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Beverly Tan Headshot

Keeping Us Fat, Slow, and Stupid: One Chain at a Time

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The financial houses are abuzz with the latest gossip. "Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey has an alter ego!" "He blogged on Yahoo! Finance under a pseudonym and lambasted Wild Oats!" "The FTC case against Whole Foods has now gathered steam!"

No one seems to be asking the underlying question: Why the hell is the FTC trying to block the proposed acquisition of Wild Oats by Whole Foods? Are they really concerned about the possibility of Whole Foods having an unfair competitive advantage in the food and grocery industry? Or is this really about keeping the small fish small, so that the big boys -- mainstream grocery store chains -- can continue to dominate the landscape? This can't have anything to do with the fact that commercial farmers, who sell to large supermarkets, donate millions of dollars to political campaigns, can it? Why, this would make the FTC ... the henchman of government and big business.

Believe it. It's happening.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, is a self-described vegan and yoga-lover. He is no stranger to the maverick label. However, the fact that Mackey shepherds a $5.5 billion a year Fortune 500 company, and has never contributed to either Democratic or Republican campaign coffers -- that fact alone makes him an absolute freak. His libertarian ideals of free enterprise and empowerment management have no place in a country that is now driven by big business and partisan interests. Would it be folly to suggest that the FTC initiated antitrust proceedings against Whole Foods, to pander to the special interests of commercial farmers? Probably not, since the latter rely on mainstream supermarkets to distribute their products. Let's not be fooled: the issue at hand is not Whole Foods' potential monopoly in the grocery store arena. Even with the purchase of Wild Oats, Whole Food's market share pales in comparison to that of chain grocery stores. The real issue lies in this administration's dogged support of commercial farming, at the expense of small mom and pop growers.

A similarly alarming scenario played out in 2001, when the Bush administration vacated the antitrust lawsuit that the Clinton administration brought against Microsoft for unfair market practices. That year, Microsoft contributed close to $5 million -- more than half of which went to the Republican party. Coincidence? I think not. Not two years later, CMP Media reported that Microsoft gained market share for its Windows operating system, despite competition from Linux and other open source operating systems.

Make no mistake, the message from the Bush administration to business owners is, "You must Pay to Play."

And so, big business pays. They pay through their ears for lobbyists, special interest groups, and media spin doctors. They pay for the passage of legislation that will benefit them. They pay to retain their dominant position in the marketplace. Sadly, big business is the only entity that can afford this. Mom and pop owners, squeezed out and disenfranchised, are finding it harder and harder to keep afloat, much less grow.

We, in turn, have to pay the biggest price -- an increasing lack of choices, and a shrinking array of products and services. In this beautiful, heterogeneous country that we call home, there is a shocking plague of homogeneity in what we see, eat, drink, and buy. It shows a lack of gumption and imagination. Worst of all, it keeps us fat, slow, and stupid -- one chain at a time.