Friday, March 13, 2009

The FTC -- as screwed up as the rest of our government.

Maybe it's because I lean Libertarian. What can I say? I love free markets. And the environment. What an oxymoron. Is it possible to love both?

Maybe it's because I admire Whole Foods' founder, John Mackey.

Maybe it's because I love organic food and (even more) I love Whole Foods' generic brand, 365, which makes the best food products (as consistently rated by America's Test Kitchen) available at any grocery chain near me for less than I'd pay for the crappy name brand stuff (and sometimes cheaper than other generics) that other grocery stores sell. I buy their canned tomatoes, canned tuna, and canned pumpkin, their pasta, their pasta sauce, their butter, their cheese, their sour cream, their cream cheese, their ketchup and mustard, their shampoo and condtioner, their lotion, their olive oil and balsamic vinegar, their flour, sugar, and chocolate chips, their snack foods, and anything else I can get my hands on. Even their chapstick rocks. That only covers some of the 365 products I buy. And 365 also makes some of the most earth friendly napkins, paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper, too (very high on recycled content, very VERY low on bleach and other chemicals -- as rated by Greenpeace). I don't buy everything from Whole Foods, but I do love Whole Foods in more ways than I can count and, despite its shortcomings here and there, I will defend the company to my death. And I don't even work for them. Maybe I should. Maybe I will.

Those are just a few of the reasons I was beyond thrilled to see this editorial in our local paper. I hope other papers are printing similar pieces.

OPINION: Whole fools

March 10, 2009 - 5:38PM
To understand how well our big central government looks out for us, consider the recent abuse of Whole Foods and its owner John Mackey, one of the great pro-gun, pro-liberty, pro-profit outspoken libertarian thinkers of our time.

Our story begins in a Texas garage back in 1978. Mackey, freedom-loving vegetarian hippie, starts an organic food store called Safer Way, risking all the money he has. The health food store takes off, he grows it and renames it Whole Foods. Through the force of competition the chain revolutionizes the grocery industry, raising the bar for lame, run-of-the-mill supermarket chains. To compete with this garage startup, the bigs improve customer service, and add bulk aisles, islands of imported cheese, olive bars, more fresh produce than ever before, and greater selections of fresh organic foods. It inspires much smaller natural food businesses, such as Colorado-based Vitamin Cottage, to open locations near Whole Foods locations with the promise of lower prices. Because of Whole Foods, at the turn of the 21st century consumers have unprecedented grocery options.

Fast forward to 2007. Whole Foods has outperformed a smaller Boulder-based natural grocer, Wild Oats. In a friendly arrangement, Whole Foods buys the smaller competitor.

It's a coup for people living near Wild Oats locations, because Whole Foods is a better store. For residents of southeast Colorado Springs, the Whole Foods acquisition of Wild Oats resulted in a Whole Foods at 3180 New Center Point. Meanwhile, a former Wild Oats founder continued growing his new chain of organic food stores called Sunflower Farmers Market.

Somehow, all of this high-performance, free-market activity is a problem the government must solve for us. Apparently it's bad that Safeway has remodeled most of its stores and upgraded its inventory to compete with Whole Foods. And it's a problem that consumers have more Whole Foods locations than they did before the acquisition of Wild Oats.

At first, the Federal Trade Commission tried to stop the Whole Foods acquisition of Wild Oats with an antitrust lawsuit, but a federal judge blocked the move. Last year, an appeals court overturned the ruling and the FTC reopened its Whole Food witch hunt.

Armed with ominous threats to the right of Mackey and Whole Foods to continue succeeding, Mackey succumbed to a settlement in which his company must sell 13 stores, 12 of which were acquired as part of the Wild Oats purchase. One is the New Center Point store, which means the FTC has reduced our local options for shopping at Whole Foods from two locations to one. Somehow, this is supposed to protect us from Whole Foods cornering the organic foods market. Never mind that the success of Whole Foods has resulted in every food retailer up to and including Wal-Mart getting into the business of organic health foods. If you live in the south part of Colorado Springs, thank the FTC when you find yourself driving 30 or 40 minutes to North Academy in order to shop at Whole Foods. Remember, they terminated the other Whole Foods to protect you.

The FTC could not have chosen a greater free-market advocate to attack. Speaking at the 2004 FreedomFest in Las Vegas, a convention of free-market libertarians, Mackey explained a major fallacy in the left's view of economics: for one party to win, another must lose.

Mackey understands that one can win big in business without anyone else having to lose. And he's living proof. Safeway, Wal-Mart, King Soopers and Vitamin Cottage, to mention a few, are better stores because of Mackey. Yet his profits continue to grow.

"Business is not a zero-sum game with a winner and loser," Mackey told FreedomFest.

"It's a win, win, win, win game - and I really like that."

That statement may not sit well with FTC officials, who are charged with ensuring that one company's success does not impede another's to the detriment of consumers. To the FTC, the rapid growth and success of Whole Foods isn't a "win, win, win, win," but a threat, threat, threat, threat to competition regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In the FTC's view, the market can't serve the interests of consumers without federal intervention.

If central planners don't like Mackey's "win, win, win, win" view of free markets, they probably don't like much else he says:

• The left's "socialist economic system not only didn't work very well, but in its communist manifestation it justified monstrous governments directly responsible for the murders of over 100 million people in the 20th century."

• "Socialism doesn't work. This was proven beyond a doubt in the 20th century."

• "What the left has done is create a world of victims and a cult of victimology."

• "Remember, the left's goal remains either to cripple or destroy capitalism."

Mackey clearly doesn't care for big government and central planning. And central planners don't care for his brand of success. So they're saving us from too much organic food, by eliminating stores consumers cherish. Sure, FTC, that makes lots of sense.

Thanks for helping out.


Grandpa Foy said...

Unfortunately there's much more of this same kind of thing to come. Commercially minded entreprenurial people along with individuals who take personal responsibility are exactly what the current government wants to discourage. Big government, big taxes, and greater control of our lives are coming for all of us. I hope not but it certainly looks that way.

jeremy dickman said...

This is awesome! AMEN! Thank you for sharing this on your blog. I only started reading your blog because I happen to have the same last name, But this is absolutely something! This is also a very entertaining, interesting and informative blog, I love it!

Hillary Dickman said...

Thanks, Jeremy! It's great to meet you. Glad you found us! I feel like we' :)