John Mackey, “Whole Foolishness”, and a Microcosm of the Green Movement


When it comes to healthcare, the adage “opinions are like behinds: everyone has one” is an understatement. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is no exception. His two cents on the matter have garnered a lot of attention recently: first, through his op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), and, second, through a subsequent damage-control-type interview (also with the WSJ). What can we glean from the situation as it pertains to sustainable business?

Mackey’s op-ed, entitled “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare”, delineates smaller-government, decreased-national-deficit solutions to the nation’s healthcare woes. It lists eight reforms that would, it says, lower everyone’s healthcare costs. These solutions include equalizing tax laws for employer-provided and individually-owned insurance, allowing intra-state competition among insurance companies, mandating cost transparency to consumers, reforming Medicare, and promoting charitable donations for lower-income individuals.

According to an article posted on, the op-ed infuriated a whole bunch of folks, some of whom protested it. Their beef appears to have been the following quotes (among others):

“….How can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter? Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter.” (Mackey goes on to describe his perspective on socialized medicine, Whole Foods’ vote-based method of choosing what employee healthcare benefits, and the role of self-care and lifestyle in attaining good health.)

As the back-and-forth between Mackey protesters and supporters spiraled downward, some deemed it “Whole Foolishness.” Shortly thereafter, Mackey somewhat cleared the air during an interview with the WSJ. He reportedly said he wrote the op-ed in order to foster a constructive debate on healthcare (in response to Obama’s call for suggestions on the issue).

Most of us could argue “for” or “against” Mackey’s healthcare views endlessly. The importance of the “Whole Foolishness” situation to this discussion, however, is how it pertains to green business. I believe the situation underscores several relevant issues. Take, for example, the fact that, while sustainable businesspersons are often stereotyped as being politically left-leaning, Mackey is clearly not. I would argue that this highlights the heterogeneous nature of any reform movement, including the sustainability movement. Opinions really are like behinds: everyone has one, and two usually aren’t identical, no matter what else their owners have in common. If we didn’t view the issues at hand as being on two opposite poles (i.e. environmentalism is for lefties and conservatism is for righties), perhaps we’d make progress a bit more quickly.

The implications of the “Whole Foolishness” situation are numerous; how do you think it pertains to a critique of sustainable business?

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.

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