Back on August 11, John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) published a column in the Wall Street Journal laying out his more conservative perspective on how to fix the health care system. While the whole thing is worth reading, he summarized his view this way:
we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction—toward less government control and more individual empowerment.
Long-time readers will likely notice that this statement is pretty close to my views on how to fix food and agriculture as well: less subsidies, grants, and government intervention; more freedom, cleaner bureaucracies, and sane regulations that let entrepreneurs and individuals make their own choices. In any case, I don’t really want to talk about that, Mackey’s proposals or the health care system, as I doubt I would have anything to say that hasn’t been said already.
What I want to talk about is what happened after this column was published. As I understand it, though I haven’t taken the time to really explore, the column prompted a massive backlash among the crunchy left, Whole Foods customers in particular, who felt that Mackey’s more libertarian take on things was a betrayal of their and Whole Foods’ perceived liberal philosophy. This backlash included calls to boycott Whole Foods in punishment for Mackey’s views.
I find this a bit frightening. On one hand, it’s reasonable for customers who choose to support a business based partly on ethical reasoning (like Whole Foods, or an organic farm) to want their dollars to go to similar-minded folks. My opinion of MU is certainly influenced by their willingness to take money from biotech companies. On the other hand, as a business owner who is pretty open about his views, I run the risk of annoying and/or alienating customers if my views don’t align with theirs. Is it a better business practice to fly under the radar and just offer the product?
Personally, I can’t do that. One of my core beliefs is that education, information, and opinion are the foundation of an effective society and economy, and that means exchanging ideas. I want customers to understand how farming and food appear through our eyes, and I love it when anyone wants to discuss those ideas. It seems deeply un-American to me to set a precedent that businesspeople have less freedom of speech than others. That being said, it’s certainly worth considering the context and nature of how you exercise that speech, which is why I do my speaking mostly on this forum where folks can take it or leave it independent of other factors. I leave politics behind at the market unless someone specifically asks. But if readers and customers ever disagree with something I write or say here or elsewhere, I hope they will simply say so, considering the value of the discussion higher than the value of conformity.