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.