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

4 thoughts on “Whole Foods, to boycott or not to boycott, a response to CEO John Mackey”

  1. Life expectancy comparisons are a poor way to measure quality of care. The US has a much high rate of homicide than those European countries, which gets factored into the calculations. Remove the homicides and American lifespans are equal to those of Europe. Homicide is not the fault of the healthcare system.

    Medicare is going to go bankrupt for demographic reasons. No amount of taxation on that small percentage of high earners will solve that. The same problem exists for social security. The solution is to raise the retirement age. We are living longer and the government can no longer subsidize 15 year retirements.

    The big expensive diseases – cancer, heart disease, and strokes, are indeed mostly related to lifestyle. There is widespread obesity in the country. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and not shunt the blame to our medical system for failing to keep the cheeseburgers away.

    I have relatives in Europe. They all buy private health insurance because they do not want to wait months for certain treatments. Single payer healthcare is not a panacea. Most of these European systems are hybrids of private and public. You pay for both.

  2. You make some good points – I agree that the retirement age should be raised (but also a small increase in social security contributions and no income cap on contributions). I also agree that obesity and lack or exercise contribute to our problems and those issues should be directly dealt with (via education and other means). But that issue is separate from the burdensome cost of our profit-driven inefficient health care system.

    I lived in France for four years. No one I knew had extra health insurance because the system there works well. It is far from perfect but at least everyone is covered. I have no problem with wealthier people buying supplemental insurance. That is not a reason to favor the profit-driven private health system in the U.S. that is costing one out of six dollars spent in our economy.

    Medicare is going broke? So, you propose that the private health insurance system will somehow be able to care for the elderly at lower cost? Or should we just put the elderly out in the street? What is your solution?

    If we lower the cost of health care by one half, as many other countries prove can be done, we will have ample reserves to fund medicare.

    The point about other countries was that other countries comparable to the U.S. in standard of living and life expectancy and quality of health care have health care costs that are less than half of ours as measured by percentage of GDP spent on health care.

    A letter to the L.A. Times yesterday from a veteran pointed out that he has received the benefits of socialized medicine (the VA) for forty years and the care was fine. The problems at the VA occur after wars (all of which since World War II have been boon-doggles) when the VA is under-funded.

  3. The problem is that quote about the problem with capitalism has never been observed, but it’s great demagoguery…oth, the Soviet Union demonstrated running out of other people’s money, and other major Socialist countries are sliding down the same waterhazard. Make fun of Ayn Rand as you like, she saw it in USSR and the only thing Atlas Shrugged got wrong is that there is no John Galt, and the progressives have not progressed as quickly as she foresaw. Yet again, they have never been reversed, only slowed, in the process of convincing people to vote away their freedom.

    What really gets my goat by the take-his-wealth-for-my-benefit crowd is that if they do it directly, it’s theft, but if they do it by plebiscite they think it’s just “fair”. Even in innocence, Allard reveals his thoughtless bias “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…” “Taking More”??? Taxing is taking, Mr. Allard, earning is some exchange of value for value. Who is WE, Mr. Allard? What source of wisdom permits your assessment of “would not miss it” and who gives you the right to use such puerile concepts as if they were serious thought?

    Woefully often forgotten is that when the capitalist has your money, you have his goods. If it weren’t a fair exchange, you should not have done it; and “buyer’s remorse” after consumption/wearing out of the purchased item is a thinly-veiled fraud concealing envy.

    1. I will reply to W. Hoffman’s Libertarian Fundamentalist clap trap point by point.

      W. Hoffman wrote:

      > The problem is that quote about the problem with
      > capitalism has never been observed, but it’s
      > great demagoguery…

      W. Hoffman is referring to a pair of quotes in my original posting, to wit:

      >> Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is
      >> that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

      >> Dennis Allard (and others): “The problem with Capitalism
      >> is that eventually a small number of people have everyone
      >> else’s money.”

      I don’t know if I was trying to engage in demagoguery, but Margaret surely was a demagogue so Hoffman’s point applies more to her than to me. Other than that, Hoffman seems to have no sense of humor. The point is that for every critique you hear about socialism (whatever that is, are we talking about socialism as practiced in the Scandinavian countries that have the highest standards of living in the world?), it is equally easy to critique Capitalism using the same simple aphorisms by observing the effect Capitalism has on the poor. The Irish and Chinese who built the railroads are what provided the Rail Road Barons with their wealth. Is that really debatable?

      > The Soviet Union blah blah blah…

      Please, Mr. Hoffman, where was I talking about the Soviet Union?

      > other major Socialist countries are sliding down
      > the same water hazard.

      France? Norway? Finland? Venezuela? What countries?

      Your model is Chile and the dictator Pinochet?

      Remember Nicaragua? When the Sandinistas came to power before being ousted in 1989? They had begun a campaign to teach everyone in the country to read. We (I’ll get to defining “We” below) had supported the Somoza family dictators for decades and the Sandinistas were finally reversing their carnage when we supported the Contra terrorists there. Due to that economic pressure, the population voted the Sandinistas out. In the ensuing twenty years Nicaragua became the poorest country in this hemisphere although the oligarchy there does just fine. All that thanks to unbridled Capitalism.

      > Make fun of Ayn Rand as you like, she saw it in USSR…

      As annoying as I find the Ayn Rand simplistic world view to be, I do understand how that view evolved based on the very horrible history of Stalin. So that much credit I give to her. But only that much beyond which she is naive. Do you have any record of her in actual debates with the Paul Krugman’s of her time? Or did she just pontificate in her comic-book like novels and be the demagogue she seems to have been, with a latter day fawning flock of Libertarian Fundamentalists unquestioningly following in her wake?

      > What really gets my goat by the take-his-wealth-for-my-benefit crowd

      Not for my benefit, Mr. Hoffman. For society’s benefit. And it’s not “take”, it’s “tax”. That what taxes do. That’s why we have an Interstate Highway system. That’s why we have the Internet. That’s why we have an army. That’s why we have public parks. That’s why we have social security. That’s why we have police departments. You think all of these should be privatized?

      > [taxes are] theft

      Let me rebut that with an equally profound statement:

      Taxes are not theft.

      > Even in innocence, Allard reveals his thoughtless
      > bias “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…” Taxing is taking, Mr. Allard

      You did not address my point, Mr. Hoffman, you just repeated yourself. The point was to alter tax rates back to how they were during the Reagan era and before when we were doing just fine and not on the verge of a second Great Depression. If you want to rebut something, lose your doctrinaire “tax’s are theft” whining and provide some substantive arguments.

      > Earning is some exchange of value for value

      That is the essential flaw in the reasoning of defenders of pure Capitalism. My view, socialist or whatever you want to call it is:

      Earning is an exchange of *work* for money.

      When Bill Gates “earns” $1 billion on a good day in the stock market, it is because he owns about 20 per cent of Microsoft stock (or whatever). He did not work to earn that billion on that day. Yes, he did work in the past and his fortune is predicated on that past work and innovation. But his fortune is not just him. It is built on the backs of hard work of many brilliant computer programmers, lawyers, accountants, sales reps and others. He “took” a part of the profit generated by each and every one of those people not because of any work he did, per se, but because of what he owns. In a very true sense, he owns some of those people’s work and they only own part of their own work.

      It can be argued that that system, capitalism is, to use Mr. Hoffman’s terminology, based on “theft”. I do not argue that. I just point out what is happening and leave hyperbolic terminology to those who think it makes them sound right.

      Note, I myself engage in such acquisition of wealth by investing in stocks. I just don’t bitch when our democracy decides to level the playing field a bit through taxation.

      > Who is WE, Mr. Allard?

      The citizens of the United States.

      > What source of wisdom permits your assessment of “would not miss it”

      I’ll give you that one. The rich could buy less mansions and yachts and take less vacations. But the point was that the oligarchy was doing just fine during the Reagan years. However, the working class is doing less well now than then and we need to make an adjustment for the benefit of the overall well being of society.

      > who gives you the right to use such puerile concepts
      > as if they were serious thought?

      The U.S. Constitution and the laws of this country.

      > Woefully often forgotten is that when the capitalist
      > has your money, you have his goods. If it weren’t a
      > fair exchange, you should not have done it;

      Marie Antoinette put it this way: “Let them eat cake.”

      Mr. Hoffman, what is the alternative for a worker? To starve? In pure capitalism, you have no other choice. You have to feed and shelter yourself and your family so you are effectively black mailed into doing work for a capitalist, who takes your work and uses it to make more money for themselves than they could have if they were not owners of the capital resources that everyone in society needs to have a society. So, truly, it is the capitalists who are the thieves and there is nothing fair about it. It is a system purely based on the power of ownership. Fair-shmair.

      I guess you would say that the worker should simply start their own business and work for themselves. Something like that? Well, by your own fundamentalist reasoning, they already do that. What do you think the day laborer on the street corner is doing already if not that? No, such a reply misses the point that the society has an intrinsic infrastructure that supports our current technology and standard of living and that that infrastructure is owned by a relatively small percentage of the population.

      Also, the goods are not “his” (the capitalist’s). They were not created by him, they are merely owned by him by virtue of the power he has of owning and controlling their manufacture. In a true sense, the goods are owned by society that provides all of the mechanisms, including labor that enable the capitalist to accumulate the wealth he is so proud of.

      It would, literally, not be possible for everyone in society to have the level of wealth possessed by the rich. So we live in an intrinsically unfair system. The rich get to where they are through a combination of intelligence, hard work, inheritance, luck, and especially, ownership of stuff. The poor get to where they are through a combination of intelligence and hard work and lack of ownership. We only have about 35K U.S. 2009 dollars of GDP per capita of economic product. So, logically, it follows that it is impossible for everyone to be super rich. Ironically, were we to distribute that $35K better, many more people would be much better off. But we don’t. The distribution is very skewed and has gotten worse in the past two decades.

      Maybe someday, if robots enable replacing workers and the robots are owned by everyone and not by a few rich kings, and we have not depleted all of our natural resources, a much higher standard of living could accrue to all citizens. But, until that day, taxation, regulation, labor law, and other such mechanisms are there to dampen the effects of pure capitalism. That is why we have child labor laws, 40 hour work weeks, public schools, social security (that my mom very much needs), and other benefits of a mixed economy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *