Whole Foods CEO Says He Regrets Comparing Obamacare to "Fascism"

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 17 2013 2:12 PM

Whole Foods CEO Rethinks Decision To Compare Obamacare to "Fascism"

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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, speaks while surrounded by Whole Foods employees during a news conference on Capitol Hill, in 2008

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

As Moneybox told you yesterday, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey generated some headlines when he recently told NPR that Obamacare wasn't a form of socialism (as he had been suggesting as far back as 2009) but instead "more like fascism." Upon further review—and after heaping amounts of criticism from some shoppers—Mackey now says fascism also isn't the best way to describe the president's landmark health care law. "That's a very provocative word, so I regret using it," he said Thursday.

He walked back his comments in interviews with a number of outlets, including the Huffington Post and CBS News. Here he was on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show:

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I made a bad choice of language. I was trying to distinguish it between socialism so I took the dictionary definition of fascism, which is when the means of production are still owned privately but the government controls it — that’s a type of fascism. However, I realize that that word has so much baggage associated with it from World War II, with Germany, with Italy and Spain, that's a very provocative word, so I regret using it. What I do believe in is free enterprise capitalism, and I’d like to see our healthcare system really unleash the power of free enterprise capitalism to create innovation and healthcare progress. I don’t think we have that – I think we’re moving away from that. So I do regret using that word, I won’t be using it in the future.
I do believe that the government can provide subsidies for our poorer citizens so that everyone can afford health insurance. One of the great examples that I point people to is what they’re doing in Switzerland, where you have still private health insurance markets and yet the government creates subsidies for all of its citizens so that everyone can afford health insurance. There you let the private market, competitive capitalism work and yet the government makes sure that there’s a safety net for people – that’s where I wish we were going in the United States.

The original quote, fwiw:

Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it, and that’s what’s happening with our healthcare programs and these reforms.

Mackey clearly is still not a fan of the new health care, but he said that he's still in search of a new way to describe it, likely one that doesn't come with so much historical baggage. "I think I'm going to use the phrase government-controlled health care," he told HuffPo. "That's where we’re evolving to right now."

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.