John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, is coming to Chicago to promote his new book, Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business: CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013).
He is the outspoken libertarian who started referring to Obamacare as "socialist" in a Wall Street Journal editorial in 2009. In an interview with Steve Inskeep of NPR aired last week, Mackey switched his term to "facism."
Technically speaking, it's more like fascism. Socialism is where that government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn't own the means of production, but they do control it. And that's what's happening with the health care program and with these reforms. … [I]f the government's going to tell Whole Foods Market exactly what our health care plan has to look like or it doesn't qualify, then we don't really - no longer have an opportunity to customize our plan for our team member's needs. We can no longer be flexible. We're basically just carrying out the government's orders.On Thursday, Mackey told HuffPost he regretted using the word "facism" because "it's got so much baggage attached to it." And a little later that day, to CBS: "[T]hat was a bad choice of words on my part." Nevertheless, Mackey continued, "We no longer have free-enterprise capitalism in health care. ... The government is directing it. So we need a new word for it."
What he says he means is that government is involving itself in the marketplace, directing details he wants to be free to direct, thereby interfering with "voluntary exchange", a term that Mackey says means "letting people voluntarily exchange for mutual gain ..."
What does Mackey recommend? "What I do believe in is free enterprise capitalism, and I’d like to see our healthcare system really unleash the power of free enterprise capitalism to create innovation and healthcare progress. I don’t think we have that – I think we’re moving away from that." "I don't know what the right word is," he muses.
He is bringing his views to Chicago. The Whole Foods Market at 1550 North Kingsbury - close to the corner of N. Sheffield and Weed Streets, about four blocks west of the North/Clybourn Red Line El station - is prominently advertising his appearance there on a book tour from 3:30 to 4:30pm this Wednesday, January 23.
Since 2009, before the enactment in 2010 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, before the first dime of cost was incurred and four years before its central provisions were to take effect, Mr. Mackey insisted the Act would interfere with free enterprise.
It is unclear what part of Obamacare or other Federal law has been "leashing" the health care industry. Are Mr. Mackey's leashes on free market capitalism the five years of market exclusivity granted by Federal law to pharmaceutical companies for new drugs? The 14 to 20 years of patent protection that medical device manufacturers get? After all, these are government-backed barriers to the operation of marketplace-driven competition.
When Mr. Mackey mentions government interference with the "voluntary exchange" of individuals "for mutual gain," could he be referring to laws requiring hospitals to accept emergency patients irrespective of their ability to pay. He says he does not object to a safety net for the poor, yet where else do poor parents go when they or their kids get really sick? Maybe he is not mindful of the lack of clinics and other health care facilities in neighborhoods in the poorest sections of town and rural areas, populations dramatically underserved because business can’t figure out how to innovate enough to make money from them.
Possibly, Mr. Mackey sees premonitions about Obamacare’s interference in the operations of a free marketplace in the incentives it will provide for family practitioners, primary care providers and team approaches to delivering medical services. Or its encouragement of preventive care which offers a very large payoff in reducing costs and suffering, a payoff that goes to patients and the community, not so much to a doctor or hospital.
He must not be aware of areas and whole states where health care professionals dare not hold themselves out to provide counseling, screening, contraception or abortion services, where aggressors in the locality discourage such medical services and legislatures put them out of business.
Mr. Mackey also frets that the employer mandate will drive up insurance costs and motivate otherwise well-meaning employers to diminish or end their benefits. In speculating that the underlying motive of Obamacare might be to put insurers out of business, he seems to ignore that insurance companies get windfalls from Medicare, which funds much of the basic medical care for seniors, the highest cost group to insure. (After all, seniors are notably absent from the employee ranks at Whole Food stores.) Since 1965, Medicare has been a ideal additive to insurance company profitability.
And Mackey clearly has forgotten that insurers have been relentlessly hiking deductibles and co-pays, refusing coverage, dropping it for preexisting conditions, imposing significant processing costs and yet clearing high profit margins over many years. Or ... is that Mr. Mackey’s “heroic spirit of business” at work in the free enterprise system?
Whole Foods is a proudly notorious anti-union shop. Its CEO reportedly described unions in medical terms: "The union is like having herpes. It doesn't kill you, but it's unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover."
This barely scratches the surface. Hobie1616 has two good posts on Mr. Mackey and Whole Foods, most recently: Hobie1616's Whole Foods CEO John Mackey Says He Regrets Comparing Obamacare To Fascism.
Like ABlueKansas, I am not suggesting a boycott of Whole Foods. But so far, I don't see many interviews with CEO Mackey that probe his views. Like many libertarians, he relies on high-level abstractions which do not get explored "in the time allowed," much less challenged.
It's not as if CEO Mackey is ducking controversy. As he told last Sunday's New York Times, "I don't know what to say except that I'm a capitalist, first. There are many things I don't like about Romney, but more things I don't like about Obama. This is America, and people disagree on things."
Are any Chicago Kossacks available to challenge and disagree?