John Mackey: Is Conscious Capitalism Enough?
Religion & Liberty Online

John Mackey: Is Conscious Capitalism Enough?

John Mackey, the well-known CEO of Whole Foods, sat down for an interview with Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie this week and I found a few quotes from their exchange particularly interesting. You can watch the full interview here: John Mackey Video

When asked what the original “higher purposes” of his business were when Whole Foods began, Mackey responded:

“Sell healthy food to people. Make a living for ourselves. Have fun. But our purposes have evolved over time…I would say one of our higher purposes now is to heal America.”

Mr. Mackey writes all about such things in his recently-released Conscious Capitalism. Citing familiar statistics regarding the millions of Americans who are overweight and suffering from diseases that “correlate directly with diet and lifestyle choices,” he feels that his chain of high-end groceries are a very real contribution to the betterment of the nation.

I applaud much of what Mackey says publicly when it comes to free enterprise and the moral case for capitalism (more on that in a minute), but the idea that ultra-expensive, cage-free items – in a store that is primarily frequented by already-healthy (and wealthy) patrons – will “heal America” is a bit over-the-top.

It’s also misleading in many of the same ways that such progressive claims as “It takes a village” and “Government is your friend” are. As soon as anyone in business or the business of government starts talking about their goods, products or services on a metaphysical level, eyebrows ought to be raised. What will “heal” this country is the strengthening of the family. What will heal the country is a moral, spiritual revival that calls Americans to rediscover such qualities as personal responsibility, self discipline and stewardship. Good vibes and organic almond milk won’t fix anyone any quicker than another stimulus package or cash-for-clunkers program will.

Of course the key difference here is that Whole Foods is a private entity who has no power to tax or legally coerce you to do anything. It’s an important distinction to make.

And as I mentioned, there is plenty to appreciate from Mackey’s interview and new book. He is someone who is unapologetically explaining and disseminating a moral, ethical case for free enterprise.

“Capitalism has a purpose beyond just making money. I think the critics of capitalism have got it in this very small box. That it’s all about money. It’s based in being greedy, selfish and exploitative. And yet, I haven’t found it to be that way. Most of the hundreds of entrepreneurs I know and have met did not start their business primarily out of a desire to make money. Not that there’s anything wrong with making money. My body cannot function unless it produces red-blood cells. No red-blood cells and I’m a dead man. But that’s not the purpose of my life.

Similarly, a business cannot exist unless it produces a profit . . . but that’s not the only reason it exists.”

That’s the sweet stuff right there, J-Mack! Love the analogy and wish more advocates for the free market side would integrate rhetoric like this into their public presentations. Whereas many on the progressive-Left may pay lip-service to free enterprise and then do (and vote for) anything and everything to impede its success, Mackey seems to also walk the walk.

I haven’t finished his book Conscious Capitalism yet, but after reading many of his Op-Eds and viewing a dozen or so YouTube clip interviews with him, I still wonder if this is going to be enough to really change hearts and minds going forward?


R.J. Moeller

R.J. Moeller is a writer and podcast host for the American Enterprise Institute's "Values & Capitalism" project. He's also a regular contributor at and Originally from Chicago, he currently resides in Los Angeles, CA where he serves as a media consultant to nationally syndicated columnist and talk show host, Dennis Prager.