Whole Foods, to boycott or not to boycott, a response to CEO John Mackey

Whole Foods is run by John Mackey, a typical Libertarian Ayn Rand fan. A rich promoter for the U.S. oligarchy. Mr. Mackey spouted off in a Wall Street Journal Editorial of August 11, 2009

Mackey begins with a quote from Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”.

The problem with that quote is that “The problem with Capitalism is that eventually a small number of people have everyone else’s money” (you can quote me on that).

Factoid: Cuba has twice as many doctors per capita and a lower infant mortality rate than the United States.

Since the publication last week of the WSJ editorial by John Mackey, a spontaneous uprising to boycott Whole Foods has taken place. I am not sure if I support the boycott yet or not, although if a boycott really gets going and embodies a statement to the oligarchy of what change is needed, I will get behind it. [ed. – I did not join the boycott for reasons I explain here]

I surveyed the top links via Google about the Whole Foods Boycott, including positions opposing it. At the end of this column, I provide a small list of some links I found interesting.

First,let us examine each of the eight points made by CEO Mackey in his WSJ article:

•  Mckey: Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). The combination of high-deductible health insurance and HSAs is one solution that could solve many of our health-care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees’ Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.

Money not spent in one year rolls over to the next and grows over time. Our team members therefore spend their own health-care dollars until the annual deductible is covered (about $2,500) and the insurance plan kicks in. This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. Our plan’s costs are much lower than typical health insurance, while providing a very high degree of worker satisfaction.

My take: Whole Food’s employees limit their spending on health care for fear they will need more in future years. People should not be forced to ration their own health care. When they need care they should get it. And health care is not like a commodity or good that one purchases for the “lowest cost”. Health care is not like buying a TV or a car or a toaster. It is a necessity of life. Sure, cosmetic surgery should not be covered by socialized medicine (even though it is in Venezuela in many cases, for example). But all basic health care should be covered and not be a reason for profit.

•  Mckey: Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.

My take: Simplify the hell out of the entire accounting quagmire that is health care and provide a simplified single-payer system. THAT would be fair and remove the flow of vast profits to a small number of wealthy oligarchs who own the current system of insurance.

• Mckey:  Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.

My take: Obviously a single-payer or public health care option would provide that feature, but at much less overhead cost than the Balkanized state of mega-health care corporations (sick care corporations, to borrow a friend’s term) that would dominate in Mackey’s world.

• Mckey:  Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.

My take: Hogwash. Just as we have standards for delivery of food, water, and other necessities, and are now hopefully going to install more regulation on how multi-millionaire hedge fund managers twitter away money keeping a cut for themselves even when they lose money, the U.S. Government, which I am proud to support, should be highly regulative of what health care must be provided, starting with making it so that all people in the country receive it to start out with.

•  Mckey: Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.

My take: Malpractice lawsuits only account for about 1% of the health care GDP. It is a non-issue. Better would be to cap the amount that lawyers can make on such lawsuits and provide a national reserve fund to cover the costs. Doctors should not have to pay for either their education, an administrative staff, or liability insurance. All of that can be immensely simplified by a single-payer or public health system. Doctors who screw up should be sanctioned by peer-review boards and, in egregious cases, have their license to practice removed.

•  Mckey: Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost. How many people know the total cost of their last doctor’s visit and how that total breaks down? What other goods or services do we buy without knowing how much they will cost us?

My take: Again, health care is, by and large, not comparable to buying a shirt or picking a car. The vast majority of health care costs are either relatively low cost preventative measures, which would be facilitated by a zero-cost-per-service single payer system or are necessary interventions for disease or injury. Mackeys argument is specious.

•  Mckey: Enact Medicare reform. We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.

My take: Medicare is a success. We need to increase taxes now on very high income earners who are taking more than twice the income they took in during the Reagan years so would not miss it, but I would argue that we also will save so much by firing all of the current Insurance company executives and removing profit from the system that the savings will pay off. Are you telling me that France, Germany, Cuba, and Canada, all who have life expectancies rivaling or exceeding the U.S. and health care costs that are less than half don’t get it? It is the U.S. that does not get it. Wake up America.

•  Mckey: Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

My take: Revise tax forms to have nothing to do with voluntary contributions and eliminate all together private insurance company forms.

Last year, Greenspan had the honesty to admit that some of the premises he had been operating upon based on Libertarian principles seemed to have been invalid. Perhaps it is now time to turn the screws on others in the Oligarchy, starting with John Mackey. To wit, many people in the netsphere are proposing to boycott Mackey’s company, Whole Foods.

But is that fair? What about the employees of Whole Foods? That is a classic argument used to oppose strikes but, also, that should be used to favor unionization en masse, so that all workers strike in solidarity with one another. In the United States we are far from having such unanimity or ubiquitousness of union efforts. Still a boycott makes a statement.

Below are some links to points of view and places you can sign up if you favor a boycott.

A San Francisco businessman argues for the Boycott
A Whole Foods employee questions the usefulness of a boycott

Some in-the-trench progressives favor the boycott and pro-union efforts

wholeboycott.com was started to support boycott. They have a Facebook page you can join.

Single Payer Action supports the boycott