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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.

117 comments to Ayn Rand Received Social Security, Medicare

  • Tim

    @DanTheMan- I think you’re missing the real point of SamHolloway’s arguments. He obviously is not trying to reason with the so-called objectivists. His “confrontational approach” is, rather, an expression of disdain for a group of people who are incapable of empathy and have deluded themselves into believing that their condition is not only acceptable, but is, in some warped fashion, a moral victory. Jeff Akston’s post is a good example of this. He cannot enter into your “social contract” because his self-interest interferes with his ability to see the utility of it. As philosophers go, John Stuart Mill had it all over Rand in terms of understanding the way people really function in a society. Economists use a similar construct, efficiency. Take a look at “The Prisoners’ Dilemma” (game theory). There are even some libertarians who can see the logic in a society where the strong help the weak, but the way Rand and her followers try to camouflage their greed with scholarly language just makes me think of a phrase made famous by that goofy TV judge. “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” NOTE: I just followed one of your links. Tracing The Prisoners’ Dilemma back to Hobbes? Interesting.

  • Fred

    If she was a two-pack-a-day smoker, it is difficult to suppose that had social security and medicare not been established, she might have taken her same tax dollars to purchase private health insurance. Solvent, i.e. employed, underwriters don’t underwrite bad risk; I’m not sure when actuaries became sensitive to smoking’s correlation with complications and death but I suspect the trend was identified by 1974. Beyond Rand’s objection to “forceful” government appropriation of private means, Peikoff’s (if not Rand’s) objection to government mandated social insurance relates to the correlation of indiscriminant underwriting practices with systemic insolvency. Subject to broadly structured statutory entitlements, the government has little leeway to deny coverage to the large demographic of qualifying claimants whose aggregate received premium will not cover projectable claims expense. As scarcity drives the bus as much now as it did in 1787, it is no wonder that the Constitutional Convention produced a founding document that ensconced RIGHTS as intractable freedoms FROM government, and PRIVILEGES as easily revocable/amendable legislative constructs of the political branches. OPINIONS about “human rights” aside, I can count legal scholars the likes of Justice Kagan, Former Justice Stevens, or any other liberal lion amongst those that would agree upon the legal correctness of the statement immediately above.

    By the tenor of the information presented it seems as if Rand was loathe to discuss, recognize or enable any part of her eventual withdrawal of funds from the public coffers. But she readily confronted the problem we continue to face: scarcity (which is more than I can say for some idealists in the chain of comments above…who seem so divorced from reality as to not believe in money the same way Jehovah’s witnesses don’t believe in blood transfusions). Facing her own death, Rand made the only choice that could be called “rational” under objectivist standards: she chose to live. The punchline, if there is one, rings hollow to me.

  • Gromit

    I love how she argues that a democratically elected government is taking her money by force. If there were no democratic government, if we were living in complete anarchy, she would never have made nearly as much money as she did. Her definition of force is absurd.

  • Craig Rachel

    Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, sobered up and wrote the Big Book. Some years later, he took LSD and was no longer sober. Does that make what he wrote not true? What about the 10s of millions who sobered up with help from the Big Book?

    Ayn Rand was human, and humans are flawed, imperfect people. Doesn’t make anything they say or do less true.

  • The layman’s definition of hypocrisy is saying one thing while doing another.

    Ayn Rand was very clear, in 1966, about her views on Social Security.

    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.

    Ayn Rand Lexicon

    Whatever accusations you may level against Rand, hypocrisy cannot be one of them.

  • leesa

    Rand constantly talked about absolutes… she spoke out loudly and clearly “Against” Social Security… She applied for it. That’s Hypocrisy.

    Maybe you should look up “Delusion.”

  • A few interesting things I noticed, most of which can be summed up with do your own research:

    I did look up Ayn Rand in the social security index. Her last listed benefit is listed as “(none specified)”. Having a social security number, and having received social security benefits, are two completely different things.

    There’s something else I wanted to point out: think about what the woman is saying, objectively. She admits that Ayn Rand didn’t agree with her, that they disagreed passionately about welfare and natural rights.

    Ayn Rand wrote Fountainhead, a book that broke records for sales when it came out. She sold the rights to the movie for a hefty sum, then wrote the screenplay and collected royalties for that. Atlas Shrugged enjoyed serious financial success during her lifetime, though as we know it did even better after her passing. She wrote Love Letters, a movie nominated for 7 Academy Awards and – at the time at least – a box office record smasher. Her first two books, We the Living and Anthem, both ended up being cult successes after Fountainhead came to fame. We the Living was turned into a weird italian movie, which got re-released to moderate success a few years before her death. She gave talks at every major university, including MIT and Harvard. Why, considering all her success, would she NEED welfare?

    It sounds like someone’s trying to get the last word in the argument, or someone wasn’t really a true friend. Maybe those arguments turned bitter, I dunno. But it doesn’t make sense that she would need to get welfare. Or that she would ask a friend to do it for her, since she had all the justification she would need in getting her own money back.

  • mdh

    @ red_locker – “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.”

    You know, nearly a decade of treatment for lung cancer would have wiped her personal savings out. She may have had money, but not the kind it takes to pay for that.

    Do you honestly think she contributed so much to SS/Medicare that she only got back what she gave?

    I don’t enjoy being such a hardass about personal ethics, but she sure was, and it was hypocritical of her not to announce her change of heart.

    Apparently there are no objectivists in foxholes either. Good thing Doctors, nurses, and the noble people who treated her aren’t Galtian Randroids, or she would have died penniless and homeless.

  • Tim

    “…the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.” —Ayn Rand
    If Jesus or the Buddha had said this we would understand that the way to achieve “happiness” is through an end to desire and a call to service. For Rand, and her followers, happiness is supposed to be achieved through their polar opposite, self-interest. This is not a philosophy. It is a way for people with a serious psychological or physiological malformation to explain what they surely must feel is their dissociation from the rest of humanity.
    Last years “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer contains an interesting discussion of empathy as a function of neurology. Certainly, people who have never been faced with personal tragedy or danger will have a difficult time empathizing with those who have, but, according to Lehrer, it just might be that a lack of empathy can also be attributed to an underdeveloped nervous system. Rather than making a “moral” choice, Rand’s followers may simply be trying to live with a disability.

  • Just to clarify: I’m aware that Ayn used multiple names. However, my FOI requests used her and Frank’s Social Security numbers, which I obtained through the SSDI that others have mentioned. As far as I know, you can only have one SSN.

  • soren

    Paying into social security and medicare aren’t really optional… why not get your money’s worth back?

  • …it is morally proper (if not an imperative) to take one’s own money back from a thief at every opportunity, regardless of the thief’s motives.

    On “Hypocrisy” versus the Sanction of Theft

  • blinski

    Oh god, you randroid people should know that folks need both freedom of choice and freedom FROM choice – it’s not immoral or stupid, just human. Rand thought only about the first kind of freedom. She never tried to look around – ‘hey, maybe most of the people do want to pay government all those dollars to make they minds free from troubling themselves about health and future? And they don’t want to change it, even though they know they can do it the other way?’. And there are people who know better then we what’s best for us in many situations – their name is specialists. I don’t want doctor to ask me if I want this or I want that – I want what’s best for me, but sometimes I just don’t have knowlege needed to tell what it is. I feel goofy saying things so obvious, but more goofy is that there are people who don’t understand this.

  • Felipe

    “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”

    So you are saying that without the government you would start robbing people? Idiot.

    The government doesnt invent private property and certainly doesnt defend it.

  • Felipe

    “For Rand, and her followers, happiness is supposed to be achieved through their polar opposite, self-interest. This is not a philosophy. It is a way for people with a serious psychological or physiological malformation to explain what they surely must feel is their dissociation from the rest of humanity.”

    I have never understood why some people simply “dont get” the core of objectivism.

    To live for yourself instead of sacrificing yourself for others makes perfect sense, instead of the collectivist call of giving “yourself to the state”, objectivism claim that you are your own master and more important than any state.

  • Felipe

    “it just might be that a lack of empathy can also be attributed to an underdeveloped nervous system.”

    To think that the state “cares for you” certainly sound deluded.

  • Felipe

    “Apparently there are no objectivists in foxholes either. Good thing Doctors, nurses, and the noble people who treated her aren’t Galtian Randroids, or she would have died penniless and homeless.”

    Nonsense

  • Tim

    Felipe says, “I have never understood why some people simply “dont get” the core of objectivism. To live for yourself instead of sacrificing yourself for others makes perfect sense, instead of the collectivist call of giving “yourself to the state”, objectivism claim that you are your own master and more important than any state.”
    Oh, we get it. We get that so-called objectivists use the term “the state” as a straw man when what they’re really talking about is a rejection of the responsibility we all have to our fellow man, humankind, our neighbors. All the people who, collectively, pay taxes so that you and I can share resources. Our government may not do a good job of administrating this system and, sure, there’s plenty of corruption, but without this sharing all that’s left is survival of the fittest, and that’s a damn sorry way for humans to treat one another.

  • fsteele

    Equating Social Security with welfare endangers Social Security.

    Social Security taxes go into a special fund which earns interest. The program pays for itself. What you receive is based on the taxes you paid in.

    We also need to look at how much the individual could have earned by investing the money elsewhere. To decide whether Rand came out ahead, we’d have to look at what return she got on her own investments.

  • Mitch

    It’s true. And she paid into it for 60 years. I believe if she had the option of not paying into it and not receiving it later she would have. Additionally why would someone weaken themselves further by not taking advantage of the system that has stolen so much of their wealth? It’d be like me refusing to drive because taxes pay for roads and I support private roads. That would leave me practically helpless and unable to work. No you take advantage to the fullest of what’s there, and use that advantage to fight it and make it stop.

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