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
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
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.
blog posts on many, many, many levels. And not just because I am not a
libertarian, but because I simply think that some of those statements
are blatantly wrong and misleading. One that particularly stood out is
the idea that "big companies and industrial farming is why poor people
don't starve anymore in this country". Instead they die from various
diseases they get from eating mass-produced unhealthy foods that are
often falsely marketed (but cheap, so poor people can afford them), or
they die because they're workers in these huge food producing
industries that don't follow safety regulations or give proper
benefits to their lowest-paid workers. I know I'm not an expert on
this, but I have read some books, articles, and in particular saw
"Food, Inc.", which is quite informative and I wouldn't say that it's
particularly ideological -- it's a documentary of what is going on in
the food industry in this country.
Anyway, I'm not big on boycotting or protesting, but I actually find
that Whole Foods is usually too expensive for me anyway (nor is there
one close by here), so I don't plan on shopping there a whole lot!
And, I agree with the reason for the boycott.
The Big Picture:
of employment and some larger share of GDP. Today, more people are
employed in food processing than agriculture. My (relatively
unevidenced) belief is that local, organic farming does not scale well
and could not support 6.5 billion people. The incredible gains in
agricultural productivity are (at least in significant part) due to
industrial farming involving large capital investments, mechanization,
chemical, and genetic engineering. I am happy to defend
industrial-scale farming of crops against those who think everyone
should grow their own vegetables in their backyard (I am not willing
to defend how we treat animals in factory farms).
I agree that Whole Foods is a bit too expensive. I do think their
local, organic milk tastes better than regular milk. But I can't
afford $6 per box of cereal.
I do not understand the reason for the boycott. Whole Foods does
everything progressives would like -- high-paid workers, socially
conscious products, etc. The objection is that their CEO wants to
offer high-deductible health insurance packages, tax employer-provided
benefits, and allow interstate competition in health insurance
provisions and said so in an op-ed.
Here's the flip-side: Wal-Mart, a company that progressives hate in
terms of workers' treatment and socially unconscious products, has now
endorsed the Obama employer mandate for healthcare. Is that a new
reason to shop at Wal-Mart?
The Big Picture: