The Death of Fred Meijer: Canonizing a member of the 1%
All of the Grand Rapids-based media today joined in unison to pay tribute to Fred Meijer, the former CEO of Meijer Inc.
MLive coverage includes a story on his death, but separate stories on the company, reflections from one of their columnists and an excerpt from his biography. WOOD TV 8 has several stories and a photo album highlighting the life of this multi-billionaire and the rest of the major daily commercial outlets have joined in on the cheerleading.
It stands to reason that the local news media would gush over a man worth over $5 billion dollars since every one of these news outlets relies heavily on advertising dollars from Meijer. But reliance on advertising money is only part of the reason for the celebration of a billionaire in local media. The other major factor is that commercial media not only internalizes the values of the economic system, they are also deeply entrenched in it. This is a point we made about why the local media will never understand Occupy Grand Rapids.
Meijer, like DeVos and Van Andel, is a name that is all over spaces in this community such as gardens, the PBS station, the civic theater, the lobby at the Ford Museum and many other spaces. The Meijer name on these public spaces is designed in part to get the public to be reminded of how wonderful rich men are in this community, and it is also a way to silence any critical voices.
Becoming a Billionaire
There was an interesting line in the WZZM 13 story, which was attributed to Fred Meijer himself. “We don’t want to make more money we want customer [sic] to have better value.” This line is supposed to represent the ethos of the Meijer Corporation, but if one looks at this statement with a critical lens there is a different message. Meijer made his billions off selling products made mostly out of the US, buying at a high volume rate, receiving massive subsidies and tax-breaks whenever they put a new store in and downsizing the workforce.
Like Wal-Mart, Meijer is based on high volume, which means they dictate the price of products they buy. They also sell lots of cheap items made in countries like China, where labor standards are based on sweatshop conditions. In addition, most of what is sold in Meijer stores are non-necessary items, like cheap plastic crap. Even most of the food that is sold in Meijer stores is more accurately food-stuff, which has contributed tremendously to an unhealthy society.
Essentially, the statement “We don’t want to make more money we want customer [sic] to have better value” is a lie. What drives Meijer policy is making a profit and a pretty hefty one. We reported earlier this year that since 2007, Fred Meijer’s wealth grew 150%, so that by 2010 he was worth $5 billion. What is astounding about this growth is that it happened at a time when the economy tanked and millions of people fell into poverty.
Some will say that Meijer has been a generous philanthropist evidenced by the fact that he has shared his wealth. Such a notion ignores the function of foundations and philanthropy in a capitalist system, in that it is primarily designed to divert public attention from the tremendous wealth gap we have in this society. If the rich did not “donate” money to certain projects, we all might be more inclined to take that wealth back. That’s right… take it back, because it is money made from the labor of working people.
What is not discussed in today’s coverage is what else Meijer has done with its money. Besides, directing wealth to projects that protect the status quo, Meijer has used his money and his company’s money to influence politics. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Meijer Inc. spent over $300,000 in each of the past 2 years with their state Political Action Committee. According to Opensecrets.org, Meijer has contributed primarily to Republican candidates in recent election cycles. Meijer has also contributed millions of dollars over the years to influence food policy at the federal level, with over $80,000 in influence spending in the current election cycle alone.
Like the rest of the 1% in this society, we are constantly told that Grand Rapids would not be where it is today if it were not for people like Fred Meijer. I agree with this statement, but from a different point of view. Grand Rapids might not have the kind of deeply entrenched poverty that we currently experience if there were real economic justice. Imagine if the $5 billion that Meijer is worth were given back to the people to end poverty and homelessness. Until that kind of revolutionary act is taken, I will not chime in with the rest of the media and canonize part of the 1%.