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Whole Foods CEO Welcomes Climate Change, Warns of Fascism

"Ethical vegan" John Mackey dishes on Obamacare, labor unions, and government meddling.

| Fri Jan. 18, 2013 7:01 AM EST

MJ: You are known to be a bit of a climate change skeptic. In your book you write that "some scientists estimate that the United States now absorbs as much carbon emissions as it emits." Your source is a paper by the American Enterprise Institute, which has received funding from the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil. Do you really consider AEI a credible source?

JM: I believe that it is very important to read a variety of viewpoints, including those outside of our own ideological biases. Regarding carbon sequestration, you might want to look at the research by Fan and Gloor (Science, vol. 282: pp 442-446 [subscription required]). This study indicated that the forested region in North America between 15 and 51 degrees north latitude was calculated to have a carbon sink that can annually remove CO2 from the air equal to all the carbon produced from fossil fuel consumption in both the United States and Canada.

"I would hate to see billions of people condemned to remain in poverty because of climate change fears."

Contrary to what has been written about me, I am not a "climate change skeptic." Climate change is clearly occurring, and based on what I have read global temperatures have increased about 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 150 years. We've been in a gradual warming trend since the ending of the "Little Ice Age" in about 1870, and climate change is perfectly natural and not necessarily bad. In general, most of humanity tends to flourish more when global temperatures are in a warming trend and I believe we will be able to successfully adapt to gradually rising temperatures. What I am opposed to is trying to stop virtually all economic progress because of the fear of climate change. I would hate to see billions of people condemned to remain in poverty because of climate change fears.

MJ: So do you think the climate change law that passed the House in 2009 and stalled in the Senate went too far?

JM: Yes, I believe that it did.

MJ: Do you still think Whole Foods' model for medical care is a viable alternative to Obamacare?

JM: Whole Foods Market has an excellent health care plan which is very popular with our team members. I don't think Whole Foods' model is a complete solution to our health care problems in the United States, but it could serve as part of the solution. While I would personally prefer a completely free market in health care, I recognize that isn't politically possible at this time. Therefore, my favorite national solution is to copy what Switzerland is doing. They have achieved universal coverage while keeping their health insurance market private and competitive, and subsidizing the cost of health insurance for their less affluent citizens. Given a choice of competitive private plans, more than 50 percent of Swiss citizens choose a high-deductible plan similar to what Whole Foods offers. I believe the Swiss health care system is far superior to what we are now creating under health care reform, and I would urge our political leaders to move toward a similar model.

"Free-enterprise capitalism works much better than either socialism or some type of fascism…which is where I believe we are headed now." 


MJ: I don't understand why you prefer free-market health care system. Just look at the experience of Whole Foods. In 2010, well before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, you told your employees that the cost of Whole Foods' plan as a percentage of sales had increased by 60 percent in seven years. That's a staggering increase.

JM: Your assumption is that the United States had a free-market health care system back then. It did not. The health care system, even prior to "reform," was one of the most highly regulated sectors in our economy, and it lacked both meaningful competition or a functional price system. I believe we need to radically deregulate our system to let markets, innovation, and competition work effectively, while creating a strong safety net. I believe free-enterprise capitalism works much, much better than either socialism or some type of fascism where government controls and directs business—which is where I believe we are headed now. 


MJ: How should we fix America's budget crisis?

JM: The deficit problems can be completely explained by too much governmental spending. Spending at all levels has significantly increased in the past 12 years under both presidents, Bush and Obama. We could bring the annual federal budget into the black within just 10 years by simply limiting increases in spending to 2 percent per year. No additional taxes are required and I believe taxes are already too high in the United States. For example, our corporate income taxes are already the highest in the world.

MJ: That's a fairly radical position when you consider that the United States ranks behind just about every other industrialized country in per-capita government spending. Subtract the obscene sums that we spend on our military, and we're a libertarian paradise.

"One thing we do agree on is that we spend way too much money on the military…I believe our government should stop trying to police the world."

JM: What I said about eliminating the deficit within 10 years is true—see [this analysis]. I also don't believe my position on governmental spending is radical at all. You are comparing the United States to Europe today in per-capita spending and Europe is declining even faster than the United States is currently declining. They are not the appropriate model to compare against. A better comparison is to compare our current per-capita spending to what the United States has historically spent, when our country was growing the fastest and prosperity was rapidly increasing throughout the society. At the turn of the 20th century governmental spending was only 7 percent of GDP. Now we are spending 40 percent, the highest it has ever been with the exception of World War II. (See this for a quick overview.) One thing we do agree on is that the we spend way too much money on the military. I believe that our government should stop trying to police the world and that it could protect the American people for a small fraction of the money that we spend today.

MJ: Compared with other CEOs, you have, to your credit, been very transparent about your views on business and politics. Why don't more business leaders speak their minds openly instead of hiding behind front groups?

JM: I'm an enthusiastic proponent of the First Amendment. I believe in a vibrant democracy that encourages freedom of speech. I therefore believe business leaders should speak out openly when they believe it is appropriate to do so. Unfortunately most do not, for fear of attacks by the media and by various pressure groups and special interests. These attacks create a "chilling effect" that I believe is harmful to the greater good. I very much believe in creating organizations and societies that are based upon transparency, honesty, authenticity, caring, innovation, and collaboration. Our planetary resources may be limited, but our human creativity is limitless.

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