Ayn Rand’s real world position regarding government benefits

| January 29, 2011 | 34 Replies

I recently spotted this excerpt in Wikipedia (I left the footnote references so you can backtrack):

Tea Party Advocate (Wikimedia Commons)

A heavy smoker, Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974. Although she had long opposed government assistance programs, she eventually accepted Social Security and Medicare payments for herself, under the name of “Ann O’Connor”, and her husband as well.[87] A July 1998 interview with Ewa Joan Pryor, a New York state social worker, conducted in 1998 by the Ayn Rand Institute, revealed that Pryor assisted the two with filing. Federal records obtained through a Freedom of Information act request confirmed that between December 1974 and her death in March 1982, Rand collected a total of $11,002 in monthly Social Security payments.[88] O’Connor received $2,943 between December 1974 and his death in November 1979.[89]

Rand, is often cited today by conservatives touting extremely limited federal government, including many Tea Party advocates who are currently collecting social security payments and Medicare benefits. Here is the Wikipedia opening paragraph on Rand:

Rand’s political views, reflected in both her fiction and her theoretical work, emphasize individual rights (including property rights) and laissez-faire capitalism, enforced by a constitutionally limited government. She was a fierce opponent of all forms of collectivism and statism,[3][4]

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Category: Health Care Reform, hypocrisy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Dea Hoover says:

    Even the Amish in Indiana are taking unemployment benefits this year. Their bishop gave them the OK to go for it. It's awfully hard to walk the talk for everyone it seems. Great point. Ayn Rand is known for her pridefulness and you are so right in pointing out that her actions speak louder than her words, even if preserved in 1,000s of copies of bound books.

  2. Stacy Kennedy says:

    Today her defenders are out in force. A libertarian friend of mine wrote on Facebook: "I see nothing hypocritical or inconsistent about taking an opportunity to get some of the money back that has been robbed from you. If she had never paid any taxes or into Social Security, it would be a different story."

    Sure would've. She might well have been wiped out by medical expenses incurred by her catastrophic illness, and died impoverished.

    Look, she could have stood on principle and refused it. But if truly she believed she was _entitled_ to take advantage of a system she despised, on the grounds that it had "robbed" her (funny sort of robber, that gives back), she could have done so openly. Why did she feel the need to use an assumed name? Don't tell me she was afraid of being criticized: surely a big brave ubermensch like her could've dealt with that.

  3. dave says:

    Nevermind what Ayn did one way or the other– she's dead. She paid into the system and got some money out. She scammed the rest of us with her books, just like everyone else scams us out of our money for their books/newspapers/sports performances/whiskey sours. Bidness is Bidness.

    My question is more fundamental: is social security sustainable? Is the entire entitlement structure, as it currently stands, sustainable? Nevermind such loaded words as "fair", "even", "legal", or even "rights". Numerically, with the cold hard science of demographics and industrial output, is it sustainable?

    I've run the numbers a few times, and read quite a bit on it. I keep coming back to the answer: NO. Unless we completely embrace Keynesian money printing and inflate away all debts while sustaining the numerical entitlements (no COLA), social security will be underwater within the next 15-20 years. I don't care who you are, how much money you make or don't make, how angry you are at wall street, how righteous you think you are, how much you think you're speaking for the 'working class', the numbers simply aren't there. SS is on the way to bankruptcy, and it will take the federal government with it.

    So please– let's stop throwing tomatoes in the museum. Ayn Rand was a cultist and polyandrous. FDR was a closet socialist with a golden spoon in his mouth. Nixon was a horrible anti-Semite. Get over it. They're dead and dust.

    WTF are we going to do about the cliff that gets closer every year? If you have any savings in USD at all, this issue far outstrips any partisan hackery cheap shots at dead people.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Dave: Sorry for the delay approving your comment; it fell into spam. I agree with you. Cold hard math and demographics also terrify me when I consider what kind of future we are constructing for ourselves and our children. We are headed off the cliff, yet we can't even do the first tiny thing to slow down, much reverse, our destructive ways.

      When I stop hearing free market fundamentalists stop doing hagiographies for Ayn Rand, I'll stop criticizing her hard-heartedness and hypocrisy. It's clear that she opposed such things as public libraries, public schools and public health care. Privatizing these things would cause poor and middle class children to rot and fail. I also think that some government programs go too far and spend too much, but most welfare these days is corporate welfare, and the biggest promoters are huge fans of Ayn Rand.

  4. Jim Razinha says:

    Read Michael Shermer's take on her in "Why People Believe Weird Things."

    I have most of Rand's works, though I've not read them in 30 years. As I gained life experience, I realized how naive she was and left her behind along with her paper thin caricatures. Shermer's chapter on her is called "The Unlikeliest Cult" and makes more sense than she did. One of those, "yeah!" moments.

    Who is John Galt?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Jim: Galt is the lead character in Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlas_Shrugged

      This, from Wikipedia:

      "Atlas Shrugged endorses the belief that a society's best hope rests on adopting a system of pure laissez-faire. Rand's view of the ideal government is expressed by John Galt, who says, "The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force", and claims that "no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality – to think, to work and to keep the results – which means: the right of property". Galt himself lives a life of laissez-faire capitalism as the only way to live consistently with his beliefs."

  5. Jim Razinha says:

    Erich, I was being facetious. I read Atlas Shrugged twice. I knew who John Galt was – "who is John Galt" is the phrase that morphed into "who knows?" of "what can we do?" for her imagined society. Maybe I should have put it in quotes?

  6. Jim Razinha says:

    I should add that I think Rand would have looked down on the people coopting her material as largely being unable to understand it and more than anything part of the collective flock of sheep that listen to talk radio and that one "news" channel. Galt's enclave was not for the general populace, rather for her idea of intellectual elite. None of whom would be numbered among the Tea Party. Revolt! (But only in the direction I want you to. And only if I'm in charge.)

    Now, if she ran the Tea Party Movement, she might have pushed the agenda, but in whose hands it moves now? Doubtful.

    I have a rather large dictionary of philosophy in which there is no citation for objectivism. And when I brought up her work in my exploratory foray into philosophy the first time around in college, the mention brought sneers from most of the professors. I couldn't believe they couldn't see the wisdom. Then I grew older and understood.

  7. I've commented on Rand before, but any opportunity that someone who doesn't know any better might read it…

    I read all her nonfiction as well as her fiction. It is very appealing to loner adolescents who feel they've been stripped of what is rightfully theirs by the society around them. It doesn't hold up any better than any other hardline libertarian ideal.

    But. You have to remember that Rand was educated under the Soviets, in a system where all the worst aspects of The Government manifested daily, in a country that never had much of a history of altruistic behavior. She brought that model for all that was bad here, at a time when we were arguing over the pros and cons of capitalism vs. communism, and took a stand that rejected ALL government involvement with the personal. Psychological there was nothing inconsistent or hard to understand in her position.

    But. She was clearly brilliant and gifted and over time should have figured out that things are (were) different here. For instance, we have a history of altruism and of positive generosity and of controlling governmental excess through governmental tools. The one thing she failed to get—and this was made absolutely clear in Atlas Shrugged—was the whole idea of mutual cooperation that bypassed monetary compensation, without which communities and indeed nations find it very difficult to function. As the highest virtue among her uber capitalist heroes was the idea of paying for every damn thing in coin. No one did any favors, no one did any courtesies, no one gave professional discounts, no one considered that some things you just do. She would be delighted today when we are facing a system which requires everyone to pay for every damn little thing they get directly—pay tv, next will be pay libraries, and of course we already have pay-for-service government. She failed to grasp the basics of Service as a social virtue and derided the majority of Americans as sheep, whether she intended to or not.

    I would highly recommend to any and all with an interest in this peculiar woman to search out and read her first novel, which is curiously ignored even by her cult followers. It's interesting to me that in almost every encounter I've ever had with a dedicated Randian Objectivist there is so little familiarity with it. WE THE LIVING is actually a brilliant novel and it is a tragedy. I mean a thorough tragedy, not an accidental one.

    WE THE LIVING is semi-autobiographical about a young woman in Russia in the aftermath of the Revolution who returns to her city with dreams of becoming an engineer. She wants to build bridges and now, under the new regime, the fact that she is a woman will make no difference. She can finally do what she's only dreamed of till them.

    But she is from minor aristocracy and is soon purged by the gatekeepers of the proletariat on the basis of her family association. Her situation goes from bad to worse, she ends up hooking, but then becomes the lover of two men of apposite circumstances, one of whom is actually and NKVD agent.

    Finally she realizes she cannot live there anymore and flees. She tries to cross the Finnish border to escape and is shot and killed.

    It is bleak, it is realistic, it is tragic, and while you can find the beginnings of her later philosophical screeds in it, it is an honest novel that seems to be ignored by her followers. After that she began writing polemic disguised as fiction.

    It is a worthwhile novel to read. It explains a lot. I find it sad that Rand took only one lesson from coming to the United States and chose to demean the largely unspoken and unrecognized largesse of spirit that has fueled our successes for so long—a largesse that is in danger of extinction if we don't get our heads of our collective quasi-Objectivist asses. Remember, Greenspan was a self-professed Objectivist. At least he finally realized and admitted that he was wrong.

  8. Jim Razinha says:

    "very appealing to loner adolescents "

    Check. Easy to outgrow for most folks.

    "and over time should have figured out that things are (were) different here"

    Check. (I think her ego prevented her from examining herself critically.)

    Concur with We the Living – probably my favorite of her fiction, although Anthem has sentimental memories, first exposure and all.

    I keep her stuff on the same shelf as Marx, Thoreau and Edward Abbey so they can all get together and come up with something fun.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Jim: Thanks for the visual regarding your bookshelf. The book in my library fight it out osmotically every night. When they come to some consensus, I'm sure they'll let me know.

  9. Misterioso says:

    Rand wrote this in 1966:

    "The recipient of a public scholarshi­p is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitutio­n and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarshi­ps, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradict­ions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

    "The same moral principles and considerat­ions apply to the issue of accepting social security, unemployme­nt insurance or other payments of that kind. It is obvious, in such cases, that a man receives his own money which was taken from him by force, directly and specifical­ly, without his consent, against his own choice. Those who advocated such laws are morally guilty, since they assumed the “right” to force employers and unwilling co-workers­. But the victims, who opposed such laws, have a clear right to any refund of their own money—and they would not advance the cause of freedom if they left their money, unclaimed, for the benefit of the welfare-st­ate administra­tion."

  10. TheThinkingMan says:

    This occurs all too often by the very people who purport to be so adamantly against government assistance programs.

    For instance, I have several employees with whom I work, one of which is my manager, who claim that Obama is a socialist tyrant bent on stealing their money and giving it to the poor, lazy minorities. I have pointed out several times their obviously racist and bigoted views. I live in Virginia, and was not aware that such outright bigotry was expressed in social circles. Much less the work place.

    The same manager who claimed that all those "blacks" were being lazy and living off of her money failed to realize the benefits that she and her significant other were receiving from the government (btw this same women believes adamantly in the birther conspiracy theories).

    Her boyfriend fell into some hard times and was laid off from his job. He therefore applied for unemployment benefits and foodstamps. They way she explained this to me, she seemed appalled that her own boyfriend would have to resort to that.

    I laughed at her, and explained to her if she therefore changed her position regarding the government and its supposed "liberal" policy about helping out people in this country in times of need.

    Of course, in her mind, their situation was "different" she, nor her boyfriend, were "like those lazy f*c*s" and so on and so forth.

    I agreed that, while there are and will always be people who attempt to take advantage of the system, there are also those, like her and her boyfriend, who legitimately need the assistance to stay aloft in hard times. That was the purpose of those programs, and that is (supposedly) the fulfillment of the American dream.

    You just can't convince some people, though.

  11. I believe Rand does not have any choice but to accept government assistance in order to survive. If she only has a better choice, she wouldn't accept that. Anyway, she has a right to it as a citizen.

  12. Mark@Israel

    Not "has"—had. She died in 1982.

  13. Erich Vieth says:

    Back in her heyday, [Ayn] Rand would occasionally address audiences a businessman, exhorting them to understand that they had few moral obligations to others. All truism, she told one such gathering in 1981, was "a contemptibly evil idea" promulgated by guilt-slinging "humanitarians" in order to shake down the productive. Insofar as they accepted this "altruism," the business-class committed "treason against themselves." And so the novelist inveighed against philanthropic donations to universities, where altruists twisted the minds of the young. "It is a moral crime to give money to support your own destroyers," she scolded.

    From the February 2011 edition of Harper's Magazine, Thomas Frank.

  14. Dan Klarmann says:

    Go, Dragon. Turning altruism into an All-Truism.

  15. Greebo says:

    Before you accuse her of hypocrisy – you should verify what she actually said, as opposed to what people are saying she said.

    As per the quote already provided, she *consistently* held that social welfare programs should not be mandatory – that it was wrong to FORCE people to provide charity. She also *consistently* held that those who HAD been forced to provide such charity were not wrong to get compensation by collecting from that same forced charity they were given no choice but to support.

    The only way to accuse her of hypocrisy here is to either put words in her mouth she did not say, or to fail to understand the definition of hypocrisy.

  16. The hypocrisy of Rand is implicit in her thesis that individuals are self-contained, absolutely autonomous, and can be so without reference to communities. She herself could not have done a thing without a community around her, much of which she did not pay to support but was paid by many others as part of the environment in which she lived. She failed utterly to acknowledge the necessity of communal structures to do anything beyond bare subsistence living—as if an architect could build one damn thing without a public to support it (and by that I do not mean a client to pay for the work but the infrastructure within which both architect AND client found the means to do what they do) or a railroad owner could lay one foot of track without the assent and cooperation of everyone that track would serve. She depicted her heroes as capable of singlehandedly erecting everything they not only needed but also wanted without the least regard for anyone else. She depicted people on the dole as leeches and acted as if her heroes were not themselves leeches on the other end of the bell curve.

    You can CHOOSE to see social networks and government administered services as coercive or you can CHOOSE to see them as part of the world you must support to sustain the kind of civilization you want. Rand treated this all as some kind of natural law issue that separated people into users and doers while ignoring the fact that, with a few exceptions, we are all both users and doers.

  17. Greebo says:

    Mark Tiedemann says:The hypocrisy of Rand is implicit in her thesis that individuals are self-contained, absolutely autonomous, and can be so without reference to communities.

    Funny – having read volumes of fiction and non-fiction alike by Ms. Rand, I cannot find anywhere in her works where she says any such thing.

    I repeat – if you want to accuse her of hypocrisy – you should be sure of what she actually said first.

  18. Greebo,

    Hence my use of the word "implicit." What else could she mean by positing that certain individuals are so autonomous vital that their very absence could cause the collapse of the entire world? And who then clearly get along fine without it? And then charge each other for the pleasure of their company? It's a theme that runs throughout her work, she doesn't actually have to spell it out in a single phrase.

  19. Greebo says:

    No, not implicit – inferred.

    Recall that Atlas Shrugged is fiction. She used the book to illustrate certain key philosophical points. The collapse, Galt's Gulch, etc – were not intended as prophecy but parable.

    I would encourage you to go back, re-read it, and pay close attention to the points she actually makes rather than trying to read your own meaning into it. And then I would suggest you read her NON fiction – where she doesn't indulge in fictional parables but makes her meaning absolutely clear.

    As for "charging each other for the pleasure of their company" – well now you're just making things up.

  20. Geebo,

    Read that thing twice. That's enough for one lifetime. Since Rand then excerpted a number of "speeches" from it to publish as essay, the argument that it's all fiction is disingenuous. Secondly, she admitted she used her fiction as a vehicle for her ideas.

    No, I;m not making things up. After Dagny totaled her plane, she was rescued, nursed back to health, and then told she owed them for it.

    None of which matters. She regarded humankind as split into two components—wolves and sheep—and argued that the wolves always suffer at the hands of the sheep because the sheep made unethical, immoral demands on them. Ergo, she believed the wolves to be the natural masters. She did say that she regarded capitalism as the only truly "natural" system.

    There is no argument that governmental systems can become onerous to the point of absurdity and must be done away with. Rand's thesis that there ought to be no government is reactive to the same degree and absurd. But that stance alone, coupled with her "fiction", makes it clear that she believed in a natural aristocracy—one of merit, I'll grant, but aristocratic nevertheless. She disregarded as irrelevant all aspects of communal cooperation that actually are necessary for her wonderful Important Men to do any of things they do.

    Certainly Atlas Shrugged was not prophecy—never said it was—but as an exegetic discourse on her preferred world view it goes a bit beyond parable. It's prescriptive, a warning that if we don't let the Henry Reardons, Dagny Taggarts, and John Galts of the world do as they please we will lose our civilization. That, in a word, is absurd.

  21. Erich Vieth says:

    "After his father’s passing, young Paul Ryan started collecting social security benefits until the age of 18 years old. He took this benefit and saved it for his college education. Representative Paul Ryan is one example of the millions of people whose lives have depended on our social contract with the American people. Without this benefit, his mother would have had to make even tougher decisions and Representative Paul Ryan may not have been able to pay for his college education. This social contract lifted him and his entire family out of a tough situation.

    Many people do not know that 30% of the social security fund goes directly to widows,orphans and the disabled. It is not solely for the benefit of retirees. Unfortunately this social contract is under a regressive attack by the Republicans, including Paul Ryan."

    http://www.politicususa.com/en/paul-ryan-social-s

  22. Erich Vieth says:

    At The Guardian, Megan Gibson suspects that Ayn Rand wouldn't be a big fan of the Tea Party. Why not?

    "Rand was a staunch advocate of capitalism and limited government. She was also a staunch advocate of abortion rights and sexual hedonism, and an atheist to boot, which her conservative admirers have largely ignored. Rand and her characters maintained that morality wasn't something that could be imposed by outside institutions, rather should be a consequence from individuals acting in their own rational self-interest. Which, obviously, steps way out of line with the thinking of the Tea Party, which encompasses the religious right."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifameric

  23. Erich Vieth says:

    For an analysis of Rand's novels, plus comments that include several videos of interview with Ayn Rand, see http://dangerousintersection.org/2011/04/25/what-

  24. Erich Vieth says:

    Looks like Charles Koch and Friedrich Hayek are also notable hypocrites regarding the “free market” public positions, as reported by The Nation:

    “In a personal letter from 1973, the right-wing billionaire urged the libertarian philosopher to collect Social Security and to use Medicare coverage when visiting the United States. Why? Because Social Security and Medicare work.”

    http://www.thenation.com/signup/163672?destination=article/163672/charles-koch-friedrich-hayek-use-social-security

    Here’s more on this letter from Dylan Ratigan’s show.

  25. Adrian says:

    What is your point?
    Had you read more of her writings, you would know that she openly advocates for the proper reception of handouts if and only if one is opposed to taxes.
    Would you refuse a handout from organized thieves that continually rob your home?
    Common sense is apparently not so common.

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