Is John Mackey a Hypocrite?

Some progressives are pledging to boycott Whole Foods over an op-ed that CEO John Mackey wrote about the health care debate. Radley and Julian have made some great points on the subject. Like Julian, I was surprised by the vitriol Mackey’s op-ed provoked. People do business with lots of different companies, and corporate CEOs have political opinions just like everyone else. We’re a big, diverse country; people don’t generally consider this kind of run-of-the-mill political disagreement sufficient grounds to organize a boycott. It would be silly to boycott Target because Mark Dayton is a Democrat, just as it would be silly to refuse to drink Coors because Peter Coors is a Republican.

John Mackey

John Mackey

The issue with Mackey seems to be not just that liberals disagree with him, but that they feel like they’ve been deceived. As one of Matt’s commenters puts it, “Every dollar John Mackey has ever earned has come from ‘pandering to his customers’ political prejudges.’” Actually, this is completely wrong. I shop at Whole Foods on a semi-regular basis, and I’ve never seen posters touting Whole Foods’s support for the Democratic Party or the progressive agenda. What I have seen is posters pointing out that Whole Foods stocks local and organic food, offers good pay and benefits to its workers, gives to charity, and helps to protect the environment. This is not a political agenda. It’s a set of values that have nothing in particular to do with public policy.

Now, as it happens, it’s a set of values that a lot of progressives find appealing. And some of them seem to think that Mackey has simply been pretending to support those values as a way of luring them into the store. But there’s no evidence for that. And indeed, Mackey has never hid his libertarian politics. Why would he? As he’s written at length, there’s no conflict between libertarian politics and the liberal values Whole Foods promotes. In particular, there’s no logical connection between one’s opinion on organic food or the environment and one’s position on the desirability of a “public option” for health insurance. As it happens, people who shop at Whole Foods tend to be Obama’s supporters, but that’s not because Mackey has advertised Whole Foods as an Obama-friendly store.

2866447596_6e01540993Partisan politics also seems to blind people to the distinction between values and public policy. Liberals understood that it was absurd when conservatives accused them of being “objectively pro-Saddam” for opposing the invasion of Iraq. Many liberals (myself included) pointed out that there are many good reasons to oppose the invasion that don’t entail support for the Hussein regime. Yet Democrats seem downright eager to turn the tables, demonizing anyone who criticizes the sausage currently being made on Capitol Hill. The idea that people might sincerely disagree about the best way to improve health care seems to be an alien concept.

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3 Responses to Is John Mackey a Hypocrite?

  1. Kaleberg says:

    This strikes me as a rather silly post. Not everyone who shopped at Whole Foods was aware of the founder’s politics. They made assumptions, and not completely outrageous ones. There is a high correlation between various political decisions, especially given their physiological basis. Now more people know Mackey’s politics, and maybe they want to change their purchasing patterns and spread the word accordingly.

  2. Not everyone who shopped at Whole Foods was aware of the founder’s politics.

    Well yeah. That’s true of almost every store. And I think that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want to live in a country where every town had a Republican grocery store and a Democrat grocery store.

  3. Nathanael says:

    No. Mackey’s not a hypocrite. *He’s an idiot*, and he’s using his company’s profit to promote idiocy.

    This is reason enough to avoid enriching him. The facts are in at this point, thanks to the many foreign countries we have as examples: the three functional options for delivering good health care are government-paid doctors (Britain & the VA), a government-run health insurance system (Canada and Medicare), and a massive amount of government regulation including the banning of for-profit health insurers entirely (Germany and Switzerland).

    Massey opposes all three. This is something which has no sound basis, and can only be driven by ideological blinkers. The “free market” simply does not work for health insurance. Mackey’s failure to research that is a personal failure; his decision to go lobby in favor of idiocy, however, is a public failure and one which should encourage us to keep money out of his hands.

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