As a Whole Foods shopper, I’ve been paying an awful lot of attention to this Whole Foods boycott that’s come up since their CEO John Mackey came out against health care reform. That doesn’t mean I’m joining it, I just think it’s interesting. Why am I not joining it? Well, for one thing, I agree with Radley Balko (via The Daily Dish):
Whole Foods is consistently ranked among the most employee-friendly places to work in the service industry. In fact, Whole Foods treats employees a hell of a lot better than most liberal activist groups do. The company has strict environmental and humane animal treatment standards about how its food is grown and raised. The company buys local. The store near me is hosting a local tasting event for its regional vendors. Last I saw, the company’s lowest wage earners make $13.15 per hour. They also get to vote on what type of health insurance they want. And they all get health insurance. The company is also constantly raising money for various philanthropic causes. When I was there today, they were taking donations for a school lunch program. In short, Whole Foods is everything leftists talk about when they talk about “corporate responsibility.”
I, of course, am what Balko thinks is a leftist, but I am not a uni-dimensional leftist. I’ve known Whole Foods is run by a Libertarian anti-union vegan for years now, but if I only shopped at businesses whose politics I agreed with I couldn’t shop anywhere. It makes me think of an old Bloom County cartoon in which Binckley decides that he’s never going to kill another living thing. In order for this to happen he has to hang himself by a rope from a tree upside-down while holding his breath so as not to murder any microbes.
The contrast with Walmart is also useful here. I happen to agree with Walmart on this issue, but Walmart and I support health care reform for different reasons. I think it’s the right thing to do while Walmart is trying to get rid of a huge blot on its reputation and an expense to its bottom line. Just go back to the infamous Susan Chambers Memo of 2005:
“Wal-Mart’s critics can easily exploit some aspects of our benefits offering to make their case; in other words, our critics are correct in some of their observations. Specifically, our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of Associates and their children on public assistance.”
The reason for that was and is that public assistance is often better than paying for Walmart’s employer-based care. When the public option comes along, many associates will take that rather than Walmart’s lame health care plan because it will be what’s best for them. [This, by the way, is exactly why there should be a public option. It will be, by definition, optional] This will benefit Walmart because an important tool for bashing the firm will disappear and a huge cost will disappear from the company’s balance sheet.
At Whole Foods, on the other hand, nothing will happen because its healthcare benefits are very generous. Scratch that, if Walmart passes even a fraction of its savings on employee health care on to its customers, Whole Foods will just look even more expensive. Granted reminding your customers that you have different political beliefs than them was a stupid idea, but this should not have been news to any politically aware person who shops there. Indeed, I find it incredibly condescending that people would boycott over this instead of Whole Foods’ neanderthal anti-union labor policies.
Business does what’s best for its business. Boycotting Whole Foods over health care reform is like boycotting a rooster because it crows at dawn.