This banana kills FASCISTS

We’ve got a bunch of Whole Foodses coming in and taking over some old Foodmaster places in the greater Boston area. One is coming in right near me. All in all, wouldn’t be a bad thing. And yet, and yet, and yet …

When Inskeep asks him if he still thinks the health law is a form of socialism, as he’s said before, [Whole Foods CEO] Mackey responds:

“Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”

via Whole Foods Founder John Mackey On Fascism And ‘Conscious Capitalism’ : The Salt : NPR.

[To be, ahem, scrupulously fair, Mackey has walked back his use of the word "fascism." I don't think that does him much good.]

Amazingly, Inskeep never pressed Mackey on how depriving his workers of certain benefits means they have to pay more out of pocket. Precisely what benefits does he not want to pay for, that the PPACA requires? Maternity and newborn? Contraception? Prescription drugs? Pediatric care?

Brings up a really tricky point: Do you boycott and punish a corporation which is probably mostly not made of insufferable idiots –certainly not the folks who stock the shelves and cash you out — because their CEO is a flamingly offensive douchebag? Do you make their place of employment less viable because their Big Boss doesn’t want to pay them good health benefits?

Just let it be said that Mr. Mackey continues to be very bad publicity for his chain. You could be forgiven for walking past and going to another supermarket.

Recommended by amberpaw, somervilletom, pablo, david.


51 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Thanks for weighing in on this, Charley

    I do not understand why when someone with more money is stupid, mean spirited, or breaks the rules they walk – but the little guy takes a chop to the throat. A post like this one, though, is at least a push in the direction of accountability. I appreciate that, and maybe public shaming of this sort, that says “douchebag” not “Mr. Moneybags” will, at least some of the time, make a difference.

  2. There's a hole in a Whole Foods

    Whole Foods does well in my town. I barely buy anything there, but when I got the cheese upsold to me, it was expensive, being clothbound New England cheddar. I can read from Andrew Hart’s face (he being a Mackey employee in Wayland) that his boss’ eschewal of our Supreme Court-approved Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act makes his life miserable, although Andy knows how to record his own quality musical compositions onto compact disc.

  3. Whole Check Market/Bread and Circus

    Being the old fart that I am, I still think of the local branches of “Whole Check Market” (that’s what my friends and I have always called them, because it takes a whole paycheck to shop there) as “Bread and Circus” outlets under new management.

    I figure the “new management” explains the offensive and moronic comments from the CEO, while I think of “the folks who stock the shelves and cash you out ” as the same B&C people I always loved.

    By the way, my family buys almost everything “special” we need (except fresh fish) from a mix of Trader Joe’s and Stop & Shop (depending on the weekly special at S&S).

    Maybe if Mr. Mackey wasn’t such an a-hole, he would be more able to see that Trader Joe’s is running circles around Whole Check in providing premium product at cost-conscious prices. My wife and I have felt, for years, that Whole Check simply doesn’t care about peons like us. Mr. Mackey’s comments reinforce that perception.

  4. Yes

    Do you boycott and punish a corporation which is probably mostly not made of insufferable idiots –certainly not the folks who stock the shelves and cash you out — because their CEO is a flamingly offensive [jerkwad]?

    Yes. Here’s my problem. They just bought out the local Foodmaster in my neighborhood. My family doesn’t own a car. Grocery by bus is awful. So, end of the day, will my righteous indignation result in me shopping elsewhere? Maybe a little bit, but Peapod and Boston Organics will only get me so far.

    • Zip Car

      We don’t own a car but we can get all our shopping done in 90 minutes with a Zip Car…combination of Whole Foods and S&S/Shaws. We use Peapod, too, and pay the $6 or $7 delivery.

    • Your bank account

      might have something to say about shopping at Whole Foods…

      What a ripoff that place is.

      • Not always

        Like any grocery chain, WF has “better value” items than S&S, et. al. Funny, their produce is often cheaper than the equivalent product at Shaws, like organic apples.

        We’re lucky, we can walk to a couple of different stores, but that gives us the opportunity to compare prices and, don’t forget, quality and value.

  5. Missing the point

    The CEO’s complaint is not about any particular level of benefits, it’s about the loss of freedom brought on by O’Care, in this case, a business’s freedom to design and implement a health care plan for its employees. One may argue the merits of which system is better, but there is no denying the loss.

    Not everyone feels government-run healthcare is a good thing.

    • Feedom to design and implement a health care plan?

      Or freedom to just not offer one?

      • Both

        That’s the point.

        WF’s health plan, as currently implemented, is extremely popular with their employees, is it not? ObamaCare is forcing modifications and imposing mandates.

        • Is it not?

          It probably is more popular than the available alternatives, yes. That bar couldn’t be much lower.

        • they pay 100%

          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.

          More info here

          • There's the rub

            “High deductible”. That means big fat out of pocket costs for the workers. The PPACA requires some preventative things be provided “free”, or more accurately, rolled into the cost of insurance.

            IOW, Mackey is used to providing his folks with cut-rate insurance that doesn’t cover health maintenance, only catastrophe. Very libertarian! But not especially healthy.

            • HSA

              And if you read the details he gives his employees an “HSA” account with $1,800.00 this amount rolls over if you don’t use it.

              A friend of my is an emergency room doctor in Canada – he tells me stories of people showing up at 1.00am for an emergency Viagra pill – the only reason they do this is because they aren’t paying for the visit.

              Watch what happens to drugs when they transition from prescription to over the counter – the price crashes – because the market takes over.

              We don’t care what something costs when we are not paying for it.

            • Only your opinion

              Let me get this straight…your opinion of the goodness of WF’s health plan trumps how WF employees feel about.

              I don’t think having a crappy health insurance plan gets you onto any list of “Best Places to Work.” Show me some evidence that WF employees are bitching about it.

              • Evidence

                Those “Best Places to Work” lists are pretty bogus. While totally horrible organizations usually don’t find their way on such lists, I don’t think you can take too much away from the exact ranking in lists like this.

                You can get more honest assesments from employee point of view from sites as as


                You can see that many people do like working there but you definitely can find people who complain about the healthcare. It only makes sense that a high deductible low-premium plan would appeal to young people with no health problems but not to those who actually need significant healthcare.

                • Well gee, everyone's about average

                  Wegmans gets a 3.5, same as WF, and Trader Joe’s a 3.8. Walmart was 2.9, Home Depot 3.2, Lowes 3.2, Krogers 2.9, Big Y 2.9, Shaws 2.7, S&S 2.9…sensing a pattern.

                  For comparison…UPS 3.2, IBM 3.2, Pfizer 3.1, Fidelity 3.3, Ford 3.5, Exxon Mobil 3.4, Liberty Mutual 3.2, Disney 3.6, US Dept of Ag 3.6, NASA 3.9, Waste Management 2.8.

                  • That's right

                    What do you expect anyway? Just as with the “Best Places to Work” list, you should take these numbers and rankings with a bag of salt. Where the magazine beauty contest lists tend to gloss over bad aspects of the companies they include, sites such as glassdoor may have an unrepresentative sample of bad reviews because unhappy employees may be more likely to post opinions than average employees. However, you can see actual comments by employees, which usually provide a lot more insight than made up ratings.

                • Glass door

                  is subject to severe selection bias, and so it doesn’t seem like a reasonable measure.

              • Here you go

                A former WFM employee writes:

                For low-wage workers at least, high deductible insurance plans don’t make you spend your money more wisely, they make you not get healthcare when you need it!

                There are more here. Sample:

                I used to work at WFM and I used to be a licensed insurance agent. Calling their health insurance plan “affordable” is a little misleading. The plan costs a non-smoking “team member” $10 a paycheck. There’s a $2,000 prescription drug deductible that must be met before the company covers drug claims. There’s a $6,000 max out-of-pocket for all other medical expenses. The company does provide a “Personal Wellness Card” based on service hours. That can roll over, but unless the “team member” has been there for 10,000 service hours it doesn’t add up to too much. Perhaps $1,200 or $2,000 a year. So one would have to hope they don’t use it for several years so they could cover the deductibles. The drug deductible resets every year, so in essence, there is no prescription drug coverage. Considering most employees make $10-$15 an hour, one incident could put that person in considerable financial stress. It’s not anything more than a catastrophe plan. It’s good if the employee suffered a brain trauma, but not much else.

                • Well, that's how an HSA works

                  It is a high deductible/catastrophic plan with a spending account attached to it…employees spend “out of pocket,” subsidized by the employer’s cash contribution to the HSA, for the deductible.

                  And $10 a paycheck? $520 a year? Or maybe $260 if paid bi-weekly. As I’ve been lectured before by all those folks who wish to tax me, “that’s 2 lattes a week!”

                  And in the list of complaints, I found only a couple beefs about the health coverage. Not prima facie evidence that WF’s plan sucks.

                  If you really want to take it in the neck, try being self-employed, like me.

                  • $1,800.00 is a pretty good 'HSA' amount

                    I also offer my employees the same sort of plan but with 1K/2K deductible and a 500/1000 HRA account – only about 1/2 of them use the total amount. I lower their premiums with what isn’t spent.

                    I find this policy costs me $5.00/hour per employee.

                    I did have an accident with 50K of bills the plan covered everything except $750.00, but this was out of pocket as a majority stockholder in a a corporation can’t offer a HRA.

        • Sponging from responsible employers and the government

          Exploitative “libertarian” approaches like that offered by Whole Foods and Walmart essentially sponge money from responsible employers who provide reasonable coverage and from the government, who often ends up paying (through welfare and other subsidies) the much higher costs that these exploitative plans pass to their workers.

          The “high-deductable” plans we’re talking about expose already-struggling workers to exorbitantly high health care costs. One result is that those workers either defer care until they need far more expensive treatment in the ER, or they receive care and then stiff the provider — raising rates for everybody. All too many of these employers end up paying their workers so little that they end up still needing additional support from the government to make ends meet.

          The net result is that these unscrupulously selfish employers (like Whole Foods and Walmart) effectively take wealth from other companies (in the form of higher insurance premiums, higher tax rates, and higher health care provider rates) and put it in their pocket — using their workers as pawns that enable their plundering. It’s no wonder such employers are so resistant to organized labor — empowered workers would stop the gravy train in its tracks.

          • Sponging?

            That’s specious logic. It’s a competitive world and employers do what they need to do to stay in the game, satisfy their customer, hire competitively, be profitable, make money for their shareholders, and survive. Walmart and WF do all this despite the grocery and big-box merchandising businesses having notoriously low margins.

            As roark has mention above, WF’s HSA allowance covers the deducible, and gives the employee incentives to stay healthy and roll the allowance over. WF employees apparently love this plan.

            It’s government that sponges. They make nothing and by definition add zero to GDP. Their only source of revenue is us.

            • You really think that governmental expenditures...

              …contribute nothing to GDP? Wow – defense spending alone is positively massive, but in your world, it’s all nothing. What color is the sky there?

              • Not according to John Maynard Keynes

                and every other economist who lived. In macroeconomics, GDP = C+I+G+X+M. Look it up.

                Where do you think those defense dollars come from? A unicorn farm? They come as a deduction from C. C+G is constant except for the proceeds from debt and the printing/coining of money (and some other trivial fed banking mechanisms.)

                Sure, all those defense dollar have a multiplier effect, but don’t forget to subtract out the dollar removed from private hands, and those lost multiplier effects.

          • You can't have it both ways

            Capital, these days, expects a certain return on investment — otherwise it just goes off to invest in something else. So either Whole Foods has lower prices or it treats its workers better. Given the market, you’re not going to have much luck finding both.

            Crappy food, i.e., corn-fed beef, synthetic edibles made from corn and soy, and stuff sweetened with corn syrup, is cheap. If we are going to eat less animal product — one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint, then it would be nice to stop the marketing of cheap CAFO-meat. In fact a problem is that meat is too cheap and so we eat way too much of it.

  6. Sopping your values can be complicated

    I dislike Mackey’s politics and found both his “socialism” and “fascism” comments offensive and just plain stupid. Name-calling at that level is simply inappropriate. And in his case inaccurate.

    However, from what I read and hear, Whole Foods is also good to its employees. They do offer healthcare to full-time workers, benefits are better than average, and executive pay is capped at 19 times average full-time wage.

    Meanwhile, a company like Amazon with its more liberal CEO (at least when it comes to gay marriage) appears to be seriously abusing its warehouse workers.

    Shopping based on progressive values can be complicated.

    • Pizza?

      Why is it that the corporate pizza seems to generate right-wing CEOs? Is there something about serving ketchup atop cardboard that drives you to become an ignoranus?

      Fortunately, we have plenty of mom and pop shops, so we don’t need to go anywhere near Papa John’s.

      • Is Papa Gino's still cool?

        And Wicked — in Dedham and Mashpee — makes a top-level gluten-free pizza.

        sabutai   @   Fri 18 Jan 8:25 PM
    • Whole Foods is an interesting case

      Mackey has been accused of union busting several times, but at the same time offers compensation packages that are competitive with union shops. It ultimately boils down to control issues – If management wants to fire someone without cause, they can. It creates a low level anxiety among the hourly workers that ultimately causes what CEOs like Mackey refer to as “a healthy rate of turnover.” I’ve been on many an executive conference call with conventional grocery management types and keeping folks under their thumb is a very large part of the business model.

  7. I have a simple solution.

    Go Coop!

    Capitalism owned, operated and shopped by the actual stakeholders (whom Mackey loves to give lipservice to, but discounts in practice) rather than owned by Wall Street. I have found no better market-based solution to our current culture of “share price uber-alles” than the co-op business model. There are 100s of variations on the model, but ultimately it always boils down to 1 stakeholder = 1 vote rather than the ability of one shareholder to purchase control.

    Full disclosure – I run part of a successful co-op grocery and practice what I preach.

    • Cool idea

      What, would you say, is the minimum participation for something like that? Lowell is doing some interesting things in talking about urban food security – a fairly successful farmer’s market and urban farming program – and that sounds like an interesting proposal, at the least.

      • It really depends.

        There are “co-ops” that are nothing more than buying clubs with 20 folks splitting a bag of rice, case of butter, etc… Those are pretty easy to organize and get rolling once you can meet a wholesaler’s minimum order.

        To open a store, you need a pretty signifigant financial commitment from community members to provide the capital. A small group could do it for $500K, but to join the NCGA and get all of those benefits, it is around $3mil.

        Our store in Williamstown, Wild Oats, started as a club in 1982, but now we are a $4.5 million/yr medium sized store. We compete head to head with Stop and Shop, Price Chopper, BigY and soon, SuperWalmart when they open in March. Our situtation is one of a small town store, but there are plenty of big co-ops in cities. Minneapolis/St. Paul has several stores well over $30mil year.

    • Which co-op?

      If you believe in it, I’d like to compare it to grocery chains.

      • This is just a self study but...

        … last year grocery coops did over $1.4 billion in business. It’s not huge, but its bigger than most regional chains.

        We are now considered a major player in the grocery game and have considerable buying power, etc… But because our mission in not to squeeze as many pennies out of consumers as possible, but rather to create a sustainable business, co-ops tend to be very good corporate citizens when you do an apples to apples comparison.

  8. Boycotts and picket lines

    Charlie asks, “Do you boycott and punish a corporation…?”

    Boycotts and picket lines are a time honored tactic in the history of struggles for social and economic justice.

    I draw a sharp distinction, however, between an organized boycott with specific demands, as opposed to personal gestures of disgust.

    The latter are fair game, of course, but rarely sufficient to effect change. Has anyone called for the former in this case? Who, and what are the demands?

    A boycott is a collective act in the service of a particular goal. Not shopping at WF because the CEO is a jerk is a personal aesthetic statement. Not knocking that but the two things are very different.

    • Best comment on the thread

      Folks should feel free to not shop at Whole Foods, but unless there part of a coordinated program to effect change, you’re not boycotting.

  9. I hate Whole Foods

    For all that they try to attract a liberal, organic crowd, they are SEVERELY overpriced, bad to their workers, and generally kind of awful corporate players.

    If you want better prices, unique food, and a company that treats its workers awesome, go to Trader Joe’s.

    • Bad to their workers?

      Whole Foods ranked 24th on the 100 Best Places to Work list. Trade Joe’s is not on the list. Wegman’s and Stu Leonards are 3rd and 18th, respectively.

    • I'm not so sure about Trader Joe's and employees

      TJ’s is a notoriously secret company. They pay slightly above union rate in California (which means they pay pretty well). But a few years ago a pretty thinly researched article made the claim that the starting salary was in the 40′s or even up to the 50′s without any basis in reality. TJ’s and academics who love them have let a very specific southern california fact be misconstrued to reflect the reality across the country.

      TJ’s may have an effective and engaging human resource policy, but like Whole Foods, most of Shaw’s and Wegman’s, their workers have to negotiate as individuals and will be summarily fired if they try to act in concert. Furthermore, by keeping wages in the supermarket sector low, they reduce wages in the retail sector overall.

      • Interesting

        Thanks for the background.

        For what it’s worth, wages are typically set by the market, not by the employer, unless there’s some special monopolistic circumstance. Employers can no more dictate wages than manufacturers can dictate prices.

  10. Mackey raises an interesting point

    In fairness to the CEO of Whole Foods, part (though not nearly all) of fascism is an unholy marriage between corporations and the government. Mackey describes this as the government controlling the means of production, but I would describe it as the means of production controlling the government. Corporations gain disproportionate influence in government and then use it to fulfill their goals.

    When you look at it that way, a government mandate – with no public option – could morph into fascism, especially in this era of lack of anti-trust enforcement, which would lead to less competition. Can you imagine if health insurance became even less competitive? The mandate to purchase service takes away all pricing power and control we have over the corporations.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not in the Tea Party camp who believes that we should be free to die in the streets from cancer. I’m just not yet convinced that the HCA is the end-all, be-all in terms of achieving the goal of universal, seamless, and transparent health coverage. I think that ultimately, we need to go to a Canada-style system which is funded a bit more incrementally (sales tax instead of a $1,200 monthly check to a corporation), one which is so transparent and seamless in life that we don’t have to worry about it, and one which is accountable to democratically elected officials rather than to shareholders.

    Remember, Obamacare is a Republican plan. Don’t ever forget that.

    • Why burden business with health care anyway?

      Who really wants businesses to be responsible for providing health care anyway? Certainly not the businesses – it’s just extra cost to them and makes them less competitive. Certainly not the workers – most of whom are unhappy with the plans available to them. That leaves the corporate health care industry (who stand to make huge profits) and anti-socialism fanatics as the likely suspects behind the mandate. It’s long past time we dropped this charade and switched to universal medicare / single payer.

  11. "socially responsible corporation" is, by definition, a contradiction.

    Corporations are legal mandated to maximize returns for their investors and can be held legally liable if they fail to do so. Any social responsible must be second to this.

    • Horseapples

      There are plenty of organizations who manage to “make the business case” that being kind to their employees, their customers, and society as a whole is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. There are even accounting ways to “convert” it to money — corporate goodwill, that sort of thing.

  12. There's no loss of guaranteed freedom.

    BostonShepherd, there is no absolute right to design a compensation package exactly as you see fit – minimum wage for example as a mandate. Whenever I hear that ACA takes away freedoms, I go through the constitutional list and come up empty.

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