One Event Like This One Can Transform Society

Mark Skousen

Named one of the "Top 20 Living Economists," Dr. Skousen is a professional economist, investment expert, university professor, and author of more than 25 books.

It is incredible the quantity of good that may be done in a country by a single man who will make a business of it.” — Benjamin Franklin

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Last month’s Libertarian National Convention was held on Memorial Day weekend. In my breakfast address, I told a memorable story about a small but profitable grocery store in Texas.

In the early 1980s, this grocery store was so popular that it was profitable from day one. The owners dreamed of a creating a whole new approach to the traditional low-margin grocery business that could compete with the Albertsons and Safeway chains.

Then, disaster struck on Memorial Day. Every 100 years or so, the town suffers from a devastating flood, and this time it destroyed the downtown area with eight feet of water pouring down the streets. It flooded the store, severely damaging the building and ruining all the produce and goods. On that one memorable day, they were wiped out.

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The next morning, the owners and staff entered the building and saw their dreams shattered. They faced bankruptcy.

As they started to clean up the mess and mop the floors, something unexpected happened. A customer entered the store and offered to help clean up… then another… then another… within an hour, a dozen or more devoted customers had come to help out in hopes of restoring the store back to health.

The owners were deeply moved and decided right then to rebuild the store. But that required plenty of cash, credit and bank loans they didn’t have. They reached out to their suppliers who gave them credit. They raised capital from local supporters.

But they were still $100,000 short in funds required to reopen, so they finally turned to their last resort, the local city bank. After several anxious days, the bank finally came through and approved the loan. They were back in business and everyone was happy.

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And Now the Rest of the Story

A year later, the owner of the grocery store ran into one of the bankers on the street and said, “I just want to thank you for approving that $100,000 loan to rebuild the store.”

The banker responded, “Oh, didn’t you hear?”

“No, what?” said the owner.

“We turned down the loan!” Then he added, “But the bank president, Mark Monroe, said he would personally approve the loan himself because he had faith and trust that you would repay it. He personally guaranteed the loan.”

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An enlightened, compassionate banker made all the difference!

The owner of the store was none other than John Mackey, one of the co-founders of the Whole Foods Market, who, with his partners, went on to build the largest chain of natural food stores in the country.

He tells this story and many other fascinating events in his new memoir, “The Whole Story.” Highly recommended! It’s available in hardback or audiobook on Amazon.

Used by permission of the author.

A Revolutionary New Model of Capitalism

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What I like about John Mackey is his approach to business. He came out of the hippie counter-culture of the sixties and seventies, which viewed capitalism as selfish, greedy and exploitative. They preferred non-profits and cooperatives, not “evil” for-profit corporations.

But Mackey was convinced he could break the counter-culture mode and create a for-profit corporation that promised to benefit all the stakeholders — not just the owners, shareholders and customers, but the workers (which he called “team members”), the suppliers and the community. It was a “win-win” formula that he called “Conscious Capitalism,” the title of his first book (co-authored by Raj Sisodia) and published by Harvard Business Press in 2013. My wife, Jo Ann, helped edit the book, and it became a bestseller, and has been widely praised in the academic and business world. Mackey gave lectures at major business schools, including Columbia Business School where I was teaching, and he attracted standing-room only crowds.

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At FreedomFest in 2013, I was pleased to give the Leonard E. “Read This Book” Award to John Mackey for his book.

In “The Whole Story,” he tells all about the ups and downs of his career as CEO of Whole Foods Market, his efforts to institute his “stakeholder” philosophy and the inside story of how he approached Jeff Bezos’ Amazon to buy Whole Foods… He had to fight off two attempts to fire him as CEO, and in the end triumphed. Most people think that Mackey is a billionaire; in fact, he is a multi-millionaire, as a result of being forced over time to dilute his ownership and his decision to be paid only $1 a year salary as CEO.

Although I’ve known John as a friend for many years, I learned a lot about his personal life, his struggles with his parents, his dropping out of college, his relations with women and his marriage to his wife Deborah, his enjoyment of sports and especially hiking trails around the world, his decision to become a vegan and teetotaler, his personal libertarian philosophy and his surprisingly positive experiences with psychedelic drugs.

A few things are left out in Mackey’s “Whole Story” due to the publisher’s insistence that the book be no longer than 400 pages: for example, his well-known debate with Milton Friedman’s old-fashioned view that “the only purpose of business is to make a profit,” and no index!

Students’ Favorite Libertarian CEO?

At Chapman University, I teach a popular course called “Libertarian CEOs.” We focus on four case studies of highly successful libertarian companies:

  1. the “Market Based Management” style of Charles Koch and Koch Industries;
  2. the “Conscious Capitalism” model of John Mackey’s Whole Foods Market;
  3. the Ayn Rand philosophy in John Allison’s BB&T (now Truist Bank), the largest bank in the South; and
  4. the highly decentralized anarcho-capitalist approach of libertarian Bill Bonner’s Agora Inc. (financial newsletters and trading services).

It’s a fun class. (I suggested the course at Columbia Business School, but they turned me down as being “too political” — ha!) I give the pro’s and con’s of each company, and do my best to promote objectively each management strategy. At the end of the semester, I poll the students and ask, “Which of the four companies would you like to work for after you graduate?”

The answer is always the same — the majority want to work for Whole Foods Market. Koch Industries comes in second, Truist Bank third, and Agora Inc. last.

All four libertarian approaches are highly successful, but students see each management philosophy differently:

Koch seems too demanding (compensation is linked to performance; a college degree makes no difference).

RE Truist Bank: Most of today’s students don’t find Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and greed appealing.

And Agora appears to be too cutthroat. Bill Bonner actually believes that “worrying about employee morale is lame.” When I told him that two students (out of 45) wanted to work for Agora, he said, “Give me their names, I want to hire them!”

For today’s students, Whole Foods Market has the advantage because it emphasizes that work should be for a “higher purpose” than just making money, and they really seem to care more about their employees (team leaders) and the other stakeholders. Not surprisingly, unions are unnecessary at Whole Foods. It is the future of enlightened capitalism.

Fiery Debates at FreedomFest

In 2016, we had a huge debate at FreedomFest on these four philosophies of business. The sparks flew! John Mackey and Bill Bonner really went at it. You can watch it here.

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Then, a few years later, Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank (“I only want to make money”) and John Mackey (“business has a higher purpose”) debated the role of business. Watch their fiery debate here.

These are some of the best debates in the history of FreedomFest, and we have more to offer this summer.

In Vegas this July 10-13, John, along with Alex Green, will be part of the big debate on “How Long Will the Bitcoin Bubble Last?” John will also be interviewed by Henrik Cronqvist, the dean of the business school at Chapman University. Please join us! John is a big fan of FreedomFest and comes almost every year. He will be on the pitch tank contest.

FreedomFest is less than a month away.

Full Schedule of FreedomFest Now Posted!

I’m happy to announce that after months of hard work by Valerie Durham and our staff, we have now posted the full schedule of speakers, panels, debates and breakout sessions on our FreedomFest website.

To see all we have to offer, go to https://www.freedomfest.com/2024-complete-lineup/, click on “schedule” and then “expanded.”

Dates are July 10-13 at the new Caesars Forum Convention Center in Las Vegas.

Our room block is filling up at various hotels in the area, and their special rates will end in two weeks! Check out Harrah’s, Caesars Palace and, for budget-minded attendees, the LINQ (only $129 a night!). Details at https://www.freedomfest.com/hotels/.

Now is the time to sign up using code EAGLE50 to get $50 off the registration fee. The discount ends on July 1, when the full price of the conference kicks in.

To register, go to www.freedomfest.com, email Hayley at hayley@freedomfest.com or call her at 1-855-850-3733, ext. 201.

If you haven’t signed up yet, read this…

Over the years, I have met many subscribers who have always wanted to come to FreedomFest, but have never made it for one reason or another. This is the year to ACT!

Which reminds me of this story:

For years, Brett Iannuccillo, a longtime subscriber to my newsletter, wanted to come to FreedomFest. It seems that every year he had a conflict. Life was busy and FreedomFest passed by every year.

Well, he finally made it last year. He said he had the best time, and on the final day of the four-day conference, he came up on stage in Memphis for a photograph of all the attendees who bought a silver dollar, our official symbol of liberty and prosperity. It’s an annual tradition to be on stage with celebrity speakers, such as Fox News’ Kennedy, our emcee Steve Forbes and many others.

Brett is the one kneeling between me and Kennedy holding two silver dollars, with everyone else having a great time at FreedomFest.

His wife contacted us to tell us how much he loved “the greatest libertarian show on earth.” But then, she asked to change tickets to this year’s show in Vegas because, sadly, Brett died a month after FreedomFest in Memphis. I was glad he finally got to fulfill his wish to attend our big show.

FreedomFest is an incredible experience and life changing. The buzz you feel in the exhibit hall is unforgettable. For example, here’s your chance to talk to top experts at Main Street Capital, my favorite growth and income stock (up 15% this year), the only company which pays a monthly AND quarterly dividend. (It will pay another 30-cent dividend this week.)

We have an incredible line up of first-time speakers, including Harvard Professor Steven Pinker and Lord Matt Ridley (the two top public intellectuals in the West), podcaster extraordinaire Tom Woods, actors Ice-T and Rob Schneider, Fox News co-host Emily Compagno (“Outnumbered”) and Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo, among many others.

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And don’t forget our ever-popular Global Financial Summit, the Anthem Film Festival and, for the first time, the Presidential Debate organized by the “Free and Equal” Elections Foundation.

Plus, stop by our Eagle booth and meet in person our Eagle editors, Jim Woods, George Gilder, Roger Michalski, Paul Dykewicz and Jack Lizmi.

The exhibit hall is non-stop action, what John Mackey calls “The Trade Show for Liberty,” with all the freedom organizations and think tanks there, including Reason, FEE, FIRE, Free the People, Free State Project, Young Americans for Liberty, AIER and many more. Plus, several coin dealers, including Van Simmons, president of David Hall Rare Coins. Stop by and pick up a silver dollar, our symbol of liberty and sound money.

You Nailed It!

What a Difference a State Governor Makes

During the pandemic in 2020, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak shut down the entire state. Las Vegas was a ghost town. We were forced to cancel FreedomFest that year, although later in the year we held a “mini-FreedomFest” at the Ahern Hotel, whose owner defied the Covid restrictions. When Sisolak allowed businesses and casinos to open again several months later, the state required masks and vaccines (that didn’t keep you from getting the virus). Gone was the libertarian philosophy that Nevada was famous for. I was shocked how the big gambling organizations and hotel chains caved to the governor’s draconian rules.

We had had enough, and in 2021, we moved FreedomFest to South Dakota and attracted 2,700 attendees, a record. Our people loved the freedom that South Dakota offered.

Sisolak was a typical authoritarian governor, and fortunately lost to the Republican candidate in 2022, Joe Lombardo. Lombardo has been a breath of fresh air. He was the only candidate in the country to unseat an incumbent governor of either party, and he is proving why.

He wrote in last week’s New York Times op ed, “When I took office, Nevada was grappling with the economic hangover of the pandemic. In the following months, we lowered our main business tax by 15%, vetoed tax increases, eliminated red tape through executive orders and empowered the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to create competitive incentive packages. The results: We generated $5 billion in new private-sector economic investment, led the nation in annual job growth and created thousands of new jobs in our state.”

Gov. Joe Lombardo has set a new record for the most vetoes issued in a single legislative session, with the first-term Republican rejecting 75 bills passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

While California is suffering from high unemployment and rising inflation, Nevada is booming.

One of the biggest challenges in Nevada and around the country is the high cost of housing on top of high mortgage rates.

To solve this problem, Governor Lombardo wants Biden to release federal lands. He writes, “I have been calling for new and speedier processes to transfer federal land in urban areas into state and private hands for attainable housing development for the past year, but the president has instead focused on further restricting the use of land in Nevada by unilaterally designating a national monument 500,000 acres in size — two and a half times the size of New York City, including all five boroughs.” That’s room for up to 335,000 new homes.

I’m thrilled to announce that Gov. Joe Lombardo will give the opening address on Wednesday, July 10, at the new Caesars Forum Convention Center. Can’t wait. He is making a difference in restoring freedom and prosperity to the Silver State. See Home – FreedomFest.

Good investing, AEIOU,

Mark Skousen

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