leaving comments on this post. I commend you for standing up for what you believe in. By the way, I shop at Whole Foods 2-3 times a week, and I'm sure there are many people who will support you now more than ever.

Jacquie says …

Mr. Mackey, I am appalled. Your clarification is too cute by half. You claim you didn't call President Obama a facist but yeah, you did. The "dictionary" defintion is when the government controls the means of production by a DICTATOR. It's clear what you think. Well here is what I think, I vote with my feet. I don't shop at places that pay their employees so badly that they have to go on food stamps to afford to eat because the freaking grocery store they work at refuses to pay a living wage when you had a 300 plus percent increase in profits this year. You are getting corporate welfare by having the taxpayers pay for the healthcare of the employees you refuse to offer healthcare too. So I am not going to support your business with my hard earned money, as you already are a welfare queen, a corporate one. You lost my business and all of my family as well. Wegman's is much better and Costco. They know how to treat employees.

Ed Farow says …

Since I categorically do not support the views the founder and Co-CEO of Whole Foods and in the past have chosen to pay a premium for Whole Foods products, I will begin to shop at responsible alternatives such as Sprouts and Trader Joe's. In good conscience I cannot support (shop at) a store whose values are so contrary to my own.

Harvey Donahoo says …

John Mackey ,YES john HONESTY SOMETIMES HAS CONSEQENCES ! BUT YOU CAN AFFORD IT, AFTER ALL YOU REPRESENT THE ONE PERCENT,,,

Joel Pollak says …

Here's a new word: corporatist. Means much the same thing without the baggage. Thanks for your courage to speak out in general about the importance of freedom. I live near a Whole Foods and shop there all the time. It's expensive but now I feel even better about digging deep for organic whatever. Also, the employees are great and seem to love what they do. They all have health insurance, and had it before Obamacare--and better insurance, too. Most of the people objecting to your remarks probably never leave the section with all the herbal medicines. Take it easy, people! Be free! Thanks John!

confrey says …

I spend $5-6k per year at wholefoods. Your ceo tells me you don't care about people who can't afford your prices...but I am going to go out of my way to shopper where they go. What's worse you don't care about the health of our fellow citizens. Then who is a facist?

Lori F says …

The shopping for my family of 6 is done at Whole Foods. I'll be moving my business elsewhere. In my area, it is not the conservative base shopping at Whole Foods. Seems the CEO doesn't understand his client base.

Don says …

Your term fascism was spot on. All I would have said when cornered by opponents who really don't matter very much is, Obamacare is fascism, economic fascism, political fascism. Obamacare doesn't nationalize the hospitals and doctor's offices. But it might as well have.

Bob Rushford says …

I recently started shopping @ Whole Foods here in Suffolk County NY because I wanted eat & support wholesome,organic,sustainable foods & systems. After reading your CEO's comments & his attempts at backpeddling,I can say I will never shop at one of your stores again. Your company makes immense profits from people like me,yet you don't want to treat your employees fairly & provide them with healthcare.I'm sure Mr. Mackey is paid millions every year,his "Libertarian" philosophy is just an excuse & rationalization for greed & selfishness. I will now shop at Costco for my food,a company that also carries sustainable foods & makes a tidy profit like Whole Foods-but unlike WF,doesn't have a problem with giving their employees health benefits & a decent wage. Too bad,I really liked your stores but you'll never get my,or my family's,money again!

Lisa Lawrence says …

I agree with Leslie. You spoke the truth, and I am willing to listen to what you have to say. Don't apologize or water it down. I will offer some word of advice about quinoa though, there is so much competion for the grain that the local people who have it as a staple in their diet, can't afford it now. It is such an awesome grain, and you said that is what you eat. Can you please figure something out for the local people who grow and harvest thegrain? their health should matter too. Thank you.

Jon Huffington says …

John, you have slapped a lot of loyal customers in the face with your comments. You are certainly welcome to have any views you want, but I don't want to hear them. You have lost my business.

Jacquie says …

Will not shop at WFM again. Further, if you have a Costco, you can go there and at least they pay their employees a living wage AND provide health insurance. Wegman's pays their people well too. I find the comments given that this corporation doesn't pay employees enough to stay off food stamps and public assistance to be a corporate welfare queen, and I am not supporting them anymore.

David Gibbs says …

I am a longtime customer, but can no longer shop at your stores after your latest remarks.

Benjamin Lemon says …

Don't back down from speaking the truth Mackey! While your customer base is probably more left wing and bases decisions on emotions rather than facts.....there are plenty of us who appreciate the truth spoken from leaders like you who actually create jobs, pay the nation's taxes, and work for a living. We no longer have leadership in the White House. Just a perpetual liar.

paula huntington says …

Where were you during all the work to design universal health care? Just cut to the chase -- you don't want to insure your employees. It's a 20 mile drive to your La Jolla store and I won't be bothering.

Barbara paciejewski says …

Not one more penny from me or any one else I can convince. Enough said.

D Brittain says …

I'm shopping elsewhere. Just lost my business.

Marc Wilford says …

How is the Gov' controlling healthcare by just requiring that folks be covered? It's the same as being required to purchase liability insurance when driving a car. This free market health care argument is hogwash. It is clear that if left to the free market capitalism, health will be the fist casualty. Health care providers and insurance providers are businesses, and their bottom line is profits, not people. It is sad for the CEO of a business that seems to cater to healthy living to regard health care insurance as an afterthought.

Anne Urban says …

What a disgrace. This family spends at least $125 a week at Whole Foods but we intend to vote with our feet and take our business elsewhere. Not another dime for your intemperate CEO and his blatant disregard for his own employees. Shameful.

VL says …

I will shop at Whole Foods, you have the right to your opinion. Unfortunately our freedom is being stripped away along with our finances.

P says …

I was a loyal customer of Whole Foods until I read about Mackey's vile comments and will no longer spend my hard earned money at a business that is represented by a person like him. Its not a secret that Whole Foods has done extremely well as a business during the last four years. Its surprising that someone like Mackey who makes a fortune, should have an issue with providing affordable health care to the employees that help make Mackey rich and Whole Foods a success. Its also surprising how a CEO can openly offend the large customer base that is left leaning that spend their hard earned dollars at Whole Foods every day. Thats not a smart businessman if you ask me. I hope the Board will take a hard look at what kind of person they want representing the Whole Foods image and name and whether its good business to keep someone like Mackey as CEO. Fortunately, those like me who will take their business elsewhere, can shop at the many Trader Joe's and Wegman's in this country.

Harvey says …

If you don't know the difference between a social democrat and a fascist, you don't need my money. You have competition and I am betting you will have a lot more, soon.

E.Quail says …

While the choice of words may be awkward, it is technically correct. Mussolini, in Essays on Fascism, official 1939 translation publ. by Yale U Press in 1954 (annotated), defined the basic tenet of the Fascist philosophy as the belief that life was too complicated for mere individuals to be allowed to make decision for themselves. All decision making power should be in the hands of the central government bureauacracy, decisions such as what kind of health care insurance individuals should be allowed to buy, cars to drive, or foods to eat, for example.

Wendy Ruth says …

I have been a loyal and very good customer of Whole Foods for many years. I also believe that how a shop is a vote for what I believe in. I will not be shopping at Whole Foods any longer. I vote not to support John Mackey. I will continue to vote for stores offering healthy food choices, but i will not be casting that vote in Whole Foods Market.

Carmine says …

We're not talking about produce and pork belly. People die every day from a lack of healthcare. When was the last time an insurance company went out of business? An unfettered healthcare industry had many years to become "competitive." That having failed miserably, we elected a leader who envisioned a different way. And then we re-elected him. Some things are too important to abandon to the "free enterprise" system -- education, housing and yes, healthcare. As someone who can afford whatever you need, these points are probably lost on you. The rest of us need a better way. The Affordable Healthcare Act may not be perfect, but it's a start.

carolyn silvers says …

You must not be a real American nor do you believe in democracy. If you did you would not have made such stupid comments. In a democracy the majority rules and you refuse to respect what the majority of Americans have voted for. I will never spend another penny on Whole Foods again. You have lost a valuable customer.

Albert E. Myers says …

They just opened a new WF near me in West Chester, Oh as far as i'm concerned it does not exist.

Jeanne says …

It does not help this country to make such comments about the President. We will shop elsewhere.

Gillian says …

The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Get used to it. The political atmosphere in this country is poisoned and divisive enough without inflammatory language such as yours adding fuel to the fire. Stick to running your grocery business.

ted says …

So much for the charade of being a company that cares about people. Obviously a marketing ploy so you can overcharge for your product. Mackey should resign.

Alan baracco says …

I will never step foot in a Whole Foods store again, CEO comments over the top and offensive.

Howard Tomb says …

Explain to us, Mr. Mackey, why a health insurance company would agree to insure someone with a serious disease? Wouldn't it decline to cover an ill person in a "free market"? What's is so great and creative about that? Talking about this subject, you sound like a bumpkin without a single thoughtful idea. I will shop elsewhere now.

michelle moma says …

Obamacare does most resemble fascism. You are a respected leader in the corporate world. When you back away from 'emotionally charged words' that you chose to convey your message . . . it weakens your message.

Yvonne says …

Loved your store. Last time I was there will be the last time

Kim Owen says …

I have not decided to stop shopping at Whole Foods because Mackey expressed his ignorance by using the work fascism to describe the Affordable Care Act, but because he said that he cannot afford to provide the health insurance required by the ACA and that he will pass the costs along to his employees. He stated that there is not a profit pool with which to pay, but indeed there is a profit pool that Whole Foods makes and a very generous one at that. In fact, according to CNN money Whole Foods made 342.6 million in profit in 2011. Please do not tell me you cannot afford to pay for the kind of health insurance required by the ACA. And if you think you cannot, I am quite willing to help that become a reality for you. I generally spend over $400 a month at Whole Foods which I will no longer do to help you on the road to not being able to afford much at all. There are too many alternatives that actually practice conscious capitalism. I suggest Mackey and the board do some meditation to raise their consciousness and move away from the bad capitalism they are currently practicing.

Kevin Jones says …

I have spent about $1,200-$1,500 a month at Whole Foods in Denver. I will never shop here again as long as Mackey is around.

Linda Wong says …

Sticking one's foot in one's mouth is bad enough, but both feet? You have just under cut the gravitas of your own book. I feel sorry for your employees, because now they know what you really think. The U.S. spends more on health care than any other Western nation, but ends up with the worst outcomes. Capitalism hasn't worked in our healthcare system because insurance companies frankly don't like competition eating into their profits. I support a single payer system because it's the only option that ensures universal coverage. In your business, sick employees can contaminate food products. It only takes one incident to destroy your brand.

Nora Villagrán says …

How disappointing to find out your CEO is part of the Teapublican crowd, with Chic-Fil-A, Olive Garden, Walmart, Papa Johns, regarding healthcare for all Americans.

Kathie says …

I've shopped at WF since 1993. I've never been so outraged with a company CEO. The billions your company makes and you complain and offer your employees so little. You have the right to think of anyone, anyway you want, before you go public maybe you should get your facts straight. I find more than your words offensive. I'm DONE with WF.

Vance Walden says …

The definition of FASCISM: a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism. Poor does not begin to describe your word choice, in my humble opinion. I can no longer support a company, whose product I love, who exhibits such disrespect to the American Way. America has given your company roads, publicly educated workers, police, fire, and many other things that benefit you and your business. Your profits are up since 2006 by....a lot. I think you can do this for the employees and the nation that made Whole Foods possible.

Dan Wilkes says …

Your words were indeed poorly chosen. However, your explanation above only reveals your ignorance of the Swiss health care system and your blind ideological belief in market capitalism. To describe the tightly controlled health care system of the Swiss as free enterprise capitalist health care system is a gross exaggeration of the facts presumably to prop up your belief that a truly functional, low cost free enterprise capitalist system of health care exists anywhere in the world. It doesn't. All of the first world health care systems that have better health outcomes than ours with lower costs than ours have far greater levels of governmental intervention into all aspects of both the delivery and payment of health care services than even our latest feeble attempts with the "fascist" Obama care. You should understand what you are talking about before opening your mouth. You might find that it will save you much embarrassment.

Kenneth Brach says …

So obamacare is facism! Well my three adult children, their famiies, and my wife and I have agreed that we will no longer be shopping at your stores ever again!

Jim says …

The US has had the most expensive and least effective healthcare system of industrialized countries. In no way could it be allowed to continue as-is. Affordable care act is the first step in making absolutely necessary changes for both fiscal and moral reasons. Not everything in life can be left to profit and the almighty dollar. I shopped at Whole Foods despite their sometimes higher prices because I believed in what the company stood for. I no longer feel that way, and I'll seek out alternative health food stores.

Maria Whiteside says …

My family spends thousands of dollars a year at Whole Foods annually because we believed the culture was that of responsible citizenship. We are angry that you are labeling the president a dictator and not investing in your employees health care. We are definitely boycotting Whole Foods!

Elisabeth Hagans says …

I have spent my money at WF for the last time. Everyone needs affordable health care and I can only assume that you don't want to participate. Your profits have increased over 300% since Obama took office. Couldn't you spend just a little bit to help your employees? After all even Costco provides insurance and they are doing very very well.

Carol Ehrlich says …

I will no longer buy food at Whole Foods. Mr. Mackey you are out of touch. Your ethic does not carry through to your employees. Now you lost another customer (15 years—now I am no longer interested in buying food from Whole Foods)

theew Season says …

"Facist" huh?? Hear that engine in the distance--that's ME who knows a LOT about healthcare, driving to New Season's--forevermore.

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