Well, that’s one headline I didn’t expect I’d be writing this year, though I suppose it should have come as too speaking to Reason’s Nick Gillespiemuch of a surprise. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has shown off his libertarian tendencies in the past, but this week Mackey says his impending departure from the grocery chain is going to free him up to be much more outspoken on issues… including the right to keep and bear arms.
“My concern is that I feel like socialists are taking over,” Whole Foods CEO John Mackey tells me on today’s show. “They’re marching through the institutions. They’re…taking over education. It looks like they’ve taken over a lot of the corporations. It looks like they’ve taken over the military. And it’s just continuing. You know, I’m a capitalist at heart, and I believe in liberty and capitalism. Those are my twin values. And I feel like, you know, with the way freedom of speech is today, the movement on gun control, a lot of the liberties that I’ve taken for granted most of my life, I think, are under threat.”
Most of the headlines about Mackey’s podcast comments to Gillespie have focused on his criticism of socialists, though why anyone would be surprised that a CEO of a successful company who has an estimated net worth of at least $75-million would be a strident supporter of capitalism and an ardent opponent of socialism is beyond me.
What I find more interesting is Mackey’s willingness to include gun control as one of those areas where he feels socialists are taking over (and yes, I am aware of groups like the Socialist Rifle Association who I’m sure would dispute Mackey’s position). There are plenty of CEOs who believe in the free market but aren’t big fans of individual freedom, from Michael Bloomberg to former Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack, but I can’t remember the last time I heard the head of a major company like Whole Foods criticize the gun control movement (CEOs running for office not included).
Maybe that’s because, like Mackey, they feel they can’t speak up.
Mackey pegged the candid sharing of his political opinions to his upcoming retirement as Whole Foods’ chief executive in September.
“In six weeks, I will retire from Whole Foods, and I have muzzled myself ever since 2009,” Mackey said, referring to the op-ed he penned for the Wall Street Journal that year where he compared Obamacare to fascism.
“My board basically shut me down. It’s like a father, they started attacking the child, and I was intimidated enough to shut up,” Mackey told Reason. He compared his upcoming experience to the Home Depot billionaire and conservative Bernie Marcus.
“People were constantly going after Home Depot to get them to shut up Bernie Marcus. Home Depot has to say Bernie retired over 20 years ago, we can’t get him to shut up, you have to take it to Bernie,” he said.
“I was telling my leadership team, pretty soon, you’re going to be hearing about ‘crazy John’ who’s no longer muzzled, and you’re going to have to say, ‘We can’t stop John from talking any longer.’”
I’m curious to hear more of what Mackey has to say, and I hope that he’ll join me to expand on his thoughts about the right to keep and bear arms and whether support for the Second Amendment is being suppressed in the corporate world once he steps down from his position at Whole Foods in a few weeks. Maybe we can even convince him to open up some gun ranges in underserved communities to go along with his plans for a chain of wellness centers and cafes. It would take a herculean effort to get a range up and running in Chicago or Washington, D.C., but if Mackey’s looking for a new challenge that would be a fun place to start.