Friday, January 28, 2011

Ayn Rand Was Too Big To Fail

This is just too hilarious for words: (via boing boing)
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."

But alas she did and said it was wrong for everyone else to do so.
This revelation actually makes her a perfect example of everything the teabaggers believe in.

Strongly against government doing anything... unless it helps me, then gimme gimme gimme and fuck everyone else.

Atlas Shrugged.


  1. I don't know much about ayn rand, but I do know if you are wealthy and have payed huge amounts in taxes, you jump at the chance to recoup any of that investment. You can be against government interference all you want, but they are still going to be taking your money, you know? You would have to be pretty hardcore/ridiculous to refuse it back when you get the opportunity. Even if you are against the fact that the program exists, you still pay for it!

  2. Which would be fine, if what she was opposed to was the government collecting the money in the first place. In that case you're right. You might as well take the money back since you have to pay into the program anyway.
    The problem is that her disapproval apparently extends to people accepting money from the government. That is, "She didn't feel that an individual should take help."
    She IS an individual. She DID take help. Despite thinking that doing precisely that would be wrong. This, simply put, makes her a hypocrite.

    Mind you, maybe she simply changed her mind. Perhaps the fact that someone who made as much money as she did could be "wiped out" by medical bills made her decide that there was a place in our society for programs like medicare.
    But I've yet to see "Atlas Reconsidered" on the shelves, so I'm still inclined to cry foul.

  3. write that book jaypop

  4. Social security and medicare are compulsory retirement and insurance plans run by the government. For some it can be considered welfare and for others it can not. If an individual has been putting more than average money into both her whole life, I don't see how it can be considered "getting help" for that individual to use them once she is qualified.

    Also it is unlikely that she got wiped out, she was probably a money making machine giving talks and such until she died. The quote sounded like conjecture.

    I can't say that I know what was going through her mind when she took the money, whether she felt like she was being hypocritical or not, but it is hard to imagine anyone feeling guilty about taking those benefits in her position.

    Do you think if she read my first paragraph that she would disagree with my view? I don't know enough about her to say one way or the other. If she would disagree with me then she would be a hypocrite.

  5. Interesting point. If you're getting out less money than you put in, I suppose you'd be right.
    It's not so much "help" if you yourself are the source of everything you're actually taking advantage of. Not sure what she'd think. Frankly I haven't read her stuff, so I'm going off of what I find here and in the linked articles. Likewise I don't know the specifics of her financial situation and was assuming that her consultant's quote was accurate.
    It just seems... well, douche-y to tell other people that it's not ethical for them to do something and then go do it yourself.
    On a mildly related note, some subsequent wikipediaing reveals that Ms. Rand is nearly incapable of hypocrisy, as her personal philosophy was what's called "ethical egoism"... that is, she believed that "moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest". So long as whatever she does serves her own interest, she is acting appropriately according to her own moral code.

  6. As much as I love the idea of a logically consistent personal philosophy, in practice I've only ever seen people use Ayn Rand's work as a way to rationalize excruciatingly selfish behavior that they don't want to admit is negatively affecting other people.

    I've gotten into exactly one public yelling match in my life, and it was with this acquaintance of a friend who refused to tip at a restaurant because the service had only been fine. She proceeded to deliver the most condescending possible lecture about the importance of incentives and of teaching people to work for their money, using Rand's ideas about individual power as the backbone of her case. In short, she was just the kind of person who was such an epic asshole that she required an entire philosophical system to be able to tolerate her own existence.

    I'm sure there's more to Rand than people like that, but at this point in my life I don't have the patience to deal with it.

    Anyway, I don't think she made much money in her lifetime, and in the absence of any real information we should take her lawyer's word for it that her lung cancer cost more than she made from her books. The important thing with the gov't aid story, it seems to me, is not that Rand accepted government aid while campaigning against it, but that she hid it rather than take responsibility for the inconsistency with her previous statements.

  7. I see what happens when I'm away from the computer for a weekend...

    Don't have too much to add, but interesting back and forth to read.

    I think 6.54's point about her feeling the need to hide it says it all. She knew that this was something that would make her look bad, and would generally refute the ethos of her life philosophy (no need for social security and medicare because if you're responsible and smart you should have saved that money yourself)

    @luke As for your question about what she would think if she read your first paragraph, I think she would probably be ok getting social security payments, since she payed the money in (up to 90,000 dollars at least). (this article from a right leaning site has a quote that seems to show she would be cool with it. )

    The issue is precisely the fact that she NEEDED to do so, and wanted to hide it. This in my mind, is exactly why social security and medicare are needed, because despite the best preparations, there needs to be a safety net so that old people don't die because of unpaid medical bills or because they can't afford to feed themselves. In Ayn Rand's America without these programs, she wasn't smart enough to make enough money to pay for the treatment of her lung cancer in her old age, therefore, she deserved to die, and would have done so quickly since she couldn't afford medical care.

    That was is the glorious utopia that Rand envisioned, and it makes perfect sense to me that she would conceal this stuff over the years, because it would prove (gasp) that these BIG GOVERNMENT programs may actually have some practical value that don't fit into Rands (if you're rich you deserve it, if you're poor, you deserved it,) black/white worldview. (this is the point jaypop was making)

    Anyway, great job all, it's fun to check in and see that a cool discussion has taken place while you were gone!

  8. Jaypop. Ideally, when you put money into a retirement plan, you get back more than you put in. Likewise, with an insurance plan, if you need it, you should be getting back more than you put in as well. If you don't need it then you don't get anything but security, which is certainly worth something. So even if she got more than she gave, if it is somewhere in that reasonable range I feel like it couldn't be called "help" the way she seemed to define it.

    Julian. Whether she "needed" it or not I guess is also up for debate, too. If she put 90000 dollars into these programs, that is a ton of capital she lost. Granted she could have spent it on strippers and cigarettes, but she could have also invested it wisely and had more than enough to cover her treatment and retirement. Who knows.

    Also, how did she hide it? She used one of her publicly known names to receive the money, heck that could have even been her legal name.

    What definitely is true, though, is that she could have needed that safety net, just like anybody can. She could have been hit by a car and been paralyzed from the neck down and incurred monstrous medical bills for the rest of her life and there wouldn't have been shit she could have done no matter how much she earned or didn't have to pay into government programs. I feel like that is the crux of the issue here, right? I can see why you guys would jump down her throat at something like this. Her world view is faulty because the only reason she didn't need help was she was lucky enough to not get hit by a truck. and maybe she did need help.

    Personally, my ideal would be for NGOs and/or local agencies to provide that safety net that we all may need someday, because it would allow for competition (if an NGO sucks, don't give them your money any more, something you cannot do for the government) increase efficiency, and bring the people providing care closer to those receiving it, allowing them to be more responsive to the needs of the community. I am not sure what camp that lands me in, maybe you guys can tell me?

  9. In the retirement plan scenario I see where you're coming from, although it's kind of hard to tell what a reasonable return on your investment would be given that social security doesn't have the same risk involved in higher return investments.
    My main point is better stated in the second pass - if she herself was the source of the money (plus interest or whatever) then I wouldn't count it as "help". I don't know that she'd agree, that's just my take.
    In the insurance plan scenario I don't think that argument quite works as well, since at the end of the day any extra money is coming from someone else. Rand's philosophy was based off of independence, i.e. "I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine". While taking the money wouldn't put any additional strain on other contributors, it would make their effort "for her sake" rather than for that of some other beneficiary.

    The best analogy I can think of is that her collecting medicare because everyone has to pay taxes anyway is like a vegan eating a hamburger because the cow was dead anyway. Not eating it wouldn't really help the cow, but you don't get to keep saying you're a vegan after you eat it.

    On a side note, I think the $90,000 figure JJ (they do occasionally get the crazy trollers from JN's field trips, so pseudonyms are preferable) mentioned is in reference to the income level above which social security tax is no longer assessed, not a chunk of capital that was contributed - although I'm not sure how her actual contributions would have compared.

  10. @ Luke : Personally, my ideal would be for NGOs and/or local agencies to provide that safety net that we all may need someday, because it would allow for competition (if an NGO sucks, don't give them your money any more, something you cannot do for the government) increase efficiency, and bring the people providing care closer to those receiving it, allowing them to be more responsive to the needs of the community. I am not sure what camp that lands me in, maybe you guys can tell me?

    I guess my only question would be why a different system is needed.

    SS is extremely efficient and a lot of that is because there is democratic accountability. (if a check didn't go out on time there would be a revolt of furious seniors in each members district. Therefore elected reps have a reason to make sure it works, because they'll get their asses kicked out of office if it doesn't).

    It's also extremely popular (approval ratings in the 80s-90s across all parties), and contrary to popular belief it isn't losing money, it can remain solvent forever with minor tweaks.

    Why would we want to do anything about it?

  11. Jpop: good point, it sounds like her philosophy isn't down with insurance in general

    dude, its going to get to a ratio of 3 workers for every one recipient, and then the government is going to have to actually pay back the bonds it owes the trust fund and where is that money going to come from? First of all it cannot live without the money it is borrowing from the system, how is it supposed to live without it AND pay it back? And if voters manipulate their congressmen with social security, you better believe it happens the other way around! Nothing democratic about voting for someone cause you think the other person is threatening your benefits.

  12. @Luke: I gotta say I just don't agree with some of the facts you've laid out. Here's where I'm getting my information:

    Social Security, if nothing changed, would be able to pay out  benefits until 2037. This information comes from the official Social Security trust fund report:
    Social Security's combined trust funds are projected to allow full payment of scheduled benefits on a timely basis until the trust funds become exhausted in 2037. 

    The issue with the government bonds in the trust funds is highly misleading because the government was required to buy bonds when the trust fund ran a surplus (which has happened every year since 1983). This from economist Dean Baker in 2007 explains it better than I can:
    In 1983, Congress (following the recommendation of the Greenspan commission) deliberately raised the Social Security tax far above the level needed to pay current Social Security benefits. This led to a large surplus. Under the law, this surplus must be used to buy U.S. government bonds. Also, under the law, the bonds held by Social Security are liabilities of the federal government, just like any other bonds. When the program needs the money from the bonds to pay benefits, it can rely on the interest and eventually the principle from these bonds, just like any private pension or individual. 

    Note, that there was never any rule that any Social Security only gets government bonds if the government runs a surplus. In other words, from the standpoint of Social Security, it matters not an iota that the government has mostly run deficits for the last quarter century. This may have been bad policy, but it doesn't affect the size of the trust fund.

    When you said that it can't live without money it is borrowing from the system and pay it back, that's not really the case. The social security trust fund and the federal budget are two different things. The trust fund would receive payment from these bonds (that it was required to get because it ran a surplus) the same way you, or I (or a foreign government) would get payment from these bonds.

    If the US government can't pay back government bonds, we have far bigger problems because then the entire world economy would collapse.

    If this is about our deficit, that's another debate, but social security has absolutely nothing to do with our federal deficit.

    I also don't understand your last statement that there is nothing democratic about voting for someone because you think the other person is threatening to cut a popular government program that you support. That seems very democratic to me.

    Sorry to go on forever but I see a lot of this misinformation out there all the time about social security and it frustrates me to no end.

    If we are worried about social security in 2037, then there are very simple things we can do (raise the outdated 90,000 cap, tweak the payroll tax) that wouldn't change much for the average person paying into the system. Talk that the program is in a crisis (like bush claimed in 2005), or that the trust fund isn't solvent for a long time are just at odds with the facts.

  13. I know that Social Security is capable of remaining solvent and that the government will pay the interest and capital on the bonds they have taken from the surplus, but both will involve higher taxes. Right? You can't just tweak something and suddenly find yourself with billions of dollars in your hands.

    And as far as my statements about voter manipulation goes, it centers around the larger issues I have with the two party system in general, and how it manipulates people's votes around hot button issues. I know you saw some really good men not elected because they weren't republican/democrat this election. And I know you saw some really bad men elected as well. I am not saying that I have the slightest clue how to fix it, just that it is frustrating.

  14. I agree with JJ. Although there are issues with social security that will need to be dealt with by the time people who are in their 20s retire, the solutions are not particularly complicated or radical, and don't necessarily have anything to do with the federal deficit.

    Furthermore, although the amount that a person gets from social security may be more or less than they put in, this doesn't mean that it's comparable to private retirement investment options. As I've commented before, social security is roughly equivalent (though considerably better than) an annuity that costs around $250,000. But: A. You can't usually get an annuity before you reach retirement age, or something close to it, so it will never cover things like disability and you can't contribute to it except in a lump sum (which is much more difficult to actually do). B. Annuities have nothing like the guaranteed stability and actual inflation protection that social security has. C. Most people, almost regardless of their situation, do not save enough for retirement. By effectively forcing them to save every step of the way, social security mitigates the larger drain on society that a deeply impoverished elderly population would represent.

    I'm all for taking responsibility for your retirement savings as early as possible (all of y'all should open a Roth IRA if you haven't already), but there literally is no private retirement investment that is as strong social security, and until there exists an NGO or corporation that can guarantee greater longterm stability and democratic accountability than the US Government, there never will be.

    Even in a situation where the government cannot pay back the bonds that the social security trust owns, the global economy would be so fucked that any private retirement investment would likely worth virtually nothing as well.

    Here's the bottom line: if you make it through life without ever needing support from the outside world, you are extremely lucky... and almost certainly a liar. Ayn Rand, despite spending much of her life touting the necessity of hyper-individualistic capitalism, was not so lucky - and, it turns out, a bit of a liar about it. I'm grateful to live in a system that has as little to do with her philosophy as possible.

  15. @ Luke: I couldn't agree more about the second paragraph.

    Last year a decent number of R congressmen won their election as "defenders of medicare" for opposing the health care bill. Anyone who knows the Republican position on medicare, and specifically what they tried to do during the health care negotiations knows that this is literally to opposite of what happened, but it didn't matter.

    A large number of people voted for them, because they "defended medicare". And unfortunately, like you said, I'm really not sure where we begin to deal with that problem.