Rand On the Dole


In the grand ol' tradition of "Libertarian reluctantly calls fire department," all and sundry are having fun with the news that Ayn Rand received Social Security and (apparently) Medicare in her dotage.

Scott McConnell's Oral History of Ayn Rand includes an interview with a consultant of the Atlas Shrugged author and founder of the Objectivism cult, who details how she helped the artist formerly known as Alisa Zinovievna Rosenbaum get on the public tit. From Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing:

Noted speed freak, serial-killer fangirl, and Tea Party hero Ayn Rand was also a kleptoparasite, sneakily gobbling up taxpayer funds under an assumed name to pay for her medical treatments after she got lung 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."

At the HuffPost, Michael Ford notes the apparent hypocrisy in this position:

But alas she did and said it was wrong for everyone else to do so. Apart from the strong implication that those who take the help are morally weak, it is also a philosophic point that such help dulls the will to work, to save and government assistance is said to dull the entrepreneurial spirit.

In the end, Miss Rand was a hypocrite but she could never be faulted for failing to act in her own self-interest.

Maybe, but as Patia Stephens (who believes her version of this story was deemed too hot for the mainstream media), points out, Rand actually defended the collecting of benefits as a way to get your own money back from The Man:

Rand may have rationalized that since she had paid into Social Security and Medicare, she was entitled to receive benefits. In a 1966 article for The Objectivist newsletter, she wrote about the morality of accepting Social Security, unemployment insurance or similar payments:

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.

Unless it's revealed that Rand didn't pay income tax or Social Security "investments" during her working life, I'm not seeing the hypocrisy here. You don't have the legal right to opt out of income tax. You also can't avoid paying into the Social Security pyramid unless you are a government worker (a piece of hypocrisy that is far more widespread and of much greater moment than the hijinx of an old lady three decades dead). Some commenters are making the case that Rand used her married name "Ann O'Connor" and thus must have been up to something sneaky, since she was using an assumed name. But wasn't "Ayn Rand" the assumed name? Presumably the O'Connor name was the one under which taxes and FICA were taken from her in the first place. It would be a scandal for more than libertarians if that were not the case, but details of Rand's life are as opaque to outsiders as the circumstances of L. Ron Hubbard's death.

Stephens notes that the other two founding broads of libertarianism – Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel Paterson – went to considerable lengths to avoid taking charity from Uncle Sam. (It's harder to turn down Social Security than you think.) I'd be happy if this dustup resulted in a boost for either of those two over Rand, whose unquestioning dittoheads I can never get along with: A while back I ran into some Ayn Rand Institute folks, and our conversation – no exaggeration – began with my saying Anthem was a pretty shady book and within three minutes had reached the inevitable conclusion that I would propagandize for the Nazis if the pay was right because my life has no meaning. They really are like that!

But the Randicare brouhaha is completely opportunistic. This is all part of the game of holding libertarians to some standard you would never imagine imposing on a follower of mainstream politics. If a Democrat complains about a bad day at the DMV, nobody claims he deserves it because he wants the regulations that make the DMV inevitable. But let a libertarian send a letter through the U.S. Postal Service and he's fricking Tartuffe. It's a goofy game, but you can see why it's so tempting to play, given that libertarians have such a stranglehold on foreign policy, drug prohibition, financial regulation, health care, and so many areas of public policy.

Previous Rand coverage in Reason. And while my Rand interest pretty much begins and ends with the underrated movie version of The Fountainhead, I find her quite charming, in an eccentric-maiden-aunt kind of way, in the 1979 Phil Donahue interview you can find here, here, here, here and here. The first part for your viewing pleasure: