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Aug. 16 2009 - 11:24 pm | 9 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Whole Foods and the social contract

Add: Having read the Whole Foods CEO’s op-ed, which I should have done in the first place, I take this whole post back. I still think it’s incredibly annoying and basically objectively reactionary to waltz into these long debates over major reform programs right at the end and say, “But wait! What if we did it a whole different way?” It’s not a serious way to participate in politics; if you didn’t say it five years ago, and you didn’t say it last year, then shut up. It was suggested, we looked at it, we decided not to do it, and if you’re going to show up at the meeting at this point you need to have something germaine to add, or stay in the back row and keep your mouth shut. But I don’t think the piece rose to the level of “class warfare” as I’d said in the post below, so consider what I wrote wrong. However I think truth-in-blogging laws require that I leave it up as a record of my wrongness, so I’ve just crossed the whole thing out. — Matt

Fairway Market in NYC. Photo bbchin under Creative Commons.

Unbeknownst to me, it seems the CEO of Whole Foods is a massive right-winger. See Matthew Yglesias » On Boycotting Whole Foods. I’m not quite as surprised to find out that an organic-foods magnate would be a winger as I might have been a year ago; six months ago I spent a few days on a beach near Nha Trang arguing politics with a 50-something libertarian who had been the CEO of the US’s biggest unpackaged dried spices business, an Iowa-based cooperative that started out as a hippy commune in the ’70s.

Anyway, Yglesias notes that Tim Lee tweeted:

Do Daily Kos commenters really want a world where CEOs are expected to pander to their customers’ political prejudices?

Um, hell yeah. What is supposed to be the hesitation here? In the 1900s I would have wanted a world where Jay Gould pandered to my political prejudices by not fighting unions, and I would have tried to boycott his railroads accordingly. In the 1930s I would have wanted a world where Henry Ford pandered to my political prejudices by not openly backing Nazi Germany or bankrolling anti-Semitic organizations, and I would have bought a Studebaker. And in the 1950s and ’60s I would have wanted a world where corporate CEOs felt some anxiety about voicing openly anti-Semitic or racist opinions, or about openly trying to destroy workers’ right to organize, for fear of being boycotted by the workers who buy their products. In other words I would have wanted a world exactly like the world that actually existed.

Look, corporate CEOs’ support for tax cuts for the rich and their opposition to health insurance for the poor is class warfare. As Paul Krugman frequently writes, CEOs are allowed to voice these opinions openly because American society has lost its sense of shame; rich people are actually allowed to make the argument that poor people should have less money and rich people should have more because that’s good for America. They should shut up, and they should shut up out of a healthy fear that the majority of Americans will recognize that they are greedy bastards trying to manipulate the political system in their own interests, and will stop buying their damn products. We call that a “social contract”. Anyway, America is a capitalist country with a free market, and there’ll always be somebody else who’ll sell you that product without insulting you to your face or trying to cut your salary and take away your benefits. If any Whole Foods guys are reading this: you just lost my business too. When I’m in New York I can go to Fairway, in Great Barrington there’s Guido’s, and I hear out on the West Coast there’s a little place called Trader Joe’s.


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    About Me

    I've reported from Vietnam since 2003. I'm now the Hanoi correspondent for the German-based, English-language wire service Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and was previously a Hanoi-based stringer for the Boston Globe and for Voice of America. Before that I reported from West Africa, and before that from the Netherlands; my articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the Nation, the New York Times Magazine and the New York Times. I've got a thing for languages, and have picked up Russian, French, Dutch and Vietnamese. I used to write scripts for the children's cartoon shows "Arthur", "Doug", and a few others. I got a degree in interactive telecommunications back when most people had never sent an email. In April 1991 I predicted the USSR would collapse into its constituent republics and that Boris Yeltsin would become president of Russia. Since then most of my predictions have been rather less accurate, so it was probably a fluke.

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