Daddy issues.

My favorite magazine, The New Yorker, has a profile this week of the CEO of my favorite grocery store, Whole Foods. It certainly serves as a reminder of why I am often embarrassed to admit that my family shops there. In fact, it comes up in the first paragraph:
John Mackey, the co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods Market, refers to the company as his child—not just his creation but the thing on earth whose difficulties or downfall it pains him most to contemplate. He also sees himself as a “daddy” to his fifty-four thousand employees, who are known as “team members,” but they may occasionally consider him to be more like a crazy uncle.
In the early twentieth century, they called that attitude paternalism and just like then it's designed as an anti-union strategy:
Whole Foods routinely ranks high on those lists of companies that are the best to work for. The health and retirement benefits are relatively generous. Mackey regards his blend of paternalism and sovereignty as a recipe for proper governance, an expression of both compassion and creativity. This view is not shared by unions, which have complained that Mackey prevents unionization among his employees, notably at a store in Madison, Wisconsin, where team members had voted to unionize. Unions have picketed store openings and, as activist investors in Whole Foods stock, have called for Mackey’s firing. In the early eighties, Mackey told a reporter, “The union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.” (That quote, to Mackey’s dismay, won’t go away, either.) His disdain for contemporary unionism is ideological, as well as self-serving. Like many who have come before, he says that it was only when he started a business—when he had to meet payroll and deal with government red tape—that his political and economic views, fed on readings of Friedman, Rand, and the Austrians, veered to the right.
As obnoxious as Mackey's Daddy issues must seem to any self-respecting employee, he way he manages the company is more Sugar Daddy than, "Thank you sir may I have another?" Check this out Walmart workers and weep:
Mackey, an outspoken critic of executive overcompensation, pays himself a dollar a year. No one at the company can have a salary more than nineteen times what the average team member makes. (On average, an S. & P. 500 C.E.O. makes three hundred and nineteen times what a production worker does.) Last year, the highest salary went to Walter Robb, the co-president and chief operating officer, who made just over four hundred thousand dollars (supplemented by a bonus and stock options). The average hourly wage was sixteen dollars and fifty cents. [Emphasis added.]
That's paternalism most people can live with. Indeed, in America today, more anti-union paternalism would be a stark improvement over what most workers experience, especially most Walmart workers. Today's unions, much as I support them in principle, have only one solution to workers' problems - join them.* Unfortunately that isn't going to happen any time soon at places like Walmart and Whole Foods. So if you have to live in a dictatorship, isn't it better to live in a benevolent one? * I'll be writing more about this subject here when my new book comes out, which strangely enough is actually fairly soon.

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