The CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, recently gained the kind of headlines that corporate boss-type’s don’t like: he made comments about a contemporary political issue (national health care policy), and in doing so stated an opinion (that ‘Obamacare’ is essentially fascism) that is generally rejected by a huge swath of the demographic of people (upper income, upwardly mobile, liberal to progressive politically) who frequent his stores and thus helped created his wealth (alongside, you know, the people that actually grow the food, process the food, transport the food to the store, stack it on the store shelves, ring it through the register, clean the store overnight, etc).
I originally thought I’d write a point by point response to what Mr Mackey had to say in the Mother Jones interview. What I’ve decided would be more fun, however, is that I’m going to re-write the interview questions, or imagine Mr Mackey’s comments in a conversation I might have had with him. Now, this is in no way a knock on the job Josh Harkinson did in the actual piece; for one thing, I know his answers before I write my version of the question. I also by no means am trying to critique the questions he chose to ask- as far as I can see, they’re completely fine questions. But I do think my questions would have been better.
What follows are Mr Mackey’s actual words, but not in response to these questions. Here’s the actual Mother Jones interview of John Mackey by Josh Harkinson, which of course you should read.
Me: John Mackey, you operate Whole Foods as many liberals would: you sell more wholesome, more healthy, less environmentally destructive products for a significant mark-up as compared to their conventional counterparts, assuring your client base is generally more affluent people (and, therefore, the kinds of people with access to such healthier products are generally more affluent people); you do this while paying near minimum wage to your employees, spending untold thousands fighting unionization efforts by your workers, and employing all the typical anti-union propaganda of the capitalist tycoons. Yet, you argue the kind of “freedoms” that allows you to behave as such are good for all of society, and that government intervention to, say, ensure that worker’s earn enough of the $245 million in profits(1) made last year by Whole Foods to provide for their needs so as to keep them from needing government welfare aid (which is essentially the government subsidizing your profits) is somehow unjust. Your friends, your customers, and your image are all very liberal, progressive even, but what you’re espousing is a very libertarian-right ideology.
John Mackey: I reject the premise that liberal and libertarian values are necessarily in conflict. In fact, I often self-identify as a “classical liberal.” I am pro-choice, favor legalizing gay marriages, protecting our environment, enforcing strict animal welfare protection laws (I’ve been an ethical vegan for 10 years), marijuana legalization, having a welfare safety net for our poorest or disabled citizens, and a radically reduced defense budget and military presence around the world. However, I’m also a conscious capitalist—I believe economic freedom and entrepreneurship are the best ways to end poverty, increase prosperity, and evolve humanity upward. I believe that all forms of socialism have been proven over time to result in a loss of both economic and civil liberties, with increasing poverty. The truth is that I don’t fit into a simple ideological box. I read widely on issues, try to think carefully about them, and then I make up my own mind.
Me: Well, I’ll skip my question about what an “unethical vegan” may be, because I agree- to a degree- with your point that seemingly contradictory political labels aren’t necessarily in conflict. Liberal or conservative, if you make less than say $45,000 a year in the U.S. (like the majority of people working at Whole Foods) your only real conflict is pretty much with the wealthier classes. Besides, I identify myself often as a “libertarian-socialist”- how’s that for a seemingly contradictory label! Of course, the historical intent behind these terms isn’t at all in conflict, and actually I just use the term interchangeably, as an umbrella for a whole host of ideas (Full Communism, anarchist-communism, syndicalism, social ecology, etc) that I find not different enough to warrant splitting hairs. It’s funny, because if most Americans had access to the kind of liberal education that undoubtedly taught you the cultural relativism and multi-cultural tolerance you espoused about social issues like abortion rights and gay rights I think this country would be in a better place; yet the free market capitalism (right-libertarian) stance you take elsewhere typically suggests the kind of liberal, public education that fostered those views shouldn’t exist. So, is the kind of “conscious capitalism” you claim Whole Foods practices really the best human society can produce? Seems to me like Whole Foods just caters to people with disposable income, which, the history of free market economic models doesn’t show to produce many of…
JM: Many conscious businesses with similar business practices are primarily low-price oriented, such as Southwest Airlines, Costco, and Amazon. I believe our philosophy of conscious capitalism will eventually be widely adopted primarily because it is a better way to do business, and it creates more total value in the world for all of its stakeholders.
Me: Umm… Amazon gives itself a competitive edge by avoiding local taxes, as well as, literally, running its warehouses as sweatshops more akin to what we expect in China or of early 1900′s industrialism. The sales taxes they don’t pay, by the way, don’t help pay the social programs like food and medical aid that their employees must rely on because of their meager earnings, despite Amazon finding a way to pay its CEO over $1.5 million(2) while the company overall lost money. If that’s your example of “conscious capitalism” I think this interview may be over, because you’re simply an idiot who convinced himself as to the moral righteousness of a worldview simply because it justifies your own wealth and comfort and security.
JM: Amazon is certainly not a perfect company. However, doctors, teachers, engineers, journalists, politicians, and labor unions are also on a continuum of consciousness and none are perfect either. It is easy to judge and find fault with any company if that is what one’s ideological biases wish to see. What is much harder to do is to see a company’s actions in the full context of the total value in the world that they are creating. I have no doubt that Amazon is creating great value for its millions of customers, employees, suppliers, investors, and communities—who all are trading with the business voluntarily for mutual benefit—and that they are overall contributing greatly to making the world a better place.
Me: Here I might have to start getting a little contrarian with you, John. You’re a well-meaning guy, I know, a bright guy, well-educated. I know you understand global economics better than the vast majority of Americans who only know about global capitalism as it’s explained by CNN or Fox News (ie, not very much). I have a hard time understanding how you’d honestly claim that the worker’s at Amazon are in a voluntary relationship for mutual benefit. The average worker at Amazon makes a modest income (barely enough for a middle class lifestyle, with often grueling physical requirements)(3) and, realistically, no child ever has said “I want to move boxes and merchandise through a warehouse when I grow up!” No, people take these kinds of undesirable jobs because their other option is usually an even less desirable job, or starvation. Poverty or work at Amazon is not a voluntary relationship. And mutual benefit? If Amazon’s CEO worked 40 hour weeks (which, I don’t know, but I doubt he does) his $1.5 million a year (it’s actually more, but whatever to a few hundred thou here or there- ameye right?!) then he’s making something in the order of $700 an hour. $700 an hour, and no physical exertion upon his body other than the occasional rush to a meeting or the stress of having to continue to scam investors to buy-in to a company which loses millions every year. And the customers? the customers are shopping at Amazon because their job pays similarly poor wages and the only way they can buy things- which society has promised them is the key to happiness and success and meaning- is by purchasing them at the lowest price possible, which Amazon often does.
More importantly though, because I knew you’d slip it into this conversation somewhere and it’s really what I was most excited to talk to you about, I want to address your point about “doctors, teachers, engineers, journalists, politicians, and labor unions” existing on a “continuum of consciousness”. See, like you, I have read Ken Wilber, and studied Integral Theory. Like you, I think that Integral Theory has a lot of very, very valuable contributions to make towards our understanding of ourselves, our societies, our planet, even our entire universe. I wish some of the smarter people I know would learn more about Integral Theory, and as I do, use it to help inform their analysis and understanding of a whole boatload of things (pretty much everything, really). While there are a number of points that Ken Wilber, and Integral Theory, make that I ultimately don’t agree with, that’s neither here nor there to me- I think there’s a lot of good stuff in there. Which is why when you, and Wilber, and other advocates of Integral start talking politics and economics I really, really start losing my mind. The view you’re promoting, as far as I can tell, is a green, cultural relativism stance at best. It is purely a dominator hierarchy, and that you nor the other prominent Integral thinkers can see this I think limits your appeal to New Age practitioners rather than vigorous intellectuals that you and Integral mean to interact with, many who are considering the most dire and radical- and transformative- ideas of our day.
If other readers would allow me this one transgression: your acceptance, endorsement, and championing of such a blatant dominator hierarchy such as capitalism gives me pause as to the validity or value of anything else you have to say.
Anyway, back to our topic and your specific comment: doctors, teachers, engineers, and journalists are all people who perform a role; politicians are as well, though it’s decidedly a role defined by it’s power and wealth in relation to the rest of us; and labor unions are, ultimately, as association of people bound by class (if not by industry or workplace) who seek specific ends to advance their material, social, and spiritual (if I may use the term so non-religiously) lot. Lumping these kinds of people/groups together, and with corporations as you did, seems to me slightly problematic. It seems to me the first group are people with specific skills and functions within society (in fact, we maybe can even say politicians fall under that definition as well, though just at a different strata); labor unions are quite clearly a group of individuals joining together as equals to seek specific gains for themselves and their ilk; and corporations, really, are just a legal fiction who’s main purpose is to legally shield a person or group (investors/owners) who’s sole obligation, both by legal terms and the marketplace’s own assumption, is to create as much profit (capital, surplus wealth, whatever term you want to use). It hardly seems realistic to me that a teacher and Wal-Mart are motivated to do good within society by the same factors. Or, if not by the same factors, for reasons that lead to the same ends (the overall advancement and benefit of individuals, society and the planet).
JM: I believe that Walmart has made a strong effort to improve its environmental impacts, and those efforts are probably not being motivated by either the government or labor unions. If they can change their environmental practices for the better, then I believe they are capable of changing their other practices too.
Me: I like that we’re talking about Wal-Mart, because many feel-good about capitalism liberals like yourself are so keen on “socially responsible investing”, and yet the vast majority of those funds invest in Wal-Mart. So let’s talk about Wal-Mart’s business model: they promise to buy so fucking many widgets, from whoever, where ever in the world, can produce them the cheapest. Logically, we know there’s only so good of a deal on machinery and raw materials that any one factory can get, so the most flexible variable for a company (say, I don’t know, in China) who wants to win that contract is in labor. So the factory who pays its worker’s the least, who provides the least for them in terms of wages, benefits, breaks, (let alone mere comfort) wins the contract to produce the widget for Wal-Mart. The same is repeated with shipping (well, actually, Wal-Mart owns most of their shipping, as well as a lot of the Chinese manufacturing now, though the same minimum labor cost ethos prevails). From getting off the ship to being warehoused stateside to being trucked across the country, stocked on a shelf and rung through a register, Wal-Mart pays a small, small pittance of it’s overall profits (if we say the average worker along this line makes $12 an hour(4)- a number I made up but which is higher than the average store worker, so I assumed truckers and warehouse workers do a little better and guesstimated something that works for the sake of the point)- if we look at Wal-Mart’s claim of 2 million employees(5), that’s $78,000 a year for each employee. And that’s just profits- remember, Wal-Mart’s $15.7 billion in profits in 2011 already comes after their regular payroll and wages (from janitors to clerks to CEO salaries) is accounted for.
JM: The points we make about Walmart in our book were given as examples of a very large, traditional company making progress in lessening its negative environmental impact. Such efforts should be encouraged. However, we agree with you that Walmart’s evolution needs to continue—just like everyone else’s.
Me: Walmart calls its workers “associates.” You call them “team members.” Why not just say “workers”? (this is the same question as asked in the Mother Jones interview- seems like a good point to me).
JM: We believe that the term “team members” more accurately reflects the reality at Whole Foods Market. Our company is organized into thousands of self-managing, interlocking teams, from entry level positions all the way up to the most senior levels. Everyone hired into our stores is hired on a provisional basis on a team for 30 to 90 days until they are voted on by their fellow team members. It requires a positive two-thirds vote to achieve actual “team member” status and to begin receiving full benefits. Team members is exactly what they are.
Me: Oh, I didn’t know that about Whole Foods, and I find that really, really interesting. So, if I understand this, you recognize that direct participation- democracy- is a valuable and meaningful and overall important (or why would you have it at all?) aspect to running Whole Foods as the most successful company it can be. I also like your use of the term “self-managing”, though I wonder really what that means in this context (if I walk into my local Whole Foods-which thank the lord there is no such thing, our network of food coops throughout Vermont are a million times more enjoyable and beneficial to our local communities- and want to sell them my blueberries, are they really going to get put on the shelf over those bigag-produced blueberries from New Jersey which you can buy so much cheaper because of their scale?). But I think this all is worth exploring, because I think this is where your inclination towards progressive ideas butts up against the personal gain you achieve through capitalist exploitation- not only financial gains, mind you, but including the manner in which you’ve carved a place within the current economy to exploit your desire to feel morally above, to justify the means by the ends.
As for the whole hiring on a provisional basis before they are voted on to the team by their peers thing- in political terms, we’d call this a great example of a “free association of free peoples”. While certainly not truly Perfect (the circumstances that led each into this association is wage slavery and want), it seems you’re describing a situation where a group of people who are trained to, capable of, and willing to, perform a certain task bring in a new person, and over 30 or 90 days that group of people, along with the newest, decide whether they all enjoy each other’s character and work habits and skills and persons, at least well enough to devote a substantial amount of one’s waking day to interacting with. But my question is, if democracy and participation are good for the hiring of who to do the work, why are they not good for deciding how to do the work? deciding who leads the team? In ceding the hiring to the people who do the job, you’re admitting to perhaps capitalism’s greatest fault: the people who do the job, know the job the best and know the best how to improve and manage the job- they are the rightful owners of the job. If “team members” know best how to hire onto their team, there is no logical escape from the fact that they then must know best how to hire their own manager, and to fire them when they fail or step out of line. If then the worker’s on the shop floor are doing their job, hiring the new members of the team who work on their job collectively, electing amongst their ranks or candidates who should perform what managerial duties, and all in doing so while performing a task or service or providing a product that is valued and desired by the community, in which they themselves are a part, what, in the world, is the function of you or any other CEO? If your first example would be the importance of efficiency by scale, since that is the nearly singular driver of franchising or national or multinational corporatism (widgets cost less when bought or made in larger quantities): I sit on the Board of the local food coop. Our coop is a member of a larger, regional organization which is owned and operated democratically by the member-owner coops. That organization uses it’s collective buying power to negotiate the same bulk-pricing (efficiency of scale) as this example claims as one justification for a CEO. I could provide hundreds of links to articles extoling the real world, meaningful benefits of business run cooperatively by either members or workers.
JM: I haven’t read (those) particular (kinds of) article(s) so I don’t feel that I can comment on it. However, I’m not opposed to the existence of labor unions, which have served important historical purposes. Certainly, employees should have the legal right to choose union representation. At the same time, employees shouldn’t be coerced to join unions or pay union dues against their will. They should also have the legal right to not join unions, and unfortunately in many states this legal right doesn’t exist. Labor unions served a very important function when the industrial revolution was kicking into high gear to protect employees from arbitrary abuses of power and exploitation and they helped create many important legal protections. However, today our overall economy is much less of an industrial economy and much more of an information and services economy that depends upon high levels of knowledge, teamwork, and cooperation. Today most employees feel that unions are not necessary to represent them—evidenced by the fact that private-sector union membership has steadily fallen from 36 percent of the work force to only 6.9 percent. Whether the future will be better for the middle class with or without unions I cannot say. However, I do believe private sector unions need to evolve away from their adversarial tactics, and their anti-business attitude and rhetoric, if they wish to remain relevant.
Me: Ugh. I don’t know. At this, point, you’re sounding more like a moderate Republican, like the President. I’m not personally inclined to spend too much time and effort having a (pretend) conversation with someone like that- the insertion of right-wing talking points into any conversation following the postmodern political era seems contrite and reeking of hipster cynicism. I mean, these “legals rights” to join or pay of their unions, aren’t you just talking about government burearcracy interveining in the free market of what free individuals may choose to do amongst themselves? Ooo, recognize historical significance, question their relevance because of all the “market freedom” that now exists, acknowledge everyone’s “right to choose” (that goes along with the “freedom” part), and most importantly, victimize those who take a position against their own class, their own self-interest. Gee, those poor workers who were tricked into a union, since a union is the only thing in the history of capitalism (a mere few hundred years, mind you), that has directly and immediately alleviated the toils of the laboring classes. Yes, today’s economy is much less of an industrial one, and the jobs are primarily service and information based, and those jobs (particularly the service ones) don’t pay nearly as well as those old industrial jobs. I agree with you wholeheartedly, “high levels of knowledge, teamwork, and cooperation” are required for a progressive, evolving, continually more better society. So why shouldn’t the entirety of our lives, including or workplaces be democratic, cooperative places? why shouldn’t we pool our collective resources to providing the most thorough, efficient, and rewarding eduction for our kids (um, that comes through taxing the most successful, like you) so that they are knowledgable and capable of doing even more than us? The free market (libertarian) capitalism which you seem to prefer, at least as far as economic and business matters are concerned, doesn’t seem to have a tract recored or any very reasonable, logical justification for the types of policies and systems you seem to be suggesting you endorse….
JM: I disagree. I believe the Taft-Hartley law created a more level playing field between unions and managers, which had tilted much too heavily toward unions with the Wagner Act. The truth that the labor union movement is very resistant to seeing is that the industries that have been the most heavily unionized in the United States have all been in decline and do not compete well internationally—automobiles, steel, airlines, conventional supermarket chains, and most unionized manufacturing. Millions and millions of jobs have been permanently lost in these industries. Why is that? The labor movement would be well served to rethink its tactics and mindset, which cause great damage to the businesses which ultimately employ the unionized workers.
Me: Why is that? because through the use of the U.S. military (tax-payer paid for, just FYI) this country colonized vast tracts of the globe between WWI and the end of WWII. With colonies, governments created and aided by direct U.S. defense department interests, and even still other parts of the world too terrified of what the U.S. military would do to them if they didn’t go along, trade pacts were made and automobiles, steel, airlines, foods, and most manufacturing was all moved off-shore because the definition of capitalism involves the maximizing of profits for shareholders. Your insistence on a “conscious capitalism” may define what a few corporations or people do, but ignores the ultimate definition and reality of the system that we’re talking about- all that matters are profits. “Green Capitalism”, “Conscious Capitalism”, “Creative Capitalism”… they may be of arguably significant better degrees than plain ol beat your slave with a rod Colonial Capitalism, but they ultimately have the same goal, the same mechanisms for defining right, wrong, success and failure… and that’s profit. I mean, these jobs haven’t been “lost”: employment, worker productivity, and corporate wealth are at their highest points in the history of us measuring such things (incidentally, not terribly long, but people who were provided a quality liberal education who went on to work in specialized fields based on a personal interest of their’s are often capable of extracting reasonable assumptions from data provided by the kinds of investigation and research that a free market would never produce- because such information is valuable only in knowing where we’ve been, and says nothing about where we are or where we’ll be and thus there is no profit to be gained from it.
Anyways, in keeping with my suggested notion of the American public being undereducated, I’ll note the original question from the actual interview (I know, whoa, this thing is getting way metta and self-refrencial and shit) at this point references author Kim Fellner, who “describes Starbucks’ and Whole Foods’ approach to workers as ‘the essence of benevolent paternalism.’ She once told (Josh Harkinson): “These are companies that want to do good by their workers, but want to decide what that good is, rather than letting the workers decide for themselves. And that’s a problem.’ I’d like to just quickly note that instead of articulating this question in such a vanilla and de-contextualized manner, in most of the developed world one is provided with an education that would simply be able to ask and understand “isn’t the kind of benevolence towards worker’s for the greater good that you espouse, especially with it’s penchant for participation at the perfunctory levels but dictatorship of senior leadership merely an inherently Stalinist model of workplace and social ordering?
JM: I don’t agree at all. We are a highly decentralized company. We are organized into self-managing work teams which are empowered to make decisions regarding the composition of their team, product selection, merchandising, continuous training and education, and many other things. Each team is collectively rewarded based on their labor productivity every four weeks with bonuses being distributed equally on a per-hour-worked calculation. Our team members across the entire company collectively vote on their benefits package every three years, and everyone from entry-level team members all the way up to the co-CEO’s receive the exact same benefit package. Whole Foods is continually striving to empower our team members more and to help them self-actualize. That requires autonomy, creativity, and the opportunity to achieve mastery—all of which are inconsistent with paternalism.
Me: Huh- a ironically a very Stalin-like response. I’d like to suggest readers re-read that last answer, but in your heads do your best Soviet Russian impersonation. Anyway, I will seriously think about that, and research it, and if it’s true that your company functions as you say it does there, I will seriously reconsider my hatred of Whole Foods in relation to the relative value that you’ve described there. All I would ask in return is that you also consider, between now and the next time we have a (pretend) conversation, what exactly the purpose of you or any of the other CEO’s or shareholders are, and if the maximum value that each Whole Foods store is bringing to each’s specific community couldn’t be significantly expanded upon by leaving the management, and as well the profits, of each store to the store itself and it’s workers.
But nice, I didn’t have that researched, and was caught off-guard by the power of your statements about how the company is organized (or, at least how you describe it- I’ve learned to get facts from the source and, you better believe next time I visit my mom in Norwalk, CT I’ll be personally asking various “team members” about those claims). I want to defer, again, to Josh Harkinson’s original question, which I think is just right: You are known to be a bit of a climate change skeptic. In your book you write that “some scientists estimate that the United States now absorbs as much carbon emissions as it emits.” Your source is a paper by the American Enterprise Institute, which has received funding from the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil. Do you really consider AEI a credible source? (Bam! gee, I may have to consider renewing my subscription to Mother Jones all these years later, if these are the kinds of questions you folks are asking these days).
JM: I believe that it is very important to read a variety of viewpoints, including those outside of our own ideological biases. Regarding carbon sequestration, you might want to look at the research by Fan and Gloor (Science, vol. 282: pp 442-446 [subscription required]). This study indicated that the forested region in North America between 15 and 51 degrees north latitude was calculated to have a carbon sink that can annually remove CO2 from the air equal to all the carbon produced from fossil fuel consumption in both the United States and Canada.
Contrary to what has been written about me, I am not a “climate change skeptic.” Climate change is clearly occurring, and based on what I have read global temperatures have increased about 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 150 years. We’ve been in a gradual warming trend since the ending of the “Little Ice Age” in about 1870, and climate change is perfectly natural and not necessarily bad. In general, most of humanity tends to flourish more when global temperatures are in a warming trend and I believe we will be able to successfully adapt to gradually rising temperatures. What I am opposed to is trying to stop virtually all economic progress because of the fear of climate change. I would hate to see billions of people condemned to remain in poverty because of climate change fears.
Me: Well, for one thing, billions of people are condemned to remain in poverty because of the inherent nature of capitalism, but despite that clear fact I’ll let the conversation move on. You know, I tend to agree with you, John, at least the rhetoric. I do think that climate change is cyclical, and that we’re generally quite capable of adapting to the swings that our planet has shown over time. However, it seems to me obvious that actions that humans are taking are dramatically influencing the cycles that we might otherwise call natural, and I don’t believe there’s a price to high to pay to do all we can to minimize our direct impact on the health of our environment. The dirtiest, most erroneous, most destructive and cancerous practices being carried out by humans are being carried out largely in places where the most poor and disempowered people happen to reside. I imagine that in a world not unlike the one you described your company strives to be- democratic, where those affected and with a stake in a particular decision have an equal and fair voice and vote in making the decision- in a world where entire communities and even cities (hell, fucking countries! why not, eh John? we’re visionary, enlightened guys!) are governed in such a way, it’s hard to imagine who would choose electrical or transportation systems which make us all sick and cost more than necessary anyway. You John, like me, I believe, are a true believer in human ingenuity and creativity- the very notion that the problems of power and food distribution can’t be solved by the best and brightest of our world is a real insult to all we are as humans, all we’ve evolved to as humans, doncha say John?! Doesn’t the whole fucking world say, John?!?!
JM: Yes, I believe that it did.
Me: You’re not matching my excitement, John. I can understand why. For starters, I’m overly self-assured and pushy, I know this. In Wilber’s terms, this is a typical dysfunction of integral personalities. I listen to the criticism that’s dolled out to me by friends and associates. I appreciate it; it helps me grow. Also, I tend to, after a drink or two- as I’ve had tonghit, maybe terhee- I tend to ramble. I know I’ve done a lot- a lot- of rambling in this conversation. So, I know I’ve done a lot of talking at you here, but, I don’t really feel you’ve addressed any of my points, let alone the major purpose of why we’re talking anyway, which is you’re interest in justifying your business model as somehow progressive and just and transformative despite your incredibly regressive and conservative views of the public’s interest (ie, the government’s) in assuring health care for all just as education and roads, or combatting environmental disaster by ozone or contaminated food or planet-wide disaster. I mean, at least speak sanely on your position on health care, rather than calling a Republican-written plan for government mandated, private health care (same as with car insurance or homeowner’s insurance) like ‘Obamacare’, rather than calling it “fascism”….
JM: Whole Foods Market has an excellent health care plan which is very popular with our team members. I don’t think Whole Foods’ model is a complete solution to our health care problems in the United States, but it could serve as part of the solution. While I would personally prefer a completely free market in health care, I recognize that isn’t politically possible at this time. Therefore, my favorite national solution is to copy what Switzerland is doing. They have achieved universal coverage while keeping their health insurance market private and competitive, and subsidizing the cost of health insurance for their less affluent citizens. Given a choice of competitive private plans, more than 50 percent of Swiss citizens choose a high-deductible plan similar to what Whole Foods offers. I believe the Swiss health care system is far superior to what we are now creating under health care reform, and I would urge our political leaders to move toward a similar model.
Me: Sign. It’s over and over with you. You’re doing a lot of hemming and hawing. I will not take your (self-serving) word on the popularity of Whole Foods’ health care program and it’s effectiveness or it’s popularity- I will read up on it and talk to your actual “team members” when next I have a chance. In the meantime, I know you are a person who believes in the evolution of consciousness, as it pertains both to individuals an society as a whole. Given that over the past Century or so we’ve evolved to understand that children should be playing and learning, not working in factories, given that we’ve evolved to understand that no matter what one’s color or ethnicity they are equal in all manners before the Public Commons, given that we’ve evolved to understand that each and every person deserves access to an education that ends where their thirst for knowledge ends, given that we’ve evolved to understand that protection from fire, and from physical intrusion and thievery, are rights that we all expect of our society, how is it outrageous that we are evolving to expect a right to physical, medical care as we see fit to determine the length and quality of our own lives. I just have a hard time understanding how you can look at the health indicators of the vast majority of the post-industiral world, look at how the U.S. ranks in comparison to the rest of those countries results, and consider the “free market” as the most efficient and equitable solution to a social problem like that.
JM: Your assumption is that the United States had a free-market health care system back then. It did not. The health care system, even prior to “reform,” was one of the most highly regulated sectors in our economy, and it lacked both meaningful competition or a functional price system. I believe we need to radically deregulate our system to let markets, innovation, and competition work effectively, while creating a strong safety net. I believe free-enterprise capitalism works much, much better than either socialism or some type of fascism where government controls and directs business—which is where I believe we are headed now.
JM: The deficit problems can be completely explained by too much governmental spending. Spending at all levels has significantly increased in the past 12 years under both presidents, Bush and Obama. We could bring the annual federal budget into the black within just 10 years by simply limiting increases in spending to 2 percent per year. No additional taxes are required and I believe taxes are already too high in the United States. For example, our corporate income taxes are already the highest in the world.
Me: For starters, looking back 12 years, to the beginning of Bush II, hardly to me seems like taking a historical vantage of the situation. I’ll take your word about limiting increases by 2% a year, since I’m not interested in researching this claim. But as far as believing taxes are too high- well, they’re at their lowest historical levels, and though our corporate income taxes are high globally, our personal income taxes (as well as property taxes, gas taxes, use taxes) are generally low compared to other post-industriealized nations. Our personal taxes, which tax code hides corporate profits behind, are some of the lowest in the world, specifically for those who make the most money. You seem to be pulling a typical Fox News move by cherry-picking facts to tell a story that supports your personal agenda…
JM: What I said about eliminating the deficit within 10 years is true—see [this analysis]. I also don’t believe my position on governmental spending is radical at all. You are comparing the United States to Europe today in per-capita spending and Europe is declining even faster than the United States is currently declining. They are not the appropriate model to compare against. A better comparison is to compare our current per-capita spending to what the United States has historically spent, when our country was growing the fastest and prosperity was rapidly increasing throughout the society. At the turn of the 20th century governmental spending was only 7 percent of GDP. Now we are spending 40 percent, the highest it has ever been with the exception of World War II. (link not copied here) One thing we do agree on is that the we spend way too much money on the military. I believe that our government should stop trying to police the world and that it could protect the American people for a small fraction of the money that we spend today.
Me: Yes, unfortunately, your positions on government, economics, and business aren’t radical at all in this day and age. Seems to me a sad observation on the strength of our political candor and the meaningfulness of our economy as a whole. Also, that seems to me a referendum of the meaningfulness of your ideas. See, as an amateur student of history, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the best, most progressive, most evolutionary, and of course most revolutionary, ideas that have been presented at any time, in any place have been those ideas solely that have come forth as a way to provide something for the many that they have not yet enjoyed. Funnier thing still: none, and- seriously, correct me where I’m wrong- but none of those ideas have come from the CEO’s of business. All of the best ideas have come from inventors, scientists, people following their passions and interests… from people operating under agencies funded by the public trust (ie, the government). Despite over 30 years of direct evidence of the regressive nature of so many of the ideas that you espouse regarding business and the economy, how can you so passionately continue to push such ideas, and claim them to be progressive and evolutionary?
JM: I’m an enthusiastic proponent of the First Amendment. I believe in a vibrant democracy that encourages freedom of speech. I therefore believe business leaders should speak out openly when they believe it is appropriate to do so. Unfortunately most do not, for fear of attacks by the media and by various pressure groups and special interests. These attacks create a “chilling effect” that I believe is harmful to the greater good. I very much believe in creating organizations and societies that are based upon transparency, honesty, authenticity, caring, innovation, and collaboration. Our planetary resources may be limited, but our human creativity is limitless.
Me: I know it is really, really bad for to end an interview with your own statement, or end a conversation with being the guy who has to get the last word in edgewise. None the less: What you just said about freedom of speech, about democracy that encourages that speech… about transparency and honesty and authenticity, caring, innovation and collaboration? I am 100% with you on these concepts. As for business leaders not speaking openly for fear of attack by the media? here’s some news for you, John: the entirety of media (save for but including NPR and PBS) are owned by business leaders: if they’re attacking you, that’s the motherfucking free market, you dip shit. “Pressure groups” and “interest groups”? I believe they generally fall in the same category as labor unions from earlier in our conversation: they are the result of a group of people coming together by common cause, either by their work, or neighborhood, or moral imperative. The way you dismiss such groups here is telling of your true commitment to “democracy”. Thank the good lord our human creativity is not limited, because otherwise we may be faced with the kind of world your vision leaves us with. The people here on the bottom, doing all your work, we actually see how it works, and we are creative enough to fix it by means beyond your bottom line.