John Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on 8/12/2009 quoting Margaret Thatcher and suggesting that all we have to do to fix the health care crisis is eat healthy and let insurance companies do whatever they want. No health reform needed. From the beginning, Mr. Mackey's Op-Ed was insulting and over-simplistic. It led off with this quotation: "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money," attributed to Margaret Thatcher. see : Mackey Op-Ed
This is ironic, because Ms. Thatcher undermined the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom by slashing funding for it. She also sought to impose poll taxes--charging people to vote--to suppress voting by poor and working people! Her misguided rightwing policies were so unpopular, she was about to lose her job as Prime Minister when she stumbled into a conflict with Argentina over some tiny islands and rallied nationalistic fervor.
Of course throwing around labels like "socialism" begs the question. If Mr. Mackey and like-minded opponents of health reform think modern government is socialism, then why aren't they fighting to abolish Medicare, or Social Security for that matter? They can't because it's political suicide, but Republican icon Ronald Reagan argued that Medicare would lead to tyranny. If successful, this boycott will mean Mr. Mackey cannot use "other people's money," namely our money to promote his extreme philosophy. Mr.Mackey also strongly opposes unions, and forced his employees into a high-deductible, low cost (to Whole Foods) health insurance plan. These actions reveal his real intentions for the rest of us. He's free to do that, but we're free to avoid enriching him and supporting his right wing ideology.
It gets worse. Mr. Mackey contributed money (again, earned from our pockets) to Tom DeLay's campaigns and legal defense fund. DeLay--before he became a "Dancing with the Stars" dancer--waged war against progress, and resigned under indictment for several crimes. These days, DeLay regularly attacks health reform as government interference in families' health decisions. Sadly this principle didn't stop Mr. DeLay from overriding the final wishes of Terri Schiavo or her husband Michael, and involving the Congress directly in their family's health decisions. By backing Tom DeLay's hypocrisy with his money, Mr. Mackey has forfeited his chance to grab any more of my money. Whole Foods should fire Mr. Mackey, and respect their customers. Until then, we should stay away from Whole Foods.
John Mr. Mackey is entitled to his libertarian views, but we're entitled not to support these views with our grocery dollars. Libertarianism is an extreme point of view that opposes any government role in protecting civil rights, ameliorating poverty, preventing disease, maintaining roads or bridges. No child labor laws. No pure food and drug laws. No public education. No workplace or environmental protection. Just prisons, police, and the military. I believe most people behave responsibly most of the time, but those who don't endanger the rest. That's why we have speed limits and traffic lights. To prevent chaos and mayhem. Before labor laws, bosses locked their employees into sweatshops and paid them pennies per day. We saw what happened before the EPA: rivers caught fire and big cities were shrouded in smog.
If that's too long ago, consider the Bush Administration's bright idea of putting Wall Street swindlers on the honor system and watching as the whole economy collapsed. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan--another libertarian--admitted he "made a mistake" by putting too much faith in "free markets." Chagrined by the catastrophe on his watch, Mr. Greenspan admitted there is "a flaw in the model ... that defines how the world works" and "a critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down ... I still do not fully understand why it happened."
Well I understand why it happened. You can't rely on the honor system. Apparently Mr. Mackey hasn't learned this lesson. He thinks we should put health insurance companies on the same honor system that Wall Street swindlers abused. The threadbare, minimalist government libertarians advocate worked while the U.S. was a rural, agricultural nation, but modern life requires modern government. To prevent swindlers and predators from exploiting the rest of us, and to facilitate basic survivable behavior. Almost everyone accepts this. Libertarians refuse to face these facts, Mr. Mackey among them.
Once again, he's free to pontificate any way he wants, but not on my dime. If you care about progress, don't let him do it on your dime either.
What happens to innocent employees injured by a boycott? People will shop elsewhere, and those places will hire more employees. A boycott isn't going to put Whole Foods out of business, but every boycott entails risks of economic consequences for employees. What happened to the employees of the Montgomery Bus system when Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat sparked a boycott? I'm not sure, but do we regret that boycott? In any case, we hope Whole Foods will fire Mr. Mackey, quickly and get a CEO who is more tolerant if not supportive of progress.
What about freedom of speech and toleration? There's no threat to free speech here. No one is asking the government to muzzle anyone. No one is demanding the Wall Street Journal shut down, and no one is telling Mr. Mackey he cannot express himself--even express his own intolerance. As Mr. Mackey himself wrote in his Op-Ed, "every American adult is responsible for his or her own health." I don't believe that we're all islands, and should be left to fend for ourselves, but I am holding him responsible for his own words. As for tolerance, unlike Republican opponents of needed health reform, we're not showing up and screaming at people or disrupting discussions. We're just making our arguments. Mr. Mackey's fellow libertarian John Stossel of ABC News' "20/20" said, "Perhaps what the 'natural' food nuts really hate is that Mr. Mackey is rich. They don't like profit." Why should we support someone whose defender thinks we're "nuts?" Mr. Stossel's reductio ad ridiculum argument is typical of simplistic "debate," and in that regard not much different from the disingenuous Op-Ed Mr. Mackey wrote for the Wall Street Journal in the first place.
Didn't Mr. Mackey actually try to offer constructive suggestions? Actually no. His suggestions range from self-serving (such as shop at his stores) to deceptive. I agree with eating healthy, but that's no answer for millions of Americans who can't get insurance or can't get their insurance to pay for needed care. The suggestion that "tort reform" will help lower health insurance costs is repudiated by every experience or study--pure propaganda like the rest of Mr. Mackey's "solutions." What is really bloating health care costs? Let's stick to the facts. For example, the CEOs of big insurance companies pay themselves nearly a million dollars a month! Rather than face up to this root cause of the health care crisis--greed and abuse of insurance executives--Mr. Mackey tries to mislead us. From his Op-Ed: "830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor's Business Daily." Wow! that sounds pretty scary! What he doesn't tell us is how long they have to wait. A day? A week? We can't tell from this Op-Ed. We do know that the situation in the U.S. is much worse. And that Canadians overwhelmingly support their health system. And that the "ObamaCare" under attack is not a clone of the Canadian system anyway.
We also know that Investor's Business Daily is a far right publication, hardly an unbiased source. But for the sake of argument, let's accept that scary number, 830,000 and multiply it by 60. That would barely approach the nearly 50 million Americans who have no health coverage at all, and can't even get in line to wait for treatment! Then, add the nearly equal number of under-insured who also cannot get the care they need. And add the millions more who have insurance, but due to high deductibles and lifetime limits, end up bankrupt when they or their family-member gets sick. The American Journal of Medicine reported that 62% of bankruptcy in America was caused by medical bills--and 75% of those families had health insurance. Meanwhile, health insurance company profits are sky-rocketing. They're making more money year after year by increasing premiums, raising copays and deductibles, and denying coverage. How do they get away with it? We have no choice. Thanks to a federal law called ERISA they're exempt from laws that promote competition in other industries. No wonder they're pulling out all stops to prevent any meaningful healthcare reform. This is happening now, and puts the lie to Mr. Mackey's claims that letting insurance companies do whatever they want would make things better for the American people.
To paraphrase Mr. Reagan, health insurance companies aren't the solution, they're the problem. We don't need libertarian Republican rhetoric about "empowering" individuals--which is just fancy talk for letting corporations do whatever they want including monopolize markets, exploit employees and bamboozle consumers. We need real health reform. Preferably single payer a.k.a expanded, improved Medicare for All. Anyone who opposes that should explain why they're not also opposing Medicare for our seniors--and if they're in Congress they should explain why "gubmint run healthcare" is good enough for them and their family. Back to Mr. Mackey and his efforts to trick people into accepting second-class health care or no care at all, his union-busting and arcane notions of what we need from government: Until Whole Foods fires him we should spend our money elsewhere. Boycott Whole Foods, and call or visit your local Whole Foods store to tell the manager about it. Also inform the Whole Foods's World HQ:
Whole Foods Market, Inc.
550 Bowie Street
Austin, TX 78703-4644