Whole Foods: Real World Libertarian Solutions

Locally, we are going to be starting a series of articles with the common theme of “Libertarian Solutions” before too long. I just read a great example of suitable material from the Harvard Crimson. Will Johnston profiled Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey, but the emphasis was not on his business success but on his social and environmental awareness while achieving that success. The writer raised an interesting issue:

Mackey’s rapid ascent to minor celebrity status””fueled by his company’s even faster climbing share price””has provoked a flurry of profiles in publications like The Economist and USA Today, all puzzling over his seemingly contradictory views. Can you have a social conscience and love the market as well? Certainly. Can you do it without falling into a contradiction? That is more difficult to answer.

The problem is that many outside of libertarian circles perceive that all of us are molded from a common Neal Boortz cast. However, Mackey handles issues differently than many outsiders might expect.

He despises unions and prides himself on having kept them out of all 183 of his company’s stores. “Instead of embracing the notion of the “˜expanding pie’ vision of capitalism””more for everyone, or win-win,” Mackey argues, “they [unions] frequently embrace the zero-sum philosophy of win-lose.” Aware that union busting is illegal, Mackey persuaded the employees in the few stores that dared to collectivize to discontinue their efforts. Mackey’s customers, mostly Volvo-driving Kerry voters, have hardly batted an eyelash, and have continued patronizing his stores. But wouldn’t their soymilk turn sour if they knew that Mackey had voted for the libertarian candidate in the last presidential election?

At this point of the article, Johnston doesn’t seem to get it:

They adhere to Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman’s famous saying that a company’s only “social obligation is to increase its profits.”

It’s pretty simple to me. If you wish to sell a product or service, you appeal to your customer base. That’s not an obligation but smart business.

Perhaps Johnston read a little more of Freidman before concluding the article, as he now starts to see the big picture:

But this is a bit of a caricature. Most libertarians, or those who lean that direction, are not counterculture anarchists, advocating public immorality and a reckless disregard for the fate of others. Sure, most of them have read Ayn Rand’s novels””perhaps even briefly fell in love with Objectivism””but, like everyone else, they realized that they were being callous pricks and soon thereafter forgot about Howard Roark. Nevertheless, what is common from Milton Friedman to John Mackey is a fervent, but tempered belief in individual choice. Importantly, liberty does not have to come at the expense of society’s plunge into an anarchic abyss; few libertarians would defend the choice of an industry to discard toxic chemicals into a river.

What libertarians do is give free range to marketplace morality, which is, as Friedman explains, “whatever”¦interests the participants, whatever they value, whatever goals they pursue.” Here the Mackey-types emerge, coming from a Twilight Zone where a love of fair trade and free markets converge. Supporting fair trade coffee and hating taxes are not contradictory attitudes

It’s a good read. Additionally, I’ll add that hating taxes didn’t seem so unpopular with the progressive crowd when I observed Lew Rockwell delivering this speech or saw the liberals lined up at the war tax protester booths.
.

posted by Stephen Gordon
  • http://www.libertyforsale.com Tim West

    but, like everyone else, they realized that they were being callous pricks….

    not all of them.

  • kaptinemo

    I still don’t care much for the condescending blanket attibution of those espousing Libertarian principles as being [i]”callous pricks”[/i]. The nation’s decline is in evidence when those who understand them the least misrepresent the founding principles of that nation as being the province of “callous pricks”. And no, I’ve only read Rand’s Anthem and have no interest in the other books. I have the basics down just fine, thank-you-very-much. The ideas were around long before she ever published one sentence, and will be long after a future generation says “Ayn who?. Leave the Randian hair-splitting and minutiae for the yeshiva; we’ve got freedoms to be won back before we can engage in such.

  • Michael Hampton

    Who’s arguing for a reckless disregard for the fate of others? I’m arguing for others to start taking responsibility for themselves.

  • graham

    To me it’s very basic: The best way an individual can help society is by helping himself. If each individual takes responsibility for his own life, that frees society of any “burdens.” Furthermore, when “force” is removed, given the free choice I think most/all of the “needy” are taken care of by groups and individuals who choose to do so.
    Is that being a “callous prick”?

  • Michael Hampton

    Absolutely. You don’t care enough about other people, you selfish bastard! You should go seize the means of production and make him produce for everyone who doesn’t want to work. And if he refuses, shoot him.

  • http://www.pnar.org Tom Blanton

    There is an article written by F. A. Hayek in 1960 titled “Why I Am Not A Conservative” that I often like to suggest to liberals and conservatives who enter the realm of libertarianism and become confused or angry when libertarians reject their cherished views. Hayek discusses conservatives, socialists and liberals in Europe which corresponds to current American conservatives, liberals and libertarians, respectively.

    See: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig6/hayek1.html

    Confusion also arises from the free market fallacy. Liberals often claim a failure of the free market when a situation arises which they deem unfair. Conservatives often defend egregious corporate excesses as fair under our free market system. Both groups don’t seem to realize that America’s economic system can hardly be described as a free market system. A better description would be corporatist or fascist.

    SEE: http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=2699

  • http://www.pnar.org Tom Blanton

    Oooops – I meant to post the above comments under the “Through The Looking Glass” thread. I meant to post here a reference to an unusal farmer here in Virginia who describes himself as a “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic farmer” who has been successful marketing “beyond organic” food directly to consumers from his farm.

    SEE: http://www.mojones.com/news/feature/2006/05/no_bar_code.html

  • Timothy West

    I think that libertarians, who at various times, have argued with me that as libertarians we must allow the torture and killing of pet animals becuase animals have no rights, and that people who get sick through no fault of their own without the means to pay for medical care should be denied care becuase it is slavery to treat them, are exactly callous pricks.

  • Timothy West

    Tom,

    thats one of the things I wish the current LP would “get”.

    They claim what we have is somehow a free market and must be defended. It’s crap. What we have is a rigged market that favors large corporations and government collusion to create laws that greatly favor favored treatment and profits not earned, but granted by out of control government, which is in turn bought off by these same corps.

  • Stephen Gordon

    First of all, there are plenty of callous libertarian pricks in the world. I’ll be clear in stating that one has the absolute right to be callous, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have an emotionally hardened or unfeeling attitude about the suffering or condition of others.

    It also makes it fair game for others to call a callous prick a callous prick. I may defend the right of a person to hate black, gay, or seven-fingered people — but it does not mean that I would do business with such a person or invite him/her into my home.

    Like most of the world, I prefer doing business with decent people — and will pay a few bucks more to do so. I’ll often spend a few bucks more to support a local business as opposed to eating at a chain restaurant or shopping at Wal-Mart.

    It looks like Whole Foods has an effective combination of not being a prick while having a concerned view of the world. They are one of the major chains I do support.

  • http://www.pnar.org Tom Blanton

    Tim,

    I think the vast majority of libertarians do get it regarding free markets – at least on some level. I strongly defend the idea of free markets when attacked by the socialists, but I always point out that since there is no free market, their complaint is not valid.

    Of course, there are some folks at CATO and even Free Market News Network that seem to think a free market exists. However, their feelings seem to be knee-jerk reactions to those who are against free markets.

    Speaking of callous pricks – there seem to be plenty of them to go around all over the spectrum. I would also include in that group libertarians that want to turn nations into “glass parking lots” and defend torture (of humans). I would note that more than a few Objectivists fall into this camp.

    I see Rand, and for that matter Milton Friedman, as having not a whole lot to do with libertarianism generally. I am far more interested in David Friedman and non-fiction authors.

  • http://www.crackerscentral.com/enjoyeverysandwich/blog.html Kirsten

    A lengthy and in-depth interview of John Mackey from last May by Sunni Maravillosa appears over at Sunni’s Salon. Unlike Johnston, Sunni, a hardcore freedom-loving woman, gets it.

  • Stephen Gordon

    Kirsten,

    I actually think that Johnston does get it. The way he wrote his article was almost like (at least in my perception) he was becoming more enlightened with each paragraph he wrote.

    I did read the interview at Sunni’s place, and think I wrote about it somewhere, too. I’d recommend that to others, too.

  • http://darianworden.tripod.com D Worden

    >”people who get sick through no fault of their own without the means to pay for medical care should be denied care becuase it is slavery to treat them”

    I’m a little confused here – being FORCED to do something against your will, no matter how noble it would be to do on your own, is slavery; simply treating someone without expecting immediate payment or voluntarily donating to a charity that helps people pay for medical care, etc. is just being a decent person. Maybe I just need some sleep, but it sounds like you are saying that libertarians often call the latter slavery, which I don’t hear too often. I don’t see it as callous to say that the former is slavery since the issue is coercion, not what you should voluntarily do as an individual.

    That being said, I agree with you 100% that “What we have is a rigged market…” and I wish more libertarians would get it. I think a lot of it is knee-jerk reactions to lefties who say corps. can only do evil and we need gov. to save us.

  • http://www.libertyforsale.com Tim West

    D,

    I’m too fucking tired. My chemo drugs are working me over big time. Maybe tomorrow.

  • Leroy

    They claim what we have is somehow a free market and must be defended. It’s crap. What we have is a rigged market that favors large corporations

    I agree. Many large corporations have the government in their back pockets and create artificial protections for themselves. I think it’s abhorrent that corporations are treated as separate “individuals” and that corporate officers are shielded from liability. In the documentary “The Corporation”, the corporation is described as exhibiting all the characteristics of a psychopath in their endless pursuit of profit without regard to anything else. It’s good to see that not all corporations are like this, with the notable example of Whole Foods, run by a fellow vegan libertarian.

    What has really alienated me from the LP and Reason is their attitude that corporations are somehow “beneficial” just because they’re not directly holding a gun to anyone’s head forcing them to buy anyone’s products. (con’t)

  • Leroy

    (continued from last post)
    However, there are truly evil corporations out there, such as Monsanto, that are putting the world’s food supply at risk with their genetic modifications to plants. Monsanto is developing a genetically altered grain that will produce sterile seeds. This to protect their illegitimate patent on genetically modified life and prevent farmers from reusing genetically modified seeds. The gist of this is that Monsanto could easily pollute the genetic integrity of all similar plant species and cause mass starvation by making farmers who don’t even buy Monsanto products vulnerable to producing sterile seeds. There are many other examples of how evil this corporation is, but in the June issue of Reason, Monsanto is portrayed as the victim of “anti-biotech” forces. Examples like this make me think that certain libertarians would support the end of civilization in the defense of large corporations. I urge everyone out there to see “The Future Of Food”.

  • http://www.ilovephysics.com Chris Moore

    Here’s the rub, Leroy:

    Should it be illegal for me to develop genetically modified seeds in my garage? As libertarians, should we call for legislation to outlaw GM foods, at least until further study is done? Who will do these studies? And would you send police weilding guns to my garage to force me to stop studying GM seeds, or selling them?

    I’m sure Monsanto does some pretty evil stuff — they’re one of the largest corporate welfare queens out there. But some of what they do could lead to revolutions in farming. Should we outlaw innovation?

  • http://knappster.blogspot.com Thomas L. Knapp

    The problem with Monsanto is not that it produces genetically modified crops. The problem with Monsanto is that it wants special treatment for itself and its products in every direction. Not only does Monsanto want to evade liability if its patented genetic modifications are introduced into the crops of farmers who don’t want them, but it wants to be able to legally compel “restitution” from those farmers for “stealing” its products!

    Property rights get somewhat difficult to parse at the level where we’re talking about which bee moved what pollen from whose field. Monsanto is spending a lot of lobbying and litigation money, and calling in a lot of government favors, to ensure that the parsing works in its favor, every time, no matter what.

  • http://knappster.blogspot.com Thomas L. Knapp

    (cont’d)That litigation includes things like suing and/or pressing criminal charges against farmers whose crops pick up a Monsanto genemod through the normal processes of natural pollination (i.e. a bee or wind picked up some pollen from a Monsanto genemod plant and dropped it on a non-modified plant). Those favors include things like the St. Louis Police Department busting into a building (without a warrant) where anti-GM activists were preparing for a conference/protest, bust the place up and urinate all over the place in the name of “counter-terrorism.”

    Meanwhile, Monsanto’s “Roundup-Ready” genemod, which makes rapeseed (canola) pesticide resistant, is now showing up in the wild relatives of the plant — imposing additional costs on farmers for which Monsanto denies liability, while those same farmers will end up in court if their own crops display the same genemod and they haven’t forked over to Monsanto for it.

    Monsanto is pretty much the Saddam Hussein of American agribusiness.

  • Leroy

    Should it be illegal for me to develop genetically modified seeds in my garage? As libertarians, should we call for legislation to outlaw GM foods, at least until further study is done? Who will do these studies? And would you send police weilding guns to my garage to force me to stop studying GM seeds, or selling them?

    This is a good question. If it could be proven that you have developed a completely contained system that in no way could genetically contaminate anything outside your closed system, then as a libertarian I would be hesitant to outlaw something like that. But as it has been pointed by Tom in the post above and elsewhere, Monsanto’s genetically altered plants have contaminated the crops of farmers who have no intention of using Monsanto’s products.

    Being a corporate welfare queen is bad enough. But Monsanto is threatening the world’s biodiversity by creating plants that will spread and destroy native species. (cont’d)

  • Leroy

    (cont’d)
    In addition, we don’t fully know the all implications involved with propagating genetically modified plants, from both an environmental and health standpoint. Monsanto has successfully fought attempts in the US to require labeling of biotech foods. What are they afraid of? I think even most libertarians would agree that products should be properly labeled.

    Fortunately, one of the requirements for organic food to be labeled as such is that it cannot contain GMOs and it must be pesticide free. Although most organic produce is more expensive than conventional produce, I think our health is worth the extra price. In addition, when you buy organic produce you are not supporting evil companies such as Monsanto, which do not care about the welfare of the planet but are only concerned with lining their pockets.

  • Leroy

    As libertarians, should we call for legislation to outlaw GM foods, at least until further study is done? …would you send police weilding guns to my garage to force me to stop studying GM seeds, or selling them?

    This is a similar argument that I have had with gun control advocates. Since I am against gun control, I am asked if it should be legal for me to build a nuclear weapon in my garage. My opinion is that when an individual or group is creating something that could put innocent people or the environment at extreme risk, as in the case of building a nuclear weapon or developing GMOs which could threaten the world’s food supply & biodiversity, then this is a case where the government can legitimately step in and put a stop to.

    I must ask you this: What right does a corporation have to alter the genetic makeup of the world through bio engineering? I am not denying there may be some benefits to GMOs but IMO I think the risks greatly outweigh the gains.

  • Timothy West

    Property rights get somewhat difficult to parse at the level where we’re talking about which bee moved what pollen from whose field. Monsanto is spending a lot of lobbying and litigation money, and calling in a lot of government favors, to ensure that the parsing works in its favor, every time, no matter what.

    But 90% of libertarians would support it becuase it’s “private”. :(

    the lp has in some cases very simplistic thinking for rather complex issues.

  • http://www.pnar.org Tom Blanton

    The issue of GM crops is simply a matter of property rights. The moment that Monsanto’s GM crops cross-pollinate my crops and ruin my seed stock by causing sterile seeds or some other unwanted outcome, they have violated my property rights. It is no different than dumping poison on my crops. This is pretty simple.

    Suppose I wish to “experiment” with fire on my property. As soon as the smoke interferes with the enjoyment of your property or the fire actually spreads to your property, I would be violating your property rights and should be held strictly liable.

    I would suggest that companies like Monsanto would not exist but for government “incentives” and limits on liability. It would appear that their intentions are to
    create a monopoly on food crops with government complicity.

  • http://www.libertyforsale.com Tim West

    Yeah. Can we get the LP to see this as fact and open another front? A single issue party does not have enough ability to attract the needed number of activists to really start making the Dems and R’s sweat. A LP that confronted such big government and corporate incestuous in-breeding would take a huge chunk out of the left leaning independent voter.

    This inter breeding between government and favored corps., attacked as corruption, is the natural political growing space for us. Anti government as a single issue can only take you so far. The LP is a single issue party. We dont have to be one.

  • Leroy

    The issue of GM crops is simply a matter of property rights. The moment that Monsanto’s GM crops cross-pollinate my crops and ruin my seed stock by causing sterile seeds or some other unwanted outcome, they have violated my property rights. It is no different than dumping poison on my crops. This is pretty simple.

    I agree completely. Unfortunately as it works today, when Monsanto’s GM crops contaminate your crops, YOU’RE liable for theft. It’s an outrage.

    Tim, I think you make an excellent point by saying that the LP is single minded in their attack of government. On the LP website, if you click on “Issues&Positions” and then on “Environment” the only thing of substance written is that government is responsible for most pollution. It’s as if the environment will suddenly be prestine again if the government only got out of the way. Unfortunately, that is not true. I don’t trust big business any more than government to protect the environment.

  • Leroy

    A LP that confronted such big government and corporate incestuous in-breeding would take a huge chunk out of the left leaning independent voter.

    I think there’s a very large population that would support a left-libertarian platform. As a self-described “green libertarian” I think a powerful coalition could be formed between market-friendly liberals, small businesspeople, environmentalists and left-libertarians to try to break up the corrupt corporate-government collusion that is sacrificing our planet to the endless pursuit of power and money. Even among the left, there is an understanding that massive government programs aren’t the answer, and that decentralization of both corporate and governmental authority is the proper course of action. A deeper understanding of exactly what is truly important in life is what is necessary here. I think we can agree that the endless pursuit of profit at the expense of everything else is not the answer.

  • undercover_anarchist

    Fist, let me say that I shop exclusively at Whole Foods.

    Second, the author of this article is truly an imbecile. “Few libertarians would defend the choice of an industry to discard toxic chemicals into a river.” Oh, really? Maybe because to pollute MY river is to trespass. “Few libertarians would defend the choice to take a fat dump on someone else’s lawn” too, because we believe in property rights. Unless the “industry” owns the entire river, it is not their’s to pollute.

    Investors Business Daily ran the ultimate no-brainer op ed piece in the most recent weekend edition: “Media needs education in economics.” This is true, of course, but regardless of their economic education (or lack thereof), the LP has an image problem. The media perceives libertarians as hard-right conservatives, and why shouldn’t they? The LP embraces people like Boortz. The Advocates For Self-Government has a profile on MICHELLE MALKIN. Liberty Magazine ran a positive profile of Ann Coulter a few years ago.

  • undercover_anarchist

    RE: The talk of patents, property rights, “free markets.”

    1) A “patent” is something granted by a government. In a truly “free” market, in which there was a separation of economy and state, there would be no such thing as patents. I’m not saying that this is a desirable aim, but there can be no patents without some sort of artificial entity backing them up, utlimately, with force. Patents are a legal construct.

    2) Speaking of legal constructs and government, corporations exist only by the sanction of law and government. In a truly “free” market, there would be no state-chartered corporations. Again, I’m not saying this is a desirable aim, but libertarians who claim that patents and corporations are always legitimate, no matter what, because they’re “private” or wrong. Such an opinion is ultimately statist because it believes blindly in the wisdom of government to properly grant patents and corporate charters.

  • Michael H. Wilson

    The most recent issue of Liberty magazine has an article on John Mackey.
    M.H.W.

  • Timothy West

    under cover,

    I guess it’s what side of fence you are on. Both legit uses of the federal govt as stated by the Constitution. I know, you dont believe in it. That’s , but you can’t fly to anarchistville and not be subject o the law both good and bad.

  • undercover_anarchist

    To clarify, I do “believe” in the Constitution, certainly as a limit on government. All I said was I don’t derive my rights from it. The government doesn’t possess the ability to confer rights to me. I was in no way trying to disagree with the points Mr. West made. In fact, I was trying to support them. I am not an ideologue of anarchy. I think the pledge should be considered philosophically, not dogmatically. I also want to stress that when I spoke of the absence of patents and corporations in free markets, I couched with “I’m not saying these are desirable aims.” I sell stocks for a living, for god’s sake!

  • undercover_anarchist

    And secondly… While the Constitution gives the government the right to issue patents… Unless I’m woefully wrong, it says nothing of corporations. Corporations are state-chartered institutions, and by state, I mean one of the fifty. As such, and this is an entirely un-anarchistic idea, I think they make themselves more legitimate targets for regulation. I’m not saying that regulation = good (far from it), but there is at least some moral and legal basis for regulating corporate conduct. The state gives birth to corporations, not human beings.