Last week on radio, Glenn interviewed Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, about his new book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. While Whole Foods is a favorite of the health conscious left, Mackey is a remarkable businessman and an articulate advocate of the importance of capitalism.
“I want to tell you, last night – last night I really started digging into this book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. This was written by John Mackey,” Glenn said on radio this morning. “I realize we have a lot in common, a ton in common. And I really believe in his philosophy.”
Glenn, admittedly, has had a love-hate relationship with Whole Foods over the years, but he has really grown to respect Mackey and his business. “I shop at Whole Foods. If there's a Whole Foods around me, I'll shop at Whole Foods even though when I first started going to Whole Foods, it pissed me off because I'm like, okay, here we got another liberal,” Glenn said.
Mackey, who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, was a self-described progressive and social Democrat. He believed, like many on the left do, that business is an evil, zero-sum game that fostered a system of exploitation. Once Mackey started his own business, however, his ideology changed dramatically.
In the passage below, excepted from Conscious Capitalism, Mackey describes how being a business-owner caused him to re-evaluate his philosophy and the way the world works:
Our customers thought our prices were too high. Our team members thought they were paid too little. Our suppliers wouldn't give us good prices because we were too small. A local Austin nonprofit sector was continually asking us for donations. Various governments were slapping us with fees, license fees, fines and various business taxes. Not knowing much about how to operate a business, it didn't pay off for us in the first year, but we managed to lose only 50% of our capital. And despite all the losses, despite our intentions, we were still being accused by anti-business people of exploiting our customers with the high prices and our team members with low wages. Despite all of my good intentions, I had somehow become a selfish and greedy businessman to all the people I used to be with. All of my friends now said I was one of the bad guys. But I knew in my heart that I wasn't greedy or selfish or evil. I was the idealist who wanted to make the world a better place, and I thought I could best do it by operating a store that sold healthy food to people and provided good jobs. And once I realized this, I gradually began to abandon the social Democratic philosophy of my youth because it no longer adequately explained how the world actually worked. And I started looking for other narratives that would make sense of the world. I devoured dozens and dozens of business books trying to help Safer Way, which was the predecessor of Whole Foods, succeed. I stumbled into reading a number of free enterprise economist and thinkers including Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Von Friedman…
I learned that voluntary exchange for mutual benefit has actually led to an unprecedented prosperity for humanity. I learned that with free enterprise when combined with property rights, innovation, the rule of law, and constitutionally limited democratic government results in societies that maximize societal prosperity and establish the conditions that promote human happiness and wellbeing action not just for the rich but for the larger society, including the poor. I had become a business person and a capitalist, and I had discovered that business and capitalism, though not perfect were both fundamentally good and ethical.
“This guy makes a case for capitalism from the other side,” Glenn said in response to the passage. “He still has his values, but he understands how business works. And he understands his ‘why’ and he's never abandoned his ‘why.’”
Part of what makes Mackey such an effective champion of capitalism is the fact that he spent a good portion of his life following the progressive school of thought, until he realized that the world just did not work that way.
“He just abandoned the idea of the socialist or the progressive framework as being the way to get there. He didn't sell out. He just realized that won't do it,” Glenn said. “And now what he's doing is he's waking up business people.”
“How do you succeed? Conscious capitalism,” Glenn concluded. "Read this book. If you're in business at any level, read this book.”