Our longtime friend and mentor, Jim Rodney, passed away in August at the age of 98. We were privileged to know him these last 25 years, thanks to our work and mutual interest in free markets and free people. The depth of this gentleman’s impact on us (and others) is hard to overstate.
Jim was a board member with the Mackinac Center, starting in 1993, and he and fiscal policy expert Mike LaFaive hit it off quickly, sharing opposition to taxpayer funded corporate welfare. Jim opposed taxpayer subsidies for business, even his own, which he built from scratch. Steve Thomas met Jim at an event in southeast Michigan, and the two would benefit from their close association and mutual counsel for a quarter century.
During World War II, Jim served with the Army in Burma, and he told the story he believed evinced his good fortune. He and his band of brothers once had to sleep in standing waters. The man on each side of him contracted malaria, but Jim was unscathed. “I’ve always been lucky,” he would say. Jim’s sense of gratitude for the people and things in his life helped him persevere through rough circumstances. He made a point of encouraging others to cultivate gratitude. Jim’s philosophical outlook on life was that of small “l” libertarian, and he dedicated his time and treasure to advancing the cause of peaceful and voluntary association. He was long concerned about the direction his country and the larger world were headed. In response, he invested his hard-earned wealth in the people and institutions he thought might best stand up to those who would try to lord over the rest of us. The Mackinac Center was one such institution among many, but Jim invested in individuals, too. A famous proverb says, “A society grows great when men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Jim was one of those men.
It is worth emphasizing here that Jim could only invest his wealth in others after first earning it, and that he did. His manufacturing firm lost money its first five years and there were times — while Jim labored seven days a week — that its survival, let alone its success, was in doubt. Though Jim is gone, his business thrives today and has an international footprint.
The long-time reader of IMPACT knows that the Mackinac Center has criticized state corporate subsidy programs. Jim was frequently frustrated by these programs, too. He knew that the evidence demonstrating their ineffectiveness was overwhelming, but he also thought them fundamentally unfair. After all, the way the state hands out subsidies is by first forcibly taking funds from others.
He couldn’t help but laugh when the state’s corporate welfare department — the Michigan Economic Development Corporation — sent a staffer to regale him with the favors the state could provide to his company. He listened politely but declined to pursue its proverbial free lunch.
After we last dined together — just weeks before his death — Jim remarked how pleased he was to have such youngsters (we are in our 50s) as friends. It’s hard to not get emotional about that. He may have felt lucky to have us as friends, but we know we and the freedom movement were the lucky ones.