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Ayn Rand Received Social Security, Medicare

I’ve pitched the following article to 10 publications since May, including the Huffington Post on Nov. 30, without any luck. Today HuffPo published an article on the subject, “Ayn Rand and the VIP-DIPers,” by Michael Ford. Perhaps it’s just coincidence. To be fair, I didn’t realize that Scott McConnell’s book, “100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand,” was published last month. And if Ayn received Medicare benefits under an assumed name (is that even possible?), that explains why my FOI request came up empty. But rather than let all my hard work go to waste, I’ve decided to go ahead and publish my article here on my blog.


Ayn Rand, Hypocrite?
Legendary opponent of “welfare state” received Social Security and probably Medicare

By Patia Stephens

Critics of Social Security and Medicare frequently invoke the words and ideals of author and philosopher Ayn Rand, one of the fiercest critics of federal insurance programs. But a little-known fact is that Ayn Rand herself collected Social Security. She may also have received Medicare benefits.

An interview recently surfaced that was conducted in 1998 by the Ayn Rand Institute with a social worker who says she helped Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor, sign up for Social Security and Medicare in 1974.

Federal records obtained through a Freedom of Information act request confirm the Social Security benefits. A similar FOI request was unable to either prove or disprove the Medicare claim.

Between December 1974 and her death in March 1982, Rand collected a total of $11,002 in monthly Social Security payments. O’Connor received $2,943 between December 1974 and his death in November 1979.

According to a spokesman in the Baltimore headquarters of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Rand and O’Connor were eligible for both Part A, which provides hospital coverage, and Part B, medical. The spokesman said their eligibility for Part B means they did apply for Medicare; however, he said he was not authorized to release any documentation and referred the request to the CMS New York regional office. That office said they could not locate any records related to Rand and O’Connor.

The couple registered for benefits shortly after Rand, a two-pack-a-day smoker, had surgery for lung cancer in the summer of 1974. Medicare had been enacted nine years earlier in the Social Security Act of 1965 to provide health insurance to those age 65 and older.

Evva Joan Pryor, a New York social worker, was interviewed on July 21, 1998, by Scott McConnell, then director of communications for the Ayn Rand Institute. Pryor later became a prominent film rights agent before her death in 2008. McConnell recorded interviews with at least 130 Rand friends and associates for ARI’s Oral History Program between 1996 and 2000. Most of the interviews remain unpublished, although McConnell, now listed as a researcher with the Institute’s Ayn Rand Archives, is working on a book containing material from them.

In the interview, Pryor recounts working as a consultant for Rand’s attorneys, who asked her to speak with Rand about applying for Social Security and Medicare. The two women ended up becoming friends, meeting regularly to play Scrabble and argue politics. While they had philosophical differences, Pryor’s respect and affection for Rand is clear.

“She was coming to a point in her life where she was going to receive the very thing she didn’t like, which was Medicare and Social Security,” Pryor told McConnell. “I remember telling her that this was going to be difficult. For me to do my job she had to recognize that there were exceptions to her theory. So that started our political discussions. From there on – with gusto – we argued all the time.

“The initial argument was on greed,” Pryor continued. “She had to see that there was such a thing as greed in this world. Doctors could cost an awful lot more money than books earn, and she could be totally wiped out by medical bills if she didn’t watch it. Since she had worked her entire life, and had paid into Social Security, she had a right to it. She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”

McConnell asked: “And did she agree with you about Medicare and Social Security?”

Pryor replied: “After several meetings and arguments, she gave me her power of attorney to deal with all matters having to do with health and Social Security. Whether she agreed or not is not the issue, she saw the necessity for both her and Frank. She was never involved other than to sign the power of attorney; I did the rest.”

The interview continued with Pryor’s reminiscences about her friendship with Rand — their Scrabble playing, political discussions and shared love of Agatha Christie novels – and other observations about Rand, including her relationships with her cook Eloise Huggins, sister Nora and husband Frank. Pryor said that when Frank O’Connor died, she went with Rand to the cemetery in Valhalla, New York, to choose a burial plot and make his funeral arrangements. Rand chose to make her own arrangements at the same time. When Rand later became ill and died, Pryor, who still had power of attorney, made necessary decisions together with Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s legal and intellectual heir.

Winding down the interview, McConnell asked: “Would you say that Ayn Rand practiced what she preached?”

Pryor replied, laughing: “Yes, that’s why I had so much trouble with her.”

“You mean the Social Security issue and all that?” McConnell said.

“Yes,” Pryor said.

Peikoff went on to found the Ayn Rand Institute in 1985. In 1993, he delivered his now-famous speech, “Health Care is Not a Right,” in which he described “socialized medicine” as impractical, immoral and evil. “According to the Founding Fathers,” Peikoff said, “we are not born with a right to a trip to Disneyland, or a meal at McDonald’s, or a kidney dialysis (nor with the 18th-century equivalent of these things).” He continued:

Some people can’t afford medical care in the U.S. But they are necessarily a small minority in a free or even semi-free country. If they were the majority, the country would be an utter bankrupt and could not even think of a national medical program. As to this small minority, in a free country they have to rely solely on private, voluntary charity. Yes, charity, the kindness of the doctors or of the better off—charity, not right, i.e. not their right to the lives or work of others. And such charity, I may say, was always forthcoming in the past in America. The advocates of Medicaid and Medicare under LBJ did not claim that the poor or old in the ’60’s got bad care; they claimed that it was an affront for anyone to have to depend on charity.

But the fact is: You don’t abolish charity by calling it something else. If a person is getting health care for nothing, simply because he is breathing, he is still getting charity, whether or not any politician, lobbyist or activist calls it a “right.” To call it a right when the recipient did not earn it is merely to compound the evil. It is charity still—though now extorted by criminal tactics of force, while hiding under a dishonest name.

Rand herself called altruism a “basic evil” and referred to those who perpetuate the system of taxation and redistribution as “looters” and “moochers.” She wrote in her book “The Virtue of Selfishness” that accepting any government controls is “delivering oneself into gradual enslavement.” In a 1972 edition of her newsletter, she said:

Morally and economically, the welfare state creates an ever accelerating downward pull. Morally, the chance to satisfy demands by force spreads the demands wider and wider, with less and less pretense at justification. Economically, the forced demands of one group create hardships for all others, thus producing an inextricable mixture of actual victims and plain parasites. Since need, not achievement, is held as the criterion of rewards, the government necessarily keeps sacrificing the more productive groups to the less productive, gradually chaining the top level of the economy, then the next level, then the next.

Rand is one of three women the Cato Institute calls founders of American libertarianism. The other two, Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel “Pat” Paterson, both rejected Social Security benefits on principle. Lane, with whom Rand corresponded for several years, once quit an editorial job in order to avoid paying Social Security taxes. The Cato Institute says Lane considered Social Security a “Ponzi fraud” and “told friends that it would be immoral of her to take part in a system that would predictably collapse so catastrophically.” Lane died in 1968.

Paterson, according to Barbara Branden in her book “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” was for a time a close friend and mentor to Rand. After retiring in 1949, Paterson left the envelope with her Social Security card unopened. According to the Cato Institute, Paterson chose to “live well enough” on her investments, although according to Branden, she moved in with friends in 1959, “ill and poor.” She died in 1961.

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.

One of two biographies of Ayn Rand published in 2009, “Ayn Rand and the World She Made” by Anne C. Heller, contains a sentence about Rand’s receipt of Social Security benefits. Heller writes that Rand and her protégée, former chair of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, “clashed over his leadership of a committee whose purpose was to bolster Social Security (a benefit she deplored but, unlike Isabel Paterson, accepted because she had paid into the fund).”

Rand often spoke of moral absolutism, saying “There can be no compromise on basic principles,” but the realities of aging and illness seem to have softened her stance. Social Security, and perhaps Medicare, allowed Rand and her husband to maintain their quality of life, remain in their apartment and live out their final years with dignity.

118 comments to Ayn Rand Received Social Security, Medicare

  • oh really!?!?!? verrrrry int-errrresting . . .


  • QED

    If interested, here are they are at Findagrave:

    Also, if you go here:

    and enter for Ayn Rand’s name, she shows in the SS death index.

    The spouse is under Charles Oconnor (no apostrophe), dob 09.22.1897, dod 11 1979

  • CoalCracker

    That “power of attorney” business is not true. The Social Security Administration does not recognize power of attorney. If a person is physically or mentally unable to sign an application for benefits, then a representative payee is appointed.

  • Except hasn’t this been explained away by Rand herself? In the Objectivist Lexicon, she mentions Financial Aid: and in that she writes:

    “Many students of Objectivism are troubled by a certain kind of moral dilemma confronting them in today’s society. We are frequently asked the questions: “Is it morally proper to accept scholarships, private or public?” and: “Is it morally proper for an advocate of capitalism to accept a government research grant or a government job?”

    I shall hasten to answer: “Yes”—then proceed to explain and qualify it. There are many confusions on these issues, created by the influence and implications of the altruist morality.

    There is nothing wrong in accepting private scholarships. The fact that a man has no claim on others (i.e., that it is not their moral duty to help him and that he cannot demand their help as his right) does not preclude or prohibit good will among men and does not make it immoral to offer or to accept voluntary, non-sacrificial assistance.

    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.”

    So if she did take Social Security, it was due to the fact that she was rightfully taking back what was forced from her by taxation.

  • Jim Steele

    @CoalCracker: I do not know where you get your information, but you are wrong, wrong, wrong. Power of attorney , both durable and medical, is one of the standard tools in any social worker’s kit. Consider Alzheimer’s patients. Who manages their assets, including Social Security income? Please cite your source.

    @red_locker: Nice argument. But for that fact that you do not mention that Ms. Rand herself was a lifelong opponent of Social Security you might have a point. Becoming a turncoat when circumstance turns against you and then rationalizing the change still leaves you a hypocrite, and Ms. Rand was indeed a hypocrite. How often do we see this!

  • Artemis Eneldo

    Try getting her tax records. That may give you the proof you need.

  • Rand may have rationalized that since she had paid into Social Security and Medicare, she was entitled to receive benefits.

    May have? May have? You immediately follow that muse with a direct quote from Rand which clearly explains her thoughts on the matter. But I suppose accepting the fact that someone’s words and actions are in agreement would have left you less to write about.

  • gary

    Here’s a nice quote, given that she died of lung cancer:

    “I like cigarettes, Miss Taggart. I like to think of fire held in a man’s hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips. I often wonder about the hours when a man sits alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. I wonder what great things have come from such hours. When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind–and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his own expression.”

  • r5t6y7

    I heard she drove on US government highways too, a real liberterian only takes toll roads.

  • Talionis

    Rand said many times that she is NOT a Libertarian.

  • A Fields

    People like Rand who were working long before Social Security was enacted got back FAR more than they put in. Social Security taxes were first collected in 1937 when Rand was 32 years old. Rand got even more by starting to collect at age 59, due to the lung cancer that she brought on herself by smoking heavily.

  • John Many Jars

    Ayn Rand received Social Security, but she didn’t like it one bit! So there.

    Randroids are such tools. Nice article Patia. I got the link at The Ames-Levine List.

  • caroline

    This reminds me of the axiom: Even if you’re a bigot or prejudiced, if you need a life line thrown to save you, you are not going to care what color the person throwing is.

    This should actually prove to people that it is easy to think that when you are young and healthy you are never going to need help, reality is different. Chances are that no one can possibly save the kind of money it might take if you get a life threatening disease, or think that you won’t have the energy to work a full day.

    Protect Social Security Insurance and Medicare, you might need it someday.

  • charliebucket

    Rand may have rationalized that since she had paid into Social Security and Medicare, she was entitled to receive benefits.

    This is just like the Teabagger industrial farmers who get massive farm subsidies and don’t see how it clashes with their political rhetoric. “I’m just reclaiming my taxes!”

    Ok, uh, then why are you bitching about your taxes, especially those of you who receive subsidies in excess of what you put into the kitty? Hmmm…

    Speaking of which, for those who fall on the right side of the spectrum and still think our taxes should pay for a giant military, why should I have to pay for your wars and safety blanket? I never agreed to it, and you want the gov’t to steal my money, by your own logic.

    Lolbertarians, Teabaggers, and Ayn Randists: Their political philosophy can best be summed up by “Have your cake and eat it too,” or else they’d be flat-out anarchists. The only reason they advocate any government at all is because they need its force to protect and legitimize their claims of property ownership from anyone who would threaten those claims. “Gov’t for me? Great. Gov’t for you? Die. That’s my money you’re taking.”

  • Older_Wiser

    I think “libertarians” who forego SS & Medicare and depend on the stock market or their own savings to keep them alive and well in their old age are going to be in for a huge disappointment. They’re too stubborn and doctrinaire to understand they could be wiped out by a single, serious illness.

    And, in spite of her efforts and exhortations of selfishness, Rand herself never was wealthy enough to provide the “good life” for herself in her old age. However, it’s apparent that she didn’t mind dipping into the goodwill and pockets of friends. Grifting is no way to live, after all.

    Great article!

  • Econ Geek

    Only hypocrites see hypocrisy here.

    Rand’s position is consistent: The government takes money by force. There’s nothing hypocritical about pointing out the immorality of that, nor of attempting to get your money back from the government.

    What is hypocritical is claiming the moral right for government to take money by force (and thus impoverishing the victims) and then claiming the victims are hypocritical for attempting to get some of their money back.

    Or is the leftist support for stealing money based solely on the assumption that the money will only go to people the left personally approves of?

    I love all these “right on” and “Great article!” comments. They convince me that the left is not interested in thinking or being honest about the arguments of opponents, but of continually engaging in a “us vs them” hatefest.

  • robyn

    Rand’s problem is in her world view. There are things bigger than the individual. Rand never realized her dependence on others, because her life was so comfortable.

    She had little or no concept of the technologies of her environment.

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    Ms. Rand assumed that the services she used, such as indoor plumbing, electricity and central heating build and run themselves. Even if you do you own maintenance, operation still depends on the shared system. Just like cell phones and internet.

    ‘Atlas Shrugged’ assumes that the creator can control the fruits of his mind. Fine. Build and run the thing yourself. With no dependence on Fulton’s work, or Bessemer’s. Or the worker who laid the track. Or raised the cow and food.

    In the long run, its the prequel to ‘Frankenstein.’

    She assumes government is not representative.

    Government is the collective will of the citizens. Its role is to provide for the general welfare by subsidizing assets that would not be possible by an individual.

    Government gets its money from taxes. Which is her excuse for taking Social Security.

    Technically, Social Security and health care are no different than roads and clean water.

  • Thanks for the article. Most entertaining. I would never have read it on HuffPo but found it via Crooks and Liars.

  • Rand’s position is consistent: The government takes money by force. There’s nothing hypocritical about pointing out the immorality of that, nor of attempting to get your money back from the government.

    Oh yeah, she was totally getting back what she’d paid in and would have stopped once the arrears were settled.

  • bumerry

    Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a prominent doctor. He conducted experiments on bleeding to cure illness. When he found it did not work, he concluded he just needed to bleed people MORE to cure them. This was the height of medical science in the colonies and most of Europe at the time. There IS no 18th century equivalent of modern health care. None of the founders would have believed in antibiotics anymore than they would have believed in werewolves or benevolent monarchy. Rights cannot be enacted or protected until they exist as concepts or matters of practical fact.

    Most of the founders thought slavery and enclosure were great ideas. Almost to a man they believed the poverty and sickness were outer manifestations of eternal damnation, and felt no compunctions about waging genocide.

    * Pop quiz: which founder began raping his enslaved wife when she was around the age of a present day middle schooler and never freed her?

    Ayn Rand was a steaming pile of hatred and arrogance. (Yes, I’ve read her work, that’s how I know.) Like most libertarians, she had no notion of social privilege and absolutely no understanding of US history as far as I can tell. Primary sources aren’t their bag, baby.

    Yet, EVEN in that 18th century, those very people (* Answer: Ding ding ding! Thomas Jefferson.) had figured out that human rights are not morally subject to the desirability or deserving of the individual. They are inalienable.

    Ayn Rand had every right to medical treatment and enough money for food and shelter. Not because she deserved them, or paid taxes or was special.

    But because human rights are inalienable.

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