Another day, another -ism

By Denis Storey


Heard an interesting bit on National Public Radio on the way in to work this morning.

(Yeah, I know, we can argue about the source later...)

The Morning Edition host was chatting with John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, who was plugging his new book, of course.

His campaign is one of a corporate consciousness and how businesses are inherently about more than simply “maximizing profits." He also touches on how business owners can keep multiple stakeholders happy without sacrificing the interests of other stakeholders, i.e., investors, employees, vendors and customers.

It stuck not only because it made sense but because it touched on something a couple of co-workers and I discussed last week in the office: the concept of profits, motives and consequences.

Specifically, our discussion delved into the concept of wellness with regard to carriers and employers in that promoting wellness sounds altruistic, but at the end of the day, it's simply another way for both carriers and employers to maximize their own profit by holding down utilization costs. As Mackey said during his NPR interview, that’s a “win-win-win” for everyone involved in that transaction. So does the motive matter?

But I digress…Mackey’s interview was better than most in the mornings, but it was this bombshell, dropped at the very end to tease the next day’s conclusion, that will almost certainly garner the headlines.

“Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism,” Mackey explained, talking about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they control it, and that’s what’s happening with these reforms.”

Never mind that the coverage to follow will be an unfair representation of the entire interview, which I found thoughtful and forward thinking.

Now I never paid much attention to Mackey before this morning and have only rarely shopped at his stores, so I wasn’t sure what to expect this morning. Sure I assumed he was some lefty nature-lover, but he obviously turned out to be a pretty hard-core libertarian (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

So I appreciate his desire to hit the right classification here, but just once I like us to have a single debate without racism, sexism or some anachronistic political system brought into the mix. He’s right in that it’s not socialism—that’s what killed the public option. But fascism seems like a bit of an overreach as well, and it makes it difficult to take him seriously after that.

All of that being said, I think what we’ve found time and again is that if we don’t police our own activities and behaviors, we’ll find a market (or government) that will be happy to come in and do it for us.

That’s what we’re seeing with reform. We have needed some kind of reform for decades now—ever since Nixon started that conversation so long ago—and we discovered that if we didn’t do it ourselves, the other guy will be more than happy to. We’re seeing it with guns now, too, with the latest string of shooting pushing public opinion (the market) into forcing the feds into making changes.

No rights—or markets—are without limits, self-imposed or otherwise. Sure, speech is free, but the Supreme Court ruled years ago that you can’t stand up and yell “fire!” in a crowded theater.

Drunk driving’s another great example. Like the sexism and smoking on Mad Men, it used to be no big deal. In fact, North by Northwest features a drunken Cary Grant in one of the funniest attempted murders on screen. It would horrify today’s teetotaling audiences.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this other than to say it's better we make changes than have someone make them for us. Or, as I used to tell me ex-wife, “If you don’t like how I do the laundry (or the dishes, or the lawn) you should probably do it yourself.”