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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

Julie Sherlock says …

A long-time customer (15 years -- super crazy). Married with children now. My husband and I have been talking about the decline for a long time now. You haven't been about healthy food for a long time. Every visit we have talked about "the marketing" papering over the health. I guess we have been looking for something to say -- NO MORE. You have provided that something. I wish you could look up our receipts to know what you have lost.

ELLIOTT S WILLIAMS says …

BACK TO MIDDLE SCHOOL FOR YOU TO MASTER THE ART OF READING COMPREHENSION IN ORDER TO GRASP THE DEFINED MEANING OF FASCISM; THEN ONTO HIGH SCHOOL TO BE TAUGHT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOCIALISM AND FASCISM. UNTIL YOU ACCOMPLISH THIS; I WILL BE SHOPPING FOR GROCERIES ELSEWHERE.

Tim says …

blah,blah.blah...you can't put perfume on that stink boom you dropped on NPR. I was listening on my way to work and I could not believe you were saying that the ACA was a form of fascism. Mackey need to resign and go work for the GOP.

David Broadbent says …

Your company has competition. Consumers can choose to shop where we feel our business is valued and where their employees are acknowledged as the reason we keep coming back. If your organization would like a lesson on the nature and affects of Fascism, I would be happy to send over a reading list.

Bradford says …

John, your comments were offensive, but your anger/frustration in healthcare in the US is understandable. If you read the entire ObamaCare proposal it is to give those in need without any insurance and with existing conditions a chance at receiving healthcare deemed necessary by a doctor and not ruled by insurance or drug companies. I for one am more than happy to give more of my money / taxes / Social Security / Medicare payments to ensure everyone in this country has access to healthcare. By stating that it's Socalism or whatever is demeaning and hypocritical, as these are your fellow citizens. In other country's around the world all employees / employers "chip in" to a healthcare "pot" allowing access for all to healthcare - but that does not stop those who can afford next day, select doctors or surgeons who'd rather take a larger slice of money and work privately and have drug companies on their payroll too. For those who'd deny those less fortunate access to healthcare they need, then it's a shameful land we live in.

Tom Pratt says …

We're regulars at Whole Foods but wont' be coming back and we'll be doing everything we can to encourage others to stop buying from Whole Foods. Unbelievable that the CEO of a corporation that made it's fortune among Obama supporters would say something so incredibly stupid and incendiary at exactly the time we need people to stop saying stupid and incendiary things. When your board gets rid of this guy and you hire a new CEO we'll consider shopping at WF again. Unbelievable. This is the kind of statement I'd expect from the leadership of the NRA or the Tea Party. Again, unbelievable.

Adrienne says …

Too late mackey! I will NEVER shop at your stores again!

Joel Colby says …

Generally, I don't let the political sentiments of a CEO's affect my decisions of where to shop. Usually, the important things are the quality of the products sold and friendliness of the staff. In spite of the hard work that the employees do and the high quality of the food, in the case of Whole Foods I will make an exception. I think your CEO meant exactly what he said. It is clear that living in Texas must do something to your thinking processes. Saying that the President has instituted government control of health care is absurd. Anyone who thinks our system works well now should visit an emergency room and then visit the accounting office of any hospital to see what is being charged and who is actually paying. I will not enter one of your stores again until there are changes at the top.

Alyssa says …

John, Your a fantastic leader. I personally appreciate your stance on this issue and I can understand why the unemployed people and people who aren't provided insurance would be speaking up and are so upset about this ... sorry to all of you. Sorry that your company doesn't care enough about their employees to provide you benefits or care about your health or well being. If other companies cared about their employees like John Mackey does then Obama wouldn't have to MANDATE this ridiculously expensive "ObamaCare" plan. Unfortunately, that's the world we live in - they don't. America is also obese and eats artificial everything which leads us to have cancer and all sorts of other diseases and therefore, health care needs and costs also go up. Go ahead and spend your money at a publix or a kroger all because Mackey has voiced a opinion that doesn't even directly affect you. You should be more concerned about the crap your putting in your body...herbicides , pesticides, & antibiotics ... enjoy.

Alyssa says …

Oh & good luck trying to find any full time jobs going forward... #ThankObamaCare

Pat says …

I will NEVER walk in to Dennys, Papa Johns or your store again. I feel sorry for the Nice people that have to work for you at my neighborhood store. Trader Joes needs to hire them.

Bryan tracy says …

John you don't sound sincere. About as sincere as Lance. Thanks for the kick in the teeth, just as this country is starting to go in the right direction. Bryan Tracy Oakland, Ca

stephen hapke says …

You're intelligent enough to know what you are saying so 'word choice' doesn't apply. While you may have run Whole Foods with a heart for the poor masses (ie 650k max salary) your views on unregulated capitalism in a second 'golden age' of american capitalism where the rich have gotten vastly wealthier over the last 35 years while the middle class and poor have not shared in those gains demonstrates your bias and greed. We are no longer a society where much is made but alot is taken by the rich skimming wealth off the top of everything they can get their hands on and between the lobbyist they control, the lawmakers they influence, the power that their money buys we're talking alot of opportunities for them to continue to increase their share of pie while no one else will benefit from their personal gains. This culture of greed must end before we create so much inequality that the 99% rebel against the rich ruling class and we have anarchy as a result.. While you are throwing around terms to describe societies how about oligarchy?

Tony Marshall says …

Worked for the company about 10 years ago and have always reflected well about my experience there; save for it being a little pricey. Now, come to find out, the driver positions have been shopped out and these guys don't make what I did 10 years; with fewer benefits! This guy represents the demise of the company. Funny thing is, if you accept his 'apology' for a bad choice of words and his recommendation to have a health care system similar to Switzerland, then undoubtedly he'll go back to his previous comments of calling the president a Socialist. Most that agree with him can't spell Fascist, much less know what it means. Hopefully the stockholders will help insure his next application will be for a Walmart People Greeter !!!

Jim says …

This was an appalling thing to say about something that is deeply personal to the millions of people who are without access to affordable healthcare, and an outrageous insult to the fascism that my grandfather fought against in World War II. It is time for you to get an education on what true fascism is and is not, and sincerely apologize for making a false equivalency. Until then, I will gladly take my business elsewhere. That's how the free market works.

RGC says …

A complex, thoughtful, maddening, conflicting, visionary, creative, irritating, provocative, guy. Doesn't seem like a bully. Or greedy. Does seem clumsy with words. Agree to disagree on healthcare, but his food vision is transformative. On balance more to appreciate than not.

Joanne Smith says …

Mr. Mackey's comments about ACA healthcare were stupid and selfish, and his obvious attempts at backtracking to lessen the impact of his positions on his company's bottom line reek of expediency. I have been a Whole Food customer since the first store in Mill Valley opened many years ago, but I do not plan to shop at Whole Foods in the future.

Louis says …

With all due respect, I heard John Mackey's interview when it aired, and he was absolutely vociferous -- and articulate -- in describing the Affordable Care Act as a fascistic tool. For him now to try to weasel out of what he said -- not some slip of the tongue, but something he clearly feels strongly and passionately about -- smacks of Mitt Romney's attempts to slither out of his 47 percent remarks. When I heard the remarks, I was shocked at 1) how ridiculous an argument Mackey was trying to make and 2) to make matters worse, he clearly believed in what he was saying. After I heard his remarks -- regardless of the feeble efforts of his public relations people to limit the damage -- I simply can't see shopping at Whole Foods again, as much as I've admired and enjoyed the store over many years.

Mary Lou Schultz says …

I will not be shopping at my local Encinitas store again. Health care is not a "capitalist" profit making endeavor. We all need health care and we need a single payer process way to get excellent medical care. Obamacare is a first step. The employees at my Encinitas store are making about $11 an hour and need to have excellent health care benefits for our "Whole Paycheck" grocery store. I will be shoping at other grocery stores in Encinitas.

Elsie Tafoya-Tighe says …

You have seen the last of my $$$. I can easily take my business elsewhere!

d frank says …

Quite often when people speak their mind, it is what is in their heart and given how expensive WF is and I do shop there because I like the product, I am appalled that Mr. Mackey feels the government, not his company, should provide healthcare for his loyal, hard-working employees. Shame on you sir, for not being the socially conscious culture you claim to be. Like many other CEOs that have your same viewpoint, I detest your attitude about taking care of the people who faithfully take care of you & your business. Stop your greed, look deeper into your soul & spirit, you owe yourself more than your bottom line. Signed, A Former Patron of WF

Kathy says …

I agree with Steve and Miriam. For decades we have had to pay much toward our own health insurance even though work full time in upper management. Maybe people who have always had it practically handed to them should find out what it's like for the rest of us. Maybe those in govt who voted against it should go without tax payer provided insurance and see what life is like without it. That would bring down the deficit. You are just a typical member of the Republican Chamber of Commerce...just another who has taken advantage of and then given Capitalism a bad name. We are done shopping at WF.

Guy says …

Dear John, You are seriously deluded if you actually believe the "free enterprise system" has delivered adequate, equitable or affordable health care to the American people. The only way this country will escape the spiraling cost and fragmented delivery of health care is a single-payer system. You can call it socialism or fascism or any nasty name you like but it is where we will end up, and the sooner the better. Meanwhile, I have spent my last dime at Whole Foods, at least for as long as you remain CEO.

Greg Fletcher says …

Fascist is close, try corporate fascism..privately held means of production, symbiotic relationship to goverment. The tax code is a detailed description of that relationship. Try section 341, (1) sentence over 750 words for avoiding taxes by creating a collapseable corporation (for real estate deals). Stand by your words..

James Baker says …

The damage has been done. We all pretty much know how Mackey really thinks. Stockholders should dump this guy. I'm joining in with many others who are no longer going to shop at Whole Foods. Fortunately I live where there are other choices to shop including locally owned businesses. Whole Foods has become the WalMart of the natural foods retail industry and is slowly but surely on a mission to put local retailers out of business and become a monopoly; it's kind of ironic for Mackey to talk about 'facscism'....

Guy Fawkes says …

Don't apologize, John. You were speaking the TRUTH, and every business owner knows it first hand. All of your critics will soon realize the veracity of your statement when their hours are cut and premiums skyrocket- for healthcare they soon won't be able to acquire due to Doctors transitioning their practices to more lucrative specialties., which we are ALREADY seeing. Holding hands and singing kumbaya doesn't change this reality.

Walbert says …

Yet another reason to shop local...capitalism doesn't work for everything. The reason for living and existing within a society is the mutual benefit for all - not just some. It's never made sense to me why any capitalist would be against socializing medicine - it would mean no longer having to incorporate that cost into goods sold. You should be rallying for it. Hate the idea of socialist anything? Tell that to the U.S. military (and your local fire and police departments, public library, parks, transportation...)

Scott F. says …

YOU SPOKE TRUTH, JOHN. Trippy hippie knee jerk reactionary socialists might not agree, but they will be in the same boat as the rest of us once this financial disaster is implemented. This IS fascism, plain to see. And I'm a liberal.

Joel Marcrum says …

I don't care what definition you use. You have a right to speak your mind and I have a right to take my business to some place where employees are treated with dignity and respect.

Srihari Yamanoor says …

You realize you have turned WF into the Chic-Fil-A of grocery stores right? Enjoy being a freak show. And don't worry about your choice of words, humanity has come this far despite people like you, not because of people like you.

Joseph Zannoni says …

The current free capital health care system in the US simply does not work. Try talking to people who live in the UK.

Frank Visosky says …

I live 10 minutes away from a new WF, but thanks to Mr. Mackey I won't be shopping at his WF. I will continue to shop at the supermarkets that are close by. They all provide health care for thier employees. Iam always amazed at those who believe that the free enterprise system works for everything, it doesn't and never will for health care. We are being ripped off by the health insurance industry. They never advertise, which is a sure sign of a business that is not competitive. Their admin costs range from 20 to 35%, while Medicare is only 5%. Several years ago a friend sold his restaurant and switched his health insurance policy to an individual plan. They raised his monthly premiums from $350 a month to $1000. I guess the CEO needed a bigger bonus. We pay 35% more for drugs than Canada does under their Govt. run health care system. The AMA practices occupational birth control for their members under the guise of the free enterprise system. Countries that utilize private health insurance require them to be non-profit, that is one of the reasons why we pay so much more that they do for health care. MR. Mackey stick to selling food and take care of your employees.

stella ganschow says …

I was anticipating the opening of your Savannah store. No more! Your CEO's comments are troubling to me. Does he feel Social Security and Medicare are fascist programs? What would my parents, low income wage earners, have done without Medicare? If every single person had a college degree, who would sweep your stores and clean your toilets? Someone has to do that and those someones deserve medical coverage. Shame on you.

Jon says …

Right on with the criticism of the health care mess. I will be shopping at your store for the first time tomorrow.

A Ronan says …

Having seen your comments and heard about your Anti Trade Union stance, I will make it my business that your company and all of it's products (whether they are available or not here) will be Boycotted by as many union and non-union people in Europe and everywhere else. Your backtracking on your own comments are totally disingenuous and were only made to stop this backlash where you will lose huge profits, hopefully! The main disease in the USA is lack of empathy for your fellow man and you are indeed infected.

Ryo Zo says …

I buy my food here weekly if not daily, but sadly that will change. I will miss the great and liberal minded people that work there but I cannot continue to support this CEO. Enough is enough. Good bye WholeFoods hello FarmersMarket and Trader Joes

Pat says …

Compare my values to fascism and I will not forget it.

Bonnie Soleau says …

I will not spend one dollar in your stores....not after reading about John Mackey! My girls live in CA and plan to do the same... BOYCOTT

Paula says …

The word he used aside, the point of what Mackey said is correct. We need more business owners to have the courage to step up and say what most of them are thinking. Unfortunately, because of reactions like this, they're cowed into silence. By the time we realize they were serious, we are going to see mass unemployment in this country as companies can no longer afford to stay in business. After all, most are not in it as charity operations. They don't put in 80-hour weeks because they want to pay more taxes to the government. Why put up with all those government regulations and exorbitant taxes when they can close up shop and retire in peace?

Dan stein says …

John, You could not be more wrong about health care. The "free" enterprise system in the US. Has managed to put us almost dead last in every measure accept cost of care. Health care is a basic right and should not be driven by profits. You are entitled to your political beliefs even if they are not based in reality, like this one. But whole Foods would be best served by your keeping them to yourself. In fact this is not the 1st time your statements would have been better left unsaid. Then again if these politics reflect how you are going to treat employes they might also affect the food you provide. So maybe you should consider stepping down. In the meantime I am done shopping there till I see some evidence of change. I will be looking to what I can do as a stockholder. If u want to be educated around this issue try reading The Healing Of America by TR reid

Susan Morrison says …

I'm shocked and disappointed by John MacKey's comments. His attitude is in total conflict with everything Whole Foods Market PRETENDS to stand for. His attempt to back-track and defend his description of the President's attempt to mend a seriously flawed and dysfunctional healthcare system as "fascism" is equally disgraceful. No logical person could defend the status quo of America's HC system. The Affordable Care Act may not be perfect, but it is a hard-fought, good faith attempt at much needed reform which was approved by a democratically elected body. That is not fascism. Now we know that Whole Food's image of being an ethical business, interested in health, caring for employees and the larger community is a hypocritical sham. Mr. MacKey and his company are phoneys who can no longer justify their extremely high prices. They are really just the same as Papa John's in shiner packaging. It's really very sad.

Matt says …

If you think Obamacare is government controlled healthcare then you truly do not know what you are talking about. So much for being a "progressive" company. You have lost my business and I will try to influence as many people as possible to boycott Whole Foods. Nice job.

Frank says …

I have shopped at whole foods for over 5 years. I run a small company of 15 employees. It is a financial burden to provide health care to my employees, but I do it because of my commitment to them. Shame on your CEO. I will now take my business to publix, like a lot of other folks I gather.

Dennis says …

People may not like the words used but the description as fascism is correct. Obamacare removes our freedoms to make choices and the government forces us to do things we may not like. I plan on shopping there more now.

moskaluk says …

I was going to visit a store for the first time after finding out about it from my sister. John Mackey has changed my mind. I will not visit Whole Foods. I would rather shop at a company that focuses on its products not some CEO's political agenda.

Marcia Robbins says …

I used to enjoy shopping at Whole Foods because of the quality of the products and also because I felt I was supporting causes (healthy food, no GMOs, etc.) that I believe in. I will no longer shop there because of their CEO's (John Mackey) moral/ethical/political stands/beliefs. This makes me very sad.

Alex says …

I was with you until the apology.

Walt says …

The great thing about capitalism is that one can choose where to spend their money. I am not sure this CEO has a firm grasp of his customer base, which really makes me question his business sense. Walk through your store occasionally or better yet walk through the ocean of other stores that these ex-customers will be shopping at. Memo to board of directors: get that exit package ready or Whole Foods will turn into Darden Foods.

John Padget says …

I think until you get rid of Mr. Footinmouth Mackey, I shall no longer shop at your stores. He obviously has no idea what the word fascism means: 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. For 60 years, this country has limped along with NO health care plan and his assertion that we would be better off it the "solution" had come from free enterprise is specious at best. Most of the civilized Western democracies do NOT rely on profit making insurance companies to run their health care. We have been the dinosaur as is Mr Mackey's thinking. So I choose to have nothing to do with you any more. Get rid of him..

Michelle Lamar says …

Dear Mr. Mackey, You did not make a "poor word choice". You meant it and now wish to retract it. And quite frankly you violated your own website's Commenting policy which states :" Off-topic comments, personal attacks (hostile, derogatory or deliberately insulting comments toward a specific individual or group) and flaming (comments intended to induce an angry response) will not be posted." I strongly disagree with your political position and you have elicited my angry response - I will shop elsewhere, which is a shame because I truly enjoyed shopping (frequently) at Whole Foods. Michelle Lamar

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