Whole Foods And ‘Fascism’

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I have watched with amusement the reaction to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s recent denunciation of Obamacare as fascist. Here’s the comment he made during a recent NPR interview when asked by Steve Inskeep whether Obamacare was socialist in nature:

Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the 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 our health care programs and these reforms.

My knowledge of political economy is a little rusty, but I think what Mackey said is basically true. Be that as it may, then the question is: do you really want to go down that road? Using that kind of language, as Mackey acknowledged when he walked back the characterization, evokes images of the iron fists of Hitler and Mussolini. And it will almost ensure that the headline coming out of the interview will focus on the S word and his message will be lost.

In 2009, after Mackey penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal denouncing Obamacare, the left-of-center sensibilities of thousands of Whole Food customers were offended, prompting calls for a boycott of the company whose boss did little more than question an unpopular law. The reaction to the fascism comments has been almost as fierce.

Like it or not, big business is here to stay. I think what his critics fail to realize is that Mackey is one of the good guys. Agree or disagree with his take on Obamacare, but Mackey’s model of what he calls “conscious capitalism,” enunciated on his appearance on today’s Morning Joe (see video above), is an enlightened view that should be encouraged, not vilified.

For 15 straight years, Whole Foods has made Fortune’s list of the 100 best companies to work for. And guess what: it’s a non-union shop. How could this be, progressives might ask?

From a piece Mackey co-authored for the Harvard Business Review:

Conscious businesses are galvanized by higher purposes that serve, align and integrate the interests of all their major stakeholders … They have conscious leaders who are driven by service to the company’s purpose, to all the people the business touches and to the planet we all share. Conscious businesses have trusting, authentic, innovative and caring cultures that make working there a source of both personal growth and professional fulfillment. They endeavor to create financial, intellectual, social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, physical and ecological wealth for all their stakeholders.

I’ve always agreed with this philosophy. I think it’s possible to run an inclusive organization that values its workers while generating value for shareholders and consumers. If you are just in business for the money, then you have no soul. You have to believe in a higher purpose — that your product improves people’s lives on some level. Otherwise, the door is left wide open to theft and chicanery.

Now I ask you: Whatever you may think of John Mackey’s politics, do we need more people like him in the corporate world? Or do we need more Sandy Weills? The answer should be obvious.

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