As libertarians and other free market types say, if there is a market (demand) for a product, there is money to be made. This is true for Whole Foods, which started as a trendy, yet more organic, market. It has grown into a big business. It appeals to young health conscious people, and also aging hipsters. Imagine a store where evangelicals and liberals mingle while having the same interests…in food! Yet, many are surprised to find out that the CEO is a libertarian, likes Ayn Rand, knows what an Austrian economist is, yet also is environmentally conscious, and into various spiritualisms. Libertarians would say that a person who cut his own path may be wrong to cut it that way, but that he should be free to do it.
The New Yorker (linked above) took some time to profile the CEO–John Mackey–in a recent issue. It details the rise of the store, as well as some of the ideology behind its creation–health. Who would have thought people would be concerned about the food they eat and how that might contribute to their health, or quality of life? Yet, it is also a sometimes critical article about the personality and thoughts of its CEO.
The article details the rise of Whole Foods to a large business (some say corporation). And anti-corporatists have a problem with it. But, Mackey is not your typical libertarian (or maybe he is…he has the typical libertarian interest in science fiction. Perhaps he is a Trekkie, or is it a Trekker, but I digress):
During this period, Mackey sought succor in spiritual practice. He engaged a friend, a follower of the Czech transpersonal psychologist Stanislav Grof, to guide him through a therapeutic session of holotropic breathing. “I had this very powerful session, very powerful. It lasted about two hours,” Mackey said in an inspirational CD set he released last year called “Passion and Purpose: The Power of Conscious Capitalism.” “I was having a dialogue with what I would define as my deeper self, or my higher self.” He had a pair of epiphanies, one having to do with severed relationships that needed healing. The other was that “if I wanted to continue to do Whole Foods, there couldn’t be any part of my life that was secretive or hidden or that I’d be embarrassed [about] if people found out about it. I had to let go of all of that,” he said. “I’m this public figure now.”
But this public figure, who tries to be discrete, thinks of himself as a sort of hippie libertarian:
His vows of discretion apparently allow for a great deal of latitude. He talks openly about his fixations and eccentricities—most of them, anyway. (“I am not going to talk about my sex life,” he told me, without my having asked him to.) His blend of guile and guilelessness is peculiar. “I no longer drink alcohol around journalists,” he said. He worries that he reveals too much. He can’t help but speak his mind, out of which spring confounding ideas and conventionally irreconcilable contradictions. The man who has perhaps done as much as anyone to bring the natural-foods movement from the crunchy fringe into the mainstream is also a vocal libertarian, an orthodox free-marketer, an admirer of Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and Ayn Rand. In the 2008 Presidential election, he voted for Bob Barr—Ron Paul wasn’t on the ballot.
The right-wing hippie is a rare bird, and it’s fair to say that most of Whole Foods’ shoppers have trouble conceiving of it. They tend to be of a different stripe, politically and philosophically, and they were either oblivious or dimly aware of Mackey’s views, until the moment, this summer, when Mackey published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal asserting that the government should not be in the business of providing health care. This was hardly a radical view, and yet in the gathering heat of the health-care debate the op-ed, virally distributed via the left-leaning blogs, raised a fury. In no time, liberals were organizing boycotts of Whole Foods. (Right-wingers staged retaliatory “buy-cotts.”) Mackey had thrown tinder on the long-smoldering suspicion, in some quarters, that he was a profiteer in do-gooder disguise, and that he, and therefore Whole Foods, was in some way insincere or even counterfeit. No one can say that he hasn’t brought it on himself.