John Mackey: Enlightened, Annoying Capitalist

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is everywhere! Why? Because he owns a hippie grocery store chain, is himself hippieish, and also he is a conservative libertarian dude! That makes the things he has to say newsworthy!

Mackey wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed on health care reform, because his company successfully switched all their employees to cheap, high-deductible plans, and he was pretty sure this solved the health care reform mess, no government help needed.

High-deductible health plans are great at making health care consumers more cost-conscious. They are also a pretty great way to make sure low-income people continue to accrue medical debt and choose not to receive basic medical care because it is too expensive!

So, whatever, business owner thinks he knows better than liberal government. Breaking: a CEO has conservative beliefs!

But this apparently really upset the rich hippies who shop at his grocery store for rich hippies. And upsetting rich hippies is totally bad-ass and cool, which is why hipster libertarian magazine Reason stuck Mackey on the cover of their January 2010 issue. Their interview, conducted by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch (and we should just disclose now that we personally love Nick and Matt and just about everyone we've ever met from Reason which publishes some really great stuff), is about how this rebel capitalist is playing by his own rules and ruffling a few feathers. Here is a line from the third graf: "It was as if a bomb had gone off in the arugula line." Matt, Nick, you are worldly men: are there lines for specific produce items at the grocery stores you frequent?

Anyway! He comes off as, basically, a guy who got into health food in the '70s and then parlayed that into a lucrative business selling "real food" to college educated well-off people. He has some talk about "conscious capitalism," which doesn't sound like "compassionate conservatism" so much as "regular capitalism with better PR." And he used to be a liberal but then he started making money and he read Atlas Shrugged and suddenly it all made sense! And he is a political independent! Except, obviously, that means he is a libertarian, which is, still, a wing of the Republican party, even if they pretend it isn't, because it's still primarily about not ever paying taxes for anything while feeling very high-minded about it.

And now we have the big New Yorker profile. By Nick Paumgarten, no less!

And Mackey is the older, hippier Dov Charney: creator of hipster/yuppie fetish objects who says his corporation can be a tool for good while busting unions and promising that the enlightened self-interest of one daddy-figure CEO is way more valuable for the worker than silly old "collective bargaining."

Mackey pays himself a dollar and pays his employees well. Charney compensates his garment workers really well. And their own success and beneficence has convinced them that the robber barons must not have been so bad, and the government is the true source of our misery.

But at least Charney advocates for immigration reform and gay rights when not touching employees semi-consensually. Mackey? He thinks he's a worldly liberal guy because he sold tofu and beer in the same Austin organic grocery store in 1980, because he enjoys hiking, because his wife is a fucking Sufi Mystic or some such complete horseshit.

But he is a global warming-denying (well he was just reading some book, see, and all he'll say, see, is that the scientific consensus is unclear) right-wing old businessman like any other, only worse, because his adolescent love affair with the Ayn Rand books that convince teenage boys that they're secretly the masters of the universe happened after he made his first million. Now he's qualified to say Keynes was "proven" wrong about everything, as the financial sector collapses under the weight of decades of Milton Friedman.

And he's out there op-edding against health care reform, and getting a shit-ton of press for doing so, because as long as everyone in America is his employee, they will get pretty ok coverage. Not great, mind you, but pretty ok.

The Era of the Cool Capitalist cannot end soon enough.