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Friday, May 24, 2024

Mackey’s capitalism

As many of you are aware, John Mackey, the co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a supporter of capitalism. He has written a book along with Raj Sisodia, another businessman, called Conscious Capitalism, in which it is argued that capitalism has been misrepresented and unfairly criticized. Mackey believes that in fact capitalism has been responsible for incredible increases in standard of living and technological progress.

I agree with Mackey on these points, and I think even most opponents of capitalism agree with this last point. I also should say that I like Whole Foods immensely and enjoy buying their products — and here I want to set aside the issue of evaluating the business venture and instead focus on Mackey’s political views.

Mackey believes that we should all recognize that business is often not only, or even primarily, about maximizing profit. Instead, Mackey argues that most businesses start with a purpose or vision, such as providing people with healthy organic foods or making it easier and more efficient to navigate the internet, as Google has done.

There’s certainly a sense in which this is true, and important: It’s not the case that businesspeople are concerned with making money by whatever means necessary. Often they are passionate about providing good services or products that consumers value. But does this mean that capitalists do not or should not act selfishly?

Clearly, Mackey thinks so. But since it’s obvious that the majority of capitalists are not acting altruistically, there’s a gap in his argument. What ultimately motivates them? To Mackey, it is the flourishing of the business and the achievement of a certain vision.

But why does Mackey view profit pursuit and selfishness as lower purposes and therefore less praiseworthy?

It’s because Mackey accepts an erroneous view of self–interest. If we hold people like Bernie Madoff or the Enron executives as archetypes of selfishness, then of course it is evil and wrong.

But observe what this does: We group these corrupt, short-sighted, self-destructive individuals with others who are primarily interested in promoting their own lives but do so in a rational, productive and honest way — people such as Henry Ford or Steve Jobs, who pursue their own profit by providing others with values through mutual gain.

Clearly, there is an enormous difference between these examples. And Conscious Capitalism, despite many of its interesting points and arguments, ignores this.

What is evil is not the fact that dishonest or corrupt capitalists are pursuing their self–interests (in the long-term, they aren’t even pursuing their self–interests at all) — it’s that they see others as obstacles to their values, and seek to subvert others and turn them into victims.

Ayn Rand noted that if we accept the false, conventional view of selfishness, this “permits no view of men except as sacrificial animals and profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites … it permits no concept of a benevolent co-existence among men …” (The Virtue of Selfishness)

Mackey’s defense of capitalism ultimately fails because it fails to acknowledge that capitalists are primarily after profit (in the broad sense that they are pursuing their self–interests), and that this is totally compatible with being passionate about one’s work and having a vision.

It is moral and just to reap the benefits of one’s efforts and judgment in creating wealth. Laissez–faire capitalism is the system that allows people to pursue their rational self–interest free from the coercive force of government regulations and wealth-redistribution, and this is why it is the ideal system.

When TRISTAN DE LIEGE is not busy shopping at Whole Foods, he can be reached at tflenaerts@ucdavis.edu.


Editor’s note: The print edition of this article ran on Feb. 26 with the incorrect headline, “Religion as power.” The headline in the online edition is correct.


  1. Comments: Chief Charlie Beck is asking for YOUR support by voting on Proposition … A … (Fast Police response). Will that fast response result in another Death? Like with Alesia Thomas? When she felt sick, and sent her kids into the police station to ask a Police desk officer to call their grandmother so grandma could come down to pick up her grandchildren because their mom was filling ill. The Police should have thought about how this responding was appropriate before they responded. Now two children are in this big world without a mother. No criminal activity had taken place,there was no phone call made to the Police Station requesting for police service or any call of complaints. The Police should respond approprately to emergencies when required.

    They are Not Social Workers and you don’t assist out of the scope of the Protocol, attacking individuals in the privacy of their homes trying to handle the families or the Social Workers job.

    We lost a perfectly beautiful young mother because of the quick response not needed by LAPD which resulted in the death Of Alesia Thomas. Will Charlie Beck share that dash cam video of her last moment alive? And the quick response of Parametics? Tell the World, how we can go wrong? Correct You’re Police force. “Don’t! Murder innocent citizens”.

    Justice is not when LAPD make it’s mistakes. Only when the truth has been revealed” Police and officers working together Don’t Get away with murder eighter, you are people too. Not GOD!

    People make mistakes and at this time folks are afraid that you won’t admit to the truth but choose to show guilt by hiding this video.

    MESSAGE OFFERED BY A VOTER – Replace Commander & Chief Charlie Beck and reveal the truth for Alesia Thomas Life sake. Except when wrong was done and move forward. “We do need fast response but not like that”

    Proposition ..A..Of Chief Charlie Beck’s officers way of handling fast response without analyzing the matter the perfect example of how it was once demonstrated with helping Alesia Thomas.

    “Wonder if Commander and Chief Charlie Beck would have liked to have been in Alesia Thomas’s Position, with their fast response approach on July 22, 2012?


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