Monday, May 27, 2013

I'm mad at you, Ayn Rand!

As happened just a bit ago today, I am told constantly by liberals, socialists and other generally anti-market types, that free market icon Ayn Rand accepted Social Security money and Medicare payments in her old age.

They usually say this to me as if they're breaking earth-shattering news to me (they're not), and as to imply that I should be appalled, devastated and personally offended (I'm not).

Usually this fact is seen as some evidence of both the benevolence of the state, which provided for a sick old lady who - had she gotten her way - would have died in the street otherwise; and as evidence of Ayn Rand herself being a stupid hypocrite who should obviously be dismissed entirely as a thinker.

It is, of course, evidence of neither.

Once and for all, let's think through the logic on both points, shall we?

1. The "Benevolent State"

As one liberal blogger put it:
"That's the failure here;  Rand needed society's help.  Rand ran headlong into the very premise of why Medicare was created in the first place:  The for-profit insurance market is very very bad to the elderly and particularly to those already stricken with serious diseases like cancer.

Naturally, Rand showed no signs of rethinking anything in the face of her own personal failure to survive in the world she would see created.  If prominent intellectuals sitting on piles of royalties for perpetually successful books can't survive unaided by Big Government in Randland, who can?"
But really, this is a silly argument. And here's why:

1. She didn't need the money... probably.

Ayn Rand made a ton of money from direct sales and the royalties from her books & screenplays, and I'm assuming she had enough money to take care of herself without the payments. This is a bit 3rd hand, but the blog quoted above estimated Rand's net worth to have been $500,000 when she died in 1982. That'd be about $1,171,000 today.

It's pretty easy to argue - contrary to that blogger and others - that private insurance and her savings alone would have been more than enough to pay for her cancer treatments without "aid" from the state. So I don't even think Ayn Rand "needed" the state in this case at all.

2. Medical and insurance costs are highly inflated thanks to the state.

I've gone through this point in extreme detail in multiple previous blog-posts, but the basic argument is this... As a consequence of restricted quotas on medical licensing, to the high cost of drug approval, to special taxes on medical devices & technology, to insurance mandates, restrictions on national and international markets in health care, direct subsidies and payments from the state for about 50% of all health care services and a dozen other highly significant policies - health care in the United States is vastly more expensive than it needs to be.

Additionally, because there is no functioning price system in American health care, the incentives to increase supply or get serious about prioritizing the highest valued uses of medical care in consumption are all screwed up.

So.... If Rand had actually gotten her way, arguably health care itself would be far more affordable than it is today - further widening the gap between the Medicare/Social Security payments Rand received and what she actually "needed" to live out the rest of her life.

MORE importantly, this would mean health care was cheaper for everyone. Not just for comparatively well-to-do writers.

...and that is precisely what most statists don't understand about this stuff. The state has created conditions that make health care (and everything else) a lot more expensive than it would otherwise be, and this inflates the cost of living for everyone - sometimes out of the realm of affordability for a lot of people.

In the immortal words of Harry Browne:
"Government is good at one thing: It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, 'See, if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.'"
Even if she was doing ok, financially, Rand's standard of living is depressed as a result of these kinds of things just like everyone else. But there's even more to this story...

2. "Hypocrisy"

In truth, it's not really the idea that Ayn Rand "needed" Social Security and Medicare payments in her old age that people really care about.

The real thing people gloat about is the supposed "hypocrisy" of it all. And on the surface, I suppose it seems legitimate. I mean... Woman who rails against the welfare state accepts benefits from the welfare state in her old age?

Hypocrite! Right?

No. Wrong. And again... Here's why:

Rand was primarily opposed to any system in which money was taken by force from a dispersed group of people to pay for programs that benefit only a few. Yet, she spent her entire life paying taxes, even though she did not believe in the overwhelming majority of programs the taxes are used to pay for. Money was taken from her by force for purposes she would not have deemed moral.

Later in life, she reclaimed some of her previously-stolen money.

Basically, I'd consider Rand accepting Social Security and Medicare payments to be a lot more like her own version of the actions of her character Ragnar Danneskjold from Atlas Shrugged than anything else... Albeit with much less exciting swashbuckling.

Ragnar, for the multitudes of liberals who know nothing of Rand's actual writings, was a philosopher-turned-pirate who attacked government vessels carrying gold. Ragnar would then steal exactly the amount of gold illegitimately taxed away from people living in Galt's Gulch and then return it to them. To quote Ayn Rand's Ragnar himself:
"What I actually am, Mr. Rearden, is a policeman. It is a policeman's duty to protect men from criminals – criminals being those who seize wealth by force. ... But when robbery becomes the purpose of the law...then it is an outlaw who has to become a policeman."
The point is this: It's not at all hypocritical to reclaim the money that was stolen from you in the first place when your whole philosophy argues that it's immoral to steal.

If you advocate a world with no theft - notably including theft by the state in the form of taxation - then anything that reunites property with its rightful owners is fine. In a world where the state is engaging in legalized plunder (to paraphrase Bastiat), then it's morally right to get as much of your stolen money back as you can.

And there's virtually no chance Rand got back any more from the Social Security or Medicare system than she put in over her 77 years of living.

So in reality, I'd call Ayn Rand a hypocrite if she did not try to get as much of her own money back from the government as she could - especially when the overwhelming majority of it is put to uses she'd find totally abhorrent.

To say that she should not have done this on the grounds that it was "hypocritical" as so many liberals claim, while not also making the simultaneous claim that she should not have been taxed in the first place, is to say that people should be forced to give the government tons of money for reasons they disagree with and would not support, and yet also have utterly no hope of ever seeing it returned to them.

What a horrific argument!

People have their resources taxed away from them every single day and mostly for purposes that only beneficial to politicians and concentrated special interest groups. Getting some of that money back at the end of people's lives is a weak consolation prize for accepting lower standards of living for a lifetime and a political class and their cronies run wild.

* * * * *
So. Why am I "mad" at Ayn Rand? 

Because the fact of her taking Social Security and Medicare payments has lead to me having dozens of discussions every year about the things I've just gone out of my way to explain and discuss. She gave liberals ammunition to dismiss her over-all political views and to distract from the areas of her life and philosophy that are actually worth criticizing (and there are several of those).

I wish she hadn't done it, purely because of the stupidity of the arguments that her actions have created.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no need to defend against each argument or point. Unless all of her suggestions are enacted at once her ideas will remain THEORETICAL. As such, she has every right to survive in the society in which she resided in at that point in time using to her advantage any laws or rules that society abided by or provided to her. Even implementing her suggestions one at a time would leave at best temporary imbalances in her system until all the ideas were finally brought online together.
What you fail to address is the theft of an individual’s assets and income by limited medical licensing producing over- priced doctors, limited access to prescription drugs, limited access to do or take certain things into your own body with or without a doctor’s approval and third party billing which drives up prices enormously, all for the most part created by private industry.
This would put all of us out of business with or without government interference . The plain fact is people evolved to CHEAT and cheat big, and cheat irrationally and repeatedly and often, with little gain to themselves and great destruction to others in many instances, whether it be government, individual professionals, non-profits or large corporations. They like to have a competitive advantage and they don’t care how or where they get it. Reason will not change this, cheating makes them feel good, it makes them feel superior and better then you.
Presently, there is no court system or detailed analysis that can possibly keep with or punish the unlimited and never ending ways doctors and others steal. They will even lie in court testimony to support the side that pays them the most, NOTHING to do with government. And they will counter an expert with the exact same training and skills saying something 180 degrees opposed who is being paid on the other side. They will do this under oath and while being recorded and they do not care because they do not even know they are cheating, they only know they are being heard and it feels good and they are being paid and they have authority and that feels good also. Nothing to do with objectivism or communism or any other entity or philosophy. It has to do with something objectivists purport to understand but do not. The individual mind and ego. They do this on an individual basis and seek group support from others who do similar things. Medicare then is a sociological cheating counter balance to the psychological individual cheaters. A big summation and weighted average of all the cheating that says we can’t figure out how much was stolen from you or how much you have stolen back so we are going to take care of everyone in a crappy way.