Whole Foods, Ct’d…

Monday, August 17th, 2009

This site has been linked by several lefty blogs, Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and a few discussion boards—all on the Whole Foods topic. So here now, a few disorganized thoughts in response to comments posted here and elsewhere.

1) Several commenters have lectured me on free speech and how using consumer power to punish companies you don’t like is part of the free market (inevitably followed by something like, “some libertarian you are!”).  You’re correct!

But I never said you don’t have the right to boycott Whole Foods. Nor did I say there’s anything wrong with the general principle of spending money at companies whose practices you admire, and not spending money at those you don’t. Here’s how it breaks down: Mackey has the right to express his opinion on health care. You have the right to boycott his company because you don’t like that opinion. And I have the right to say you’re a moron for doing so.

2) The reason the boycott is moronic is that you’re punishing a company that does everything the left thinks a company should do in just about every other area (save for a few, noted below) solely because its CEO expressed opinions about health care that you don’t like. And I don’t mind that you disagree with Mackey’s opinions. But if they offend you, you’re way too damned sensitive. He didn’t say, “I think all Americans should have access to health care . . . except for black people.” That would be offensive. He put forth some proposals that he thinks would make the health care system more efficient. You can disagree with those proposals. But if you’re offended by them, you really have a low tolerance for offense.

3) That’s the crux of why I think the boycott is ill-considered, reactionary, and foolish. You’re saying, “These opinions are so horrifyingly offensive, they outweigh all the good your company does, and therefore, I’m going to punish you, your employees, and all of your suppliers.” See, I find that offensive. And yes, that’s in part because I happen to agree with most of Mackey’s recommendations.

4) I say in part because I also think the general premise is ridiculous. I shop at Costco. A lot. If the CEO of Costco wrote an op-ed calling for a single payer health care system, I’d shrug, maybe write a blog post about why I think he’s wrong, and then I’d probably go to Costco this weekend to buy some dog food, some meat, and to try to eat my membership dues in free samples. Now, if the CEO of Costco wrote an op-ed calling for genocide against redheads, then yeah, I’d stop shopping there. But calling for a boycott of a conscientious company over its CEO endorsing proven ideas like HSAs and mainstream policies like tort reform is an attempt to push good ideas you disagree with to the fringe. It’s a way of zoning your opponents best arguments out of the realm of civilized debate. In other words, it’s a way to marginalize your opponents without actually having to debate them.

5) Some commenters say they’re boycotting Whole Foods because it’s too expensive. Okay. So. You want a company that pays its employees well, gives them great benefits, demands high environmental and humane treatment standards from its suppliers, caters to a variety of dietary restrictions, offers organic produce, and manages to keep its prices low so working class people can shop there. Oh, and it can’t be part of the “industrial supply chain,” either, whatever that means. Good luck! Of course, you all hate Walmart because it does keep prices low, but does so by paying its employees less and pressuring its suppliers for lower wholesale prices.

I guess we could just have the government grow, process, and distribute all the food. That seems to have worked really well in North Korea. But then if the government is the only food supplier, how could you wage a boycott when the government doesn’t let the food workers unionize?

Hey, just asking!

6) Speaking of unions, a few others have said they’re boycotting Whole Foods because Mackey won’t let his employees organize. But as noted, his employees have high rates of job satisfaction, and they’re paid better and have better benefits than the unionized employees at other grocery chains. So what’s the problem? If Mackey’s opposition to unions is your reason for hating Whole Foods, sorry, but you don’t really care about workers. You care about unions.

7) Some have said the answer lies in farmers’ markets and co-ops. Farmers’ markets and co-ops are swell if you’re a yuppie commune member or an urbanite foodie. But they aren’t going to feed entire cities. If it makes you feel good to shop at those places, go ahead. I love my local farmers’ market. Mine has great heirloom tomatoes. But I also realize that it’s only open five months out of the year, only sells what can be grown locally, and its stock can be limited by bad weather, pests, and just about any other variable that can hurt a harvest.  Chain stores utilize the economies of scale. They replicate suppliers, so if something goes wrong with one farmer or a drought hits one part of the country, they can back it up with food from another. So you can go ahead and feel morally superior by shopping at the farmers’ market, but don’t pretend that you’re helping the poor. Big companies and industrial farming are why poor people in America don’t starve to death anymore. They’re also why America feeds a good percentage of the rest of the world. I too think corporations can be evil. But there’s no question that industrial farming has immeasurably improved and extended our lives.

8) Why is it that the left is so stridently pro-local when it comes to commerce, but when it comes to government, everything must be nationalized, uniform, and one-size-fits-all?

9) John Mackey opposes single payer health care, preferring to keep health insurance private and competitive. Lefties are angry with his decision to write an op-ed in support of this position, so they’re going to take their business to other grocers whose politics are more in line with their own.

Huh.  Just curious, if we get single payer, and the government does something you don’t like, where are you going to take your business?

I think the cool kids call this this irony.

10) A few emailers took offense to the term “leftists,” or “lefties.” Is that pejorative now? Well, okay. What would you like to be called? As I understand it, “liberal” went out of vogue in the late 1980s. Which is fine, because as a libertarian, I’d actually like to have that word back.

Sorry, but I’m not using “progressive.” It’s a loaded term which implies that the people who disagree with you are opposed to progress. I disagree with you more often than not. And I don’t consider myself regressive. I just have a different concept of progress than you. Also, I don’t quite understand why that word is so popular right now. You do realize that the progressives of the early 20th century were generally anti-abortion, pro-eugenics, and pro-prohibition, don’t you? More than a few of them–including progressive hero Woodrow Wilson-were also ardent segregationists.

But I digress. What exactly should I call you that won’t give offense?

11) If you’re coming here from another website and have made snide cracks about Fox News, hating brown people, supporting unjust wars, or otherwise expressed the tired idea that libertarians are just Republicans who smoke pot, you’ve embarrassed yourself. Read up a little on what we do here, then get back to me.

12) Mackey didn’t deliberately offend his customers, as some have suggested.  He didn’t spit in your face, or, as one commenter so delicately put it, he didn’t “squeeze a turd in [your] punch bowl.” He just overestimated you.

You see, he shared his ideas on health care reform, thinking that you, being so famously open-minded and all, might take to a few of them, or that it at least might start a conversation. I guess he felt he’d built up some cache with you, and wanted to introduce you to some new ideas. His mistake wasn’t in intentionally offending his customers. He’s a businessman who has built a huge company up from the ground. I’m sure he knows you don’t deliberately offend your customers. His mistake was assuming you all were open-minded enough consider these ideas without taking offense—that you wouldn’t throw a tantrum merely because he suggested some reforms that didn’t fall in direct line with those endorsed by your exalted Democratic leaders in Washington. In retrospect? Yeah, it was a bad move. Turns out that many of you weren’t nearly mature enough to handle it.

Hey, the guy isn’t perfect!

13) For the record, over the years I’ve had conservative friends who have refused to shop at Whole Foods solely because they don’t like the politics of other people who shop there. I’ve told them I think they’re idiots, too.

MORE: One more point: Several commenters say it was the Thatcher quote at the beginning of the op-ed that annoyed them most. As I understand it, that was added by the WSJ editors, not Mackey. And it’s true! Call it “socialism” or something else, but the federal government is running historically and frighteningly high deficits, as well as unfunded mandates for entitlements amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars for every U.S. citizen. That isn’t sustainable. And that’s before any new health care proposals are added to the mix. And yes, the Republicans are partly to blame for all of this, too.

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351 Responses to “Whole Foods, Ct’d…”

  1. #1 |  Simon Wilby | 

    One adjective that defines Simon Wilby is smart. He is the CEO of Smart Power, Inc. He developed