By Robert Romano — In 2009, when Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in a Wall Street Journal oped compared the health care “public option” then under consideration by Congress to socialism — a nationalized economic system wherein the government owns the means of production — hardly anyone batted an eyelash.
Sure, at the time, the left-wing site Daily Kos called for a boycott. And a Facebook group at the time managed to find a couple hundred users angry about the characterization. Whole Foods set up a special forum for customers to express their views on the oped.
But it was hardly the response Whole Foods got when on Jan. 16 in an NPR interview, Mackey was asked a follow-up question on what he thought about the current law.
After all, the “public option” was never adopted. What came afterward, now known in popular vernacular as Obamacare, was a mishmash of mandates, regulations, and price controls — but fell short of an outright nationalization of the insurance industry.
That was when Mackey used the F-word. No, not that one. The other one.
“Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism,” Mackey said in the NPR interview, adding, “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.”
That set off a firestorm, largely again from the political left all but calling for Mackey’s head.
Since then, Mackey has walked back his statement, calling it a “bad choice of language,” but all the while sticking to his essential point.
He explained, “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.”
Fair enough. On one hand, fascism certainly is a controversial term. And on the other, what Mackey described certainly would fit well within the academic definition of fascism. Or more specifically, corporatism, which was the economic theory that undergirded the fascist ideology.
The fascist strain of corporatism was the brainchild of Alfredo Rocco, a key figure in Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. It called for the organization of the economy into corporate sectors that would cooperate with the government in implementing state policy.
It tenets, neatly defined by Roland Sarti in Italy: A Reference Guide from the Renaissance to the Present, called for “uniting workers, entrepreneurs, and government officials in economic activities, carried out in the public interest or the interests of the state… [and] eliminating conflicts of interest among labor, business, and government.”
Or as Rocco put it, “For Fascism, society is the end, individuals the means, and its whole life consists in using individuals as instruments for its social ends.”
Certainly, that’s what Obamacare — with its individual and employer mandates to respectively purchase and to provide health insurance — seeks to accomplish. It guarantees customers to large companies, in this case insurance providers that supported passage of the legislation, and in the process cartelizes the system.
In other words, private profits are being embedded into the law, and enforced by the bureaucracy, which will levy fines on individuals and employers that fail to comply with the mandates.
The purpose, ostensibly, is to reduce health care costs, a stated goal of the legislation, by increasing the pool of the insured. When that fails, as surely it will, whoever cannot afford the insurance will then be subsidized through the state and federal-run exchanges — monies that of course will pass directly to the insurance companies and health care providers.
But the level of state-control in this new system, and insurance industry participation in implementing it to its own benefit, is undeniable. It is corporatism defined.
One could compare it to the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 that implemented the National Recovery Administration, which may have been patterned after Mussolini’s labor laws, as summarized in a 1991 Yale Law School study by James Whitman, before it was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court. Or the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which gave privately owned banks the power to appoint regional Fed chairmen and outsourced creation of the public currency to a banking cartel.
Or more recently, one might examine the Troubled Asset Relief Fund (TARP), Dodd-Frank’s “orderly liquidation fund,” and the Fed’s continued mortgage-backed securities purchase program — all bailout programs that privatize profits and socialize losses in the financial sector. More corporatism.
In that context, Obamacare actually fits in a long line of fascist-like ideas being implemented in the U.S. that feed the bottom lines of very large companies — all at public expense.
To be fair, corporatism does predate fascism as an idea, but it heavily influenced that ideology and its policies that were implemented in Italy, Germany, and elsewhere such that, today, they can almost be used synonymously in an academic sense.
Mackey obviously does not prefer this approach to economic policy, and so chose the highly charged fascist label. He could have just as easily called it corporatist and would have been equally accurate.
In short, Mackey was spot on. Perhaps the only thing he really regrets was telling the truth.
Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.