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.