Monday, August 17, 2009

Whole Foods, John Mackey and Single-Payer Health Care

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, recently wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal in which he argued against any real health-care reform of the sort that would lift the burden of expensive health care off the backs of the working class. Instead, he argued for easing competition restrictions on health insurers as well as making it harder for victims of malpractice to sue their health care providers. (Source: This is an interesting statement coming from the CEO of an upscale, “health-oriented” grocery chain that tries hard to pretend to be “progressive.”

Some might take such Mackey's deed as an awful event, but increasingly, I see it as a blessing in disguise. For too long, those who oppose our corporatist state and its masters have seemed to lack a proper target for their opposition. John Mackey has just provided such a target. By this I mean that responding to corporatism by targeting lawmakers is ineffective, since they only listen to people with money. On the other hand, targeting the people with the money is likely to get much swifter and more decisive results.

Many people have responded to Mr. Mackey by calling for a boycott of Whole Foods stores. I agree entirely. I think Whole Foods should be boycotted until one of three things happen: either Whole Foods removes John Mackey, or Whole Foods publishes a statement supporting health care reform including single-payer health care, or Whole Foods goes out of business. I would also suggest something further.

There are several Whole Foods stores in the Portland metro area, including one store on Burnside, on the east side of the river, next to the Laurelhurst Theater. If a number of picketers showed up on a Saturday or Sunday, and I was passing by, I'd be most happy to take pictures, do interviews and write a “citizen journalism” post for this blog. All I'd ask is that the picketers maintain a good testimony of politeness and abide by the law, and that they have a plan for outing and staying clear of any agents provocateurs who might try to discredit them. In this, it might be helpful to study the G20 protests in London that took place earlier this year. If there is any sort of protest or picketing, I'd also encourage other bloggers and citizen journalists to cover such events.


ha1ku said...

I admittedly am not familiar with Mackey or Whole Foods, and probably much less your opposition to him and the company.

Your post struck me as "Let's target the rich because -- they're rich!" I'm sure I'm over-simplifying the message of your post. After all, the business owners are supplying jobs, right? Could you share a bit more about your message here?


TH in SoC said...

Thanks for your continued readership. I'll try here to be a bit clearer. My opposition to John Mackey and to Whole Foods is not because he is rich. Rather, it's because as a rich man and the head of a large business, he is using his position and power to defend a "health care" system that continues to bleed working-class people dry. A lot of dollars have gone into fighting single-payer health care, and most of those dollars have not come from working-class people, many of whom are finding themselves facing medical bankruptcy even though they have "insurance."

It's not surprising that the health insurance/health care industry would lobby against genuine health care reform. Some might wonder then why employers completely unconnected to the health industry would also lobby against health care reform, employers like Safeway and Whole Foods. I think I know one reason. I know of at least one large construction engineering firm that makes money from its employee contributions to its health insurance plan, either through an interest-bearing account or through charging extra fees. (I can dig up the exact details, if you'd like.) It would not surprise me at all to find that many large employers have the same practice. Government-provided health care would deprive these employers of a coveted revenue stream.

Why target rich people like John Mackey and rich corporations like Whole Foods? Because they - not ordinary people, but the rich - are the ones to whom Congress pays attention. This is why I think a boycott would work much better than writing to Congress on this issue. If a few large outfits like Whole Foods go out of business for not listening to their customers, there are hordes of entrepreneurs waiting to fill in the gap. This brings up another thing about Whole Foods - namely, that it has a bit of a history of anticompetitive practices against smaller health food store chains and sole proprietors. I may list some of these practices in a future post.

ha1ku said...

Very interesting (and thank you for expounding further).

I still feel there is value in writing/calling your Congressmen and Senators. Although I am certain many of these politicians do benefit financially from their public service duties, they still do need to remain elected to continue. If I feel my values are not represented by them, they lose my vote. And, I make sure I communicate my displeasure to other voters in my local area. I suppose that's somewhat similar to a boycott of big businesses that attempt to buy their way into politicians' voting preferences -- you influence a lot of people to make the decision-makers attention.