If you ask the outgoing Whole Foods CEO about socialism and young workers, he says a revolution is happening, and not with pitchforks, but with words.
Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey has a history of complex views that he’s shared over time. What Mackey likes: a vegan diet and free-market and libertarian ideals. What he doesn’t like so much: Ready-made and frozen food, unions and silence.
Mackey, a lover of Ayn Rand who once reduced his own salary to $1, earned him the title of “right hippie” in a 2010 New Yorker profile. A longtime fan of capitalism, he continued his crusade against socialism in the latest podcast from Reason, the long-running libertarian magazine.
“The Socialists are taking over,” he said on the podcast. “They march through the institutions. You take over everything. You do the education. It looks like they’ve taken over a lot of companies. It looks like they have taken over the military and it just keeps going.”
Mackey announced last year that he would be retiring next September, and he told Reason that he’s “been muzzled since 2009,” apparently referring to a Wall Street Journal op-ed that year, in which he compared the Affordable Care Act to fascism.
And it’s not just the socialists that irk Mackey; Nowadays, so are the children. “They don’t seem to want to work,” Mackey told Reason of younger generations in the workplace.
“Younger people don’t work fast because they want meaningful work,” was Mackey’s diagnosis of the problem, referring to the well-known importance to Gen Z of finding work with some kind of social meaning. That’s a mistake, he said. “You can’t expect to start meaningful work. You’ll have to earn it over time.”
He adds that there’s a price to pay to get meaningful work, and some younger generations aren’t willing to make that sacrifice.
Ever since the oldest members of Gen Z entered the workforce, they’ve been known for not enjoying work, as movements like #antiwork have sprung up around the idea that one’s identity is outside of the workplace begins.
The idea that your workplace should be aligned with your personal, private values has recently gained popularity, especially among younger employees. According to a Linkedin poll, a whopping 80% of Gen Zers want to work for an employer that aligns with their beliefs. A job that aligns with an employee’s values and interests seems far less important to other generations, as it affects only 59% of Millennials, 49% of Gen Z, and 47% of Baby Boomers.
Younger generations were often seen as more relaxed or lazy by older workers; Just look at Gen X’s trajectory. Mackey even admitted on the Reason podcast that while he used to say his father didn’t understand his generation, he now finds the shoe on the other foot.
“I feel like I’ve become my father: I don’t understand the younger generation,” he says. In contrast, Mackey says, “he couldn’t wait to get to work” and make money.
Years ago, Mackey actually advocated values-based leadership and wrote a book on the subject. He is also part of what is known as the Conscious Capitalism movement, a group that believes business is a social good and should intentionally lead with a higher cause or mission in mind.
While he insists that capitalism can remain socially conscious and serve all stakeholders, Mackey has been an outspoken critic of socialism for well over a decade, as evidenced by his 2009 remarks during the Obama administration, though he has publicly acknowledged some of his statements to regret.
In 2020, he called socialism “pervasive poverty” while calling capitalism “the greatest thing mankind has ever done,” sadly failing to mention the invention of Whole Foods’ off-brand Oreos.
If his comments to Reason are to be believed, maybe in six weeks the world will be hearing more from Unmuzzled Mackey.
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