Skip to content

Exploitation, maintaining order and protecting systems of power: Is this what Mark Murray means by Virtuous Leadership?

March 13, 2022

What do you get when you have a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure interviewed for a podcast run by a Far Right Think Tank? You get a little bit of honesty and a lot of bullshit.

Recently, the Acton Institute for the Study and Religion and Liberty, invited Mark Murray to be part of a discussion on their podcast about the idea of Virtuous Leadership.

The vague concept of leadership is all the rage these days. Go into any bookstore or peruse mainstream publishing company websites, and you will no doubt come across a litany of books on leadership. You will find titles like, The Dichotomy of Leadership, Simple Truths of Leadership, Compassionate Leadership, The Leadership Space, or Leaders Eat Last. If you are a CEO or a President of a Company, it seems as though one qualification of being in that position, is that you must write (generally you get someone else to write it for you) a book on leadership.

So, naturally I was intrigued to know what Mark Murray, a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, thinks about virtuous leadership. The interview on Acton Vault, was not particularly riveting. To be honest, it was painful to listen to. But, there was one thing that Murray had to say that I found very instructive. Murray said, “Government has a critical role to play, which is maintaining order.”

Maintaining order is particularly critical for systems of power and oppression, like Capitalism, White Supremacy and Heterosexism. Without order, people are more prone to think critically about these systems, plus it doesn’t provide a social climate that allows people to be consumers. 

Mark Murray would know a thing or two about maintaining order, both in government and in the private sector. Most people came to know Murray, when he was working in the Engler Administration as both Treasurer and Budget Director from 1999 – through the early 2000’s. In that role, Murray served as a critical component in the implementation of numerous Neoliberal economic austerity policies that were pushed by Gov. Engler. Some of these policies saw the privatization of public services, along with a massive redistribution of wealth from the public to the private sector.

My family experienced first hand the hardship that these austerity measures had on working class people. My younger brother, who has serious disabilities, was part of a day program for people with both physical and cognitive disabilities in Lansing, where he lived with my parents. One of the downsizing consequences of the Engler Administration was the elimination of state funding for the day program that my brother benefitted from. These funding cuts meant that he was home all of the time, was not able to participate in the multitude of activists provided by the day program. This put additional stress on my parents, but it also had serious consequences for my brother, who became more depressed and self-abusive. Mark Murray directly did harm to my family and numerous other families because of the kinds of state cuts that had been funding various social programs. Is this what Mark Murray means by Virtuous Leadership?

A second example of Murray practicing Virtuous Leadership, was when he was the President of Grand Valley State University (GVSU). GVSU tried to pass a domestic partner benefits policy in 1995, but was prevented from doing so by Wealthy donors – DeVos & Cook – who threatened to withhold their money from a proposed building project. 

Another attempt to win domestic partner benefits was made in 2003, but then President Mark Murray blocked the attempt. Murray stated at the time, “As a University that has benefited from very generous support from the private philanthropic community, we must recognize the prevailing views of those who provide such support.” Translated, Murray was saying that he didn’t care about LGBTQ faculty and staff, he just wanted to make sure that members of the Capitalist Class in West Michigan would continue to give the university money. Again, is this what Mark Murray means by Virtuous Leadership? 

A third example of Murray practicing Virtuous Leadership, can be seen in his tenure as President of West Michigan retail giant, Meijer Inc. Murray was President of Meijer Inc from 2006 – 2013, then became the CEO of Meijer for an addition two years and nine months. 

During Murray’s tenure as head of Meijer Inc., the thousands of store workers continued to make poverty-level wages, while Doug & Hank Meijer saw themselves on the Forbes 400 list of Billionaires. In fact, Doug & Hank Meijer saw their wealth nearly double during the time that Mark Murray was the President/CEO of the family’s company. This dynamic at Meijer Inc continues to this day, with the massive growth of the Meijer family wealth, while most Meijer employees can’t afford the average cost of rent in West Michigan on the slightly better than minimum wages they make. Once again, is this what Mark Murray means by Virtuous Leadership?

If you pick up the latest book on leadership by one of the many CEOs across the country, despite all of their lofty rhetoric about leadership, the fact remains that their primary function is to make as much money as possible for the shareholders, even if that means exploiting those who do the real work. And you can be damn well sure that workers are being exploited.

When people like Mark Murray talk about Virtuous Leadership, what he (and they) mean is that they will do whatever is necessary to keep order, maintain systems of power and oppression, and exploit those who are the true creators of wealth, workers. So, let’s be clear, there is nothing virtuous in the exploitation of workers and the redirecting of wealth from the public to those in the Capitalist Class, like Mark Murray. 

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: