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Davis, California

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Guest Opinion: Unconscious capitalism

On Feb. 27, there will be informational pickets of labor environmental and student activists at the Whole Foods near campus at 5 p.m., and then additional pickets outside Freeborn Hall starting at 7 p.m., in response to the hosting of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management Dean Steve Currall.

Mackey will be promoting his new book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. The book presents a “free market” of competing — yet ethical — businessmen such as himself, as the only hope for a just and sustainable world. This promotion of feel-good capitalism coincides with the privatization of our campus, which has been characterized by tuition hikes, increasingly austere contracts of workers, program cuts and police brutality.

Conscious Capitalism presents the fuzzy veneer of Whole Foods, while downplaying actions by Mackey that contradict his ethical image. For instance, in 2007 Mackey used a pseudonym to promote his brand and trash competitors on a Yahoo Finance forum.

More troubling is Mackey’s political advocacy. In 2009, Mackey attacked the Affordable Care Act as “socialism,” prompting liberal organizations to boycott Whole Foods. This year, he apologized for the comment, modifying his position that the Act is, in fact, “fascism.”

Whole Foods is a repeat union buster, with one bizarre incident of Mackey urging employees to “expand into love” rather than organize after management fired two pro-union workers. In 2009, Whole Foods executives led the charge to discredit the Employee Free Choice Act, which aimed to shorten the process of union certification. Concerning labor, Mackey once stated, “The union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.”

Mackey has also been an outspoken opponent of climate-change legislation, stating in an interview with Mother Jones last month that, “In general, most of humanity tends to flourish more when global temperatures are in a warming trend … What I am opposed to is trying to stop virtually all economic progress because of the fear of climate change.”

In a 2004 speech to Whole Foods executives, Mackey described a disturbingly paternalistic view of himself: “I’m this rich father figure, and everybody’s pulling at me saying, ‘Daddy, Daddy, can we have this, can we have that, can we have this, can we have that?”

Such unilateral executive power over an institution is not another of Mackey’s idiosyncrasies, but rather it defines private enterprise. This makes GSM Dean Steve Currall’s comment in a 2011 interview with poetsandquants.com particularly chilling: “We’re reducing our reliance on state funds which makes our business model much more akin to a private university based more heavily on tuition and endowment. That is the model we must pursue.”

The powers that want to shift away from public funding in higher education to tuition and endowment are the same that want to disempower workers, and limit the ability of an organized public to manage our health and environment. Mackey writes that “the lead agents of change need to be those who are engaged in business,” and for the moment, they are. We cannot let this go unchallenged.

DAVID RODDY is a fourth-year student. He can be reached at djroddy@ucdavis.edu.

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