The Point of the Whole Foods Boycott and What John Mackey Should Do

John Mackey should take some remedial classes in health care policy. That would be a start.

Patrick Appel asks what I want (well, sort of — he asks what the boycotters want). It’s a fair question. I can’t obviously speak for everyone, but I can make clear what was so outrageous about John Mackey’s statements.

Radley Balko makes it seem like all Mackey was doing was stating what he believed, and all these mean old left-wingers come to persecute him. Take a reality pill. Mackey wasn’t spouting off at Speaker’s Corner: he (or his flack) was writing in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, the desperately unhinged and reality-challenged broadsheet of the conservative movement.

These were not statements of what he believed (although they might also have been that): these were a series of Republican talking points. And like all Republican talking points, they were either factually wrong (alleging that health care costs could be significantly reduced through tort reform), simply moronic (stating that a “careful reading” of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution reveals that health care is not a “right” — true, but irrelevant), horrifically dangerous (expanding health savings accounts), or just fatuous (if you eat at Whole Foods, then your health will improve).

Put another way: Mackey was not just stating his views. He was allying himself with the Republican Party and the looney right wing, as the vast majority of the captains of industry (or retail, or whatever) have done for decades now, without anyone supposing that that was a problem. He was not simply articulating his ideas: he was trying to move the national conversation in a particular direction. He was taking political action. He’s entitled to do that, and I am entitled not to pay him a cent to help him.

There is another aspect to boycotts and pickets that can only be understood if this light: the point of the boycotts and pickets is to draw attention to the fact that Mackey’s views on health care are either idiotic, disingenuous, or both. Political action draws an equal and opposite reaction.

So what do I want from Mackey — and by extension, all the other executives who cozy up to Republicans? I want them to understand that if they want to keep their currently wholly-undeserved privileged position to speak their minds on some of the most pricey journalistic real estate in America, then they should know what they hell they are talking about. They should actually learn something about health care before spouting off about it.

In the same way that Mackey’s Republican friends want those people who go bankrupt from health care costs to attend “financial literacy” classes as penance, I would like Mackey to take a class in health care policy from Uwe Reinhardt and Kenneth Arrow (who wrote the classic article explaing why in the health care area Mackey’s free market theology makes no sense). i’m sure that, unlike those in bankruptcy, Mackey could afford the high fees that Arrow and Reinhardt could charge.

And then I would like Mackey to write another op-ed explaining exactly why Arrow and Reinhardt are wrong. If he can’t do that, then he has to admit he was wrong.

Clear enough?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: