The politics of business is getting perilous for CEOs trying to traverse the ideological battle between capitalism and socialism.
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is under fire for offering free-market solutions to health care while GE CEO Jeff Immelt is benefiting from adopting a strategy in which the government is his partner.
Indeed, the contrasting approaches to Obama’s political agenda offered by Mackey and Immelt illustrate the risks and benefits of dealing with the president’s statist policies.
Whole Foods – the organic grocery retailer – is in the midst of a public relations crisis stemming from a commentary on health care reform by Mackey.
In his strongly worded opinion piece, “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare,” published in the Wall Street Journal, Mackey rejects Obama’s proposal because it would result in “a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system.”
As an alternative, Mackey recommends a series of free-market ideas, including high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs), which his company has adopted.
Mackey also seeks to reduce health care demand by encouraging personal responsibility, “with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.”
Mackey’s push for personal responsibility and a free-market solution is not an altruist endeavor, but good business. Mackey built Whole Foods by capitalizing on consumers seeking healthier food, and now he senses another opportunity: in this case, the opportunity to profit from selling foods that help combat obesity and chronic diseases.
Prior to the publication of his commentary, Mackey told the Wall Street Journal he wants the company “to encourage customers and employees to attack the nation's obesity rate, the prevalence of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”
He envisions meeting that goal by increasing his company’s offering of healthy foods and to educate consumers on having better diets by initiating a Healthy Eating Education program in his stores.
Obviously, this business model could prosper under policies that encourage individual incentives to improve diets.
Mackey’s views spurred outrage among Obama’s left-wing supporters. A Facebook group dedicated to boycotting Whole Foods was created in record time, numerous blogs railed against Mackey and there were protests outside stores in several locations.