Sunday, August 16, 2009

Waiting for 2010 #94: Of Boycotts, Capitalism, and Groceries

The freedom of speech is a right in the United States of America. However, this Constitutionally-guaranteed right doesn't necessarily protect the speaker from certain consequences that usually involve others' right to freely express themselves, too.

Recently, Whole Foods Market co-founder/CEO John Mackey wrote an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal against President Obama's health care reform proposals. While Mackey used some obvious partisan weasel words (granted, ObamaCare is less malicious than death panels, in terms of weasel words), I applaud him for positing some alternative solutions. I hope that voices of opposition like Mackey's will raise the quality of the debate, so that we're talking about the issues at hand - and not death panel bogey men, Stalinist dystopian futures, and other paranoid slippery slopes.

Unfortunately for Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFMI), their CEO's published and publicized opinions apparently offended a major consumer demographic for the company, namely, pro-Obama liberals who shop at Whole Foods. Many of these once-faithful customers are now boycotting the organic foods supermarket. Appropriately enough, this is the often elusive free market in action: Company figurehead offends customers; customers stop patronizing company; one or more competing companies gain new customers. One slippery slope possibility from this (of many): Company loses money; frightened shareholders dump stock; angry shareholders shake up board of directors; frazzled board shakes up management; former company figurehead gets to do something else full-time. Alternatively, Whole Foods might adapt to balance the needs of their remaining customers, while trying to bring in new customers.

Similarly, at some point, market forces will pick up where the initial reform leaves off. Whether it is reform solution X, Y, or Z, the hope is that health insurance prices will become more affordable for more Americans, and that the overall quality of health care will increase for more Americans. As is, without reforms, that ain't happenin' anytime soon.

All in all (so far), everyone's right to speak freely, without fear of imprisonment or even civil lawsuit, remains: Mackey was able to chime in on the health care reform debate, his company's former customers get to make a big non-violent stink over their former grocer, and I get to say that it's okay and just part of the process.

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