A qualified defense of Ayn Rand on Medicare

Michael Ford at Huffington Post calls out Ayn Rand for accepting Medicare payments when she was ill with cancer:

An interview with Evva Pryror, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand’s law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand’s behalf she secured Rand’s Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O’Connor (husband Frank O’Connor).

As Pryor said, “Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out” without the aid of these two government programs. Ayn took the bail out even though Ayn “despised government interference and felt that people should and could live independently… She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”

But alas she did and said it was wrong for everyone else to do so.

This isn’t accurate. While there’s some surface irony in Rand accepting Medicaid payments, in her non-fiction writing she stated clearly that she thought it appropriate for people who share her beliefs to do so:

A different principle and different considerations are involved in the case of public (i.e., governmental) scholarships. The right to accept them rests on the right of the victims to the property (or some part of it) which was taken from them by force.

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.

Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it…

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.

True, The Fountainhead wouldn’t have been quite as compelling if Roark were depicted collecting unemployment and living on food stamps. But given all the future taxes he surely ended up paying on his skyscrapers, he would have been totally within his rights to do so. That’s Rand’s argument, anyway, and whether or not it’s convincing her actions were in accordance with her stated beliefs.

This is a question that at some time or another confronts everyone of libertarian stripe. Whatever we think the ideal way is of funding various goods, we live in a world where we are taxed to pay for them and where private alternatives are crowded out by government services. For most of us, the question is not “Will I ever use services funded by taxes?”; it’s “Given the extent to which I am taxed to pay for services I may need, under which circumstances can I justify accepting them?” The answers to which we arrive have as much to do with our practical situations and personal integrity as they do with strict principle. To criticize a dying person who paid taxes all her life for accepting aid in her final days, and who had defended taking such aid years earlier, is uncharitable to say the least.

[Via BoingBoing.]

Comments

  1. Steve Gallo says:

    “…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…”

    So Ms. Rand accepted the notion that anyone who paid into a socialist program has a moral license to “retrieve” those funds for his/her own benefit if those funds were were taken by force? Can I assume that she was averse to the distribution of those funds to someone who acquiesced to such an investment?
    It would be interesting to compare the amount that Ms. Rand involuntarily contributed to SS and Medicare/Medicaid to the amount that she “retrieved” from the system she spent a good part of her life railing against.
    Nice try, Jakob, but no cigar.

  2. mike brendan says:

    Your argument Steve is illogical from the start. Trying to say ayn rand is a hypocrite because she took more money than she put in is irrelevant. She was forced to put that money into the system. If she hadn’t had to do this, she could have invested it and there is no telling what that may have amounted to. We all have our whole lives to prepare ourselves financially for old age. Social security is immoral since it takes from the responsible to pay for the irresponsible.

  3. Owen says:

    I understand where you are coming from, but saying that because someone’s actions are in accordance with their beliefs means it is not wrong is entirely illogical. I believe that rape is okay, so I’ll rape someone, and since I acted in accordance with my belief, it wasn’t wrong. I feel that doing crack is wrong, but since I know that, I can do crack and it is okay, because I know it is wrong. These are examples of circular reasoning, a no-no in logic, and something Rand was pretty good at hiding. Libertarian philosophy is based on the teachings of Adam Smith, the father of modern economics. He would have consider Ayn Rand to be a nut. Please don’t consider yourself to be libertarian if you think Ayn Rand is the best source of libertarian teachings.

    Mike Brendan – Ayn Rand’s entire philosophy is based on a falsehood. The name “objectivism” is supposed to be something that means you are basing your principles on objective reality. To be objective, you cannot have self-interest at the pinnacle of your thought process. Why? Because you are your own subject. You cannot be objective in regards to your own desires. Pursuing your self-interest is a subjective exercise.

    Thanks for the post though. I was hoping to see something I had not seen before, but this is the same argument I hear for “why it is okay” every time.

  4. Owen says:

    I understand where you are coming from, but saying that because someone’s actions are in accordance with their beliefs means it is not wrong is entirely illogical. I believe that rape is okay, so I’ll rape someone, and since I acted in accordance with my belief, it wasn’t wrong. I feel that doing crack is wrong, but since I know that, I can do crack and it is okay, because I know it is wrong. These are examples of circular reasoning, a no-no in logic, and something Rand was pretty good at hiding. Libertarian philosophy is based on the teachings of Adam Smith, the father of modern economics. He would have consider Ayn Rand to be a nut. Please don’t consider yourself to be libertarian if you think Ayn Rand is the best source of libertarian teachings.

    Mike Brendan – Ayn Rand’s entire philosophy is based on a falsehood. The name “objectivism” is supposed to be something that means you are basing your principles on objective reality. To be objective, you cannot have self-interest at the pinnacle of your thought process. Why? Because you are your own subject. You cannot be objective in regards to your own desires. Pursuing your self-interest is a subjective exercise.

    Thanks for the post. I was hoping to see something I had not seen before, but this is the same argument I hear for “why it is okay” every time.

  5. Owen says:

    Sorry about the double comment. The website gave me an odd error and I thought it had not gone through.

  6. Adrian Perry says:

    The point is not that she was wrong to claim social security benefits or Medicare. The point is that her life is an example of why such a system is needed – because life deals random unpleasant blows to many if us, and it is decent behaviour to get together so those of us who are healthy and lucky help those affected. I hope she had at least a passing thought as to what sort of world it would be without that provision.

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