These are the same people who pay large sums for a pint of organic strawberries, laughing off or even defending the “Whole Paycheque” label. They tell themselves: It’s OK to pay double what those strawberries would cost elsewhere, because they’re chemical-free, healthier, environmentally and ethically sound. Whole Foods customers want to feel good about their purchases and believe they are being better citizens for shopping there.
Now Mackey, the face of the company, is not only at odds with a central tenet of progressivism, but a supporter of free-market evangelism that has no space for the community-based, egalitarian solutions his customers support.
Notice she doesn’t even try to explain how “chemical-free, healthier, environmentally and ethically sound” strawberries are at odds with “free-market evangelism.” Nor does she substantiate her claim that “free-market evangelism” is at odds with “community-based, egalitarian solutions.” Probably because it’s false: Whole Foods, after all, exists in a free market, as do thousands of co-ops, farmers’ markets, and CSA programs. There’s no reason you can’t be a fan of both free markets and “community-based solutions.” Yet she seems to regard the conflict between them as so obvious as to require no explanation.
What’s going on here, I think, is a kind of crude tribal politics, where everyone has to be categorized as either one of “us” or one of “them.” If you’re a “free-market evangelist,” then you’re one of “them,” even if you also support some of the stuff that “we” support, like chemical-free strawberries and community-based solutions to the world’s problems. In fact, your “free-market evangelism” is evidence that the chemical-free strawberry thing was just a ruse to get gullible progressives into your store.
The real world doesn’t work this way. Not everyone fits into one of two rigid ideological categories. John Mackey’s egalitarianism and his fondness for chemical-free strawberries is every bit as genuine as his free-market evangelism. I think it reflects poorly on progressives that so many of them seem eager to question Mackey’s motives, rather than wondering whether there might be some kind of connection between his Whole Foods values and his antipathy to government-control over health care.