A Message from Whole Foods: Let Them Eat Cake

People who pay a premium for socially responsible products aren't exactly thrilled to learn they're enriching someone who is wildly, flagrantly irresponsible about social issues.

Whole Foods found that out last week after the Wall Street Journal published its CEO's op-ed opposing President Obama's health care reform. Their customers were so offended that 18,000 of them - last time I counted - signed on to a Facebook boycott of his stores.

They may as well have said, "Let them eat cake - with hydrogenated fats."

These ideas about health care are dated, absurd and deeply ignorant of how health insurance - indeed how the U.S. economy - actually works.

"We are all responsible for our own lives and our own health," CEO John Mackey wrote. "We should take that responsibility very seriously and use our freedom to make wise lifestyle choices that will protect our health."

That is patently absurd. Health care is a shared social responsibility -- for medical research, education, disease prevention, treatment of the military and military veterans, to name just a few.

The U.S. government already pays for half of the health care delivered in this country. Without government support, our existing health care system would collapse and so, probably, would our economy. Many Whole Foods customers would not be able to afford high prices if they had to pay for their own or their parents' health care past age 65.

Like many wealthy conservatives, Mr. Mackey espouses anti-government views while benefiting enormously from government largesse.

The U.S. government put its full faith and billions of taxpayer dollars behind the credit markets that enabled Whole Foods to operate and expand their empire.

The food they sell would be prohibitively expensive were it not for enormous government subsidies of dairy products, feed grains, wheat, rice, peanuts and sugar.

Whole Foods suppliers like UNFI couldn't deliver truckloads of organic oranges from California without a government-supported transportation infrastructure.

This irresponsible op-ed will no doubt cost Whole Foods dearly in lost customer loyalty. I just hope Whole Foods recognizes that going it alone isn't a feasible way to run a business or a country.