Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ayn Rand Goes on Medicare

Ayn Rand's brand of libertarianism has always puzzled me. I don't think her vision of utterly independent individuals, only a few of whom are competent and forever under siege by the parasites, is at all like real human life. Even more puzzling, I don't understand why many people find it an attractive vision of life, rather than a dystopian nightmare. Last year I read Atlas Shrugged to gain some insight into the Randians. One of my libertarian churchmates, who had been shaped by the book in his youth, was eager to hear how it affected me, hoping I would join the movement. I told him it was the most preposterous story I ever read. Moreover, her view is so scornful of church - any church - that I didn't see how he as a Christian could reconcile the two.

Rand was particularly scornful of government programs that taxed everyone to help citizens when they are in need, like Social Security and Medicare.

I was particularly interested to learn, therefore, that the recently published memoir of people who knew Ayn Rand, 100 Voices, reveals that she herself went on Medicare. She did not admit this, and went on excoriating the "parasites" who did. Rand, a chain smoker, needed medical help late in life. She allowed her lawyers to quietly apply for the help under her real name, Ann O'Connor.

Rand was entitled to the help of Medicare. She had paid into it as other workers in the commonwealth of the nation did. She was entitled to is as a citizen who was ill and needed help. Rand accepted Medicare. But apparently the reality of her own need did not affect her ideology that people should not be in need.


patron said...

FYI. Legally one must apply in ones real name for Medicare. Otherwise it is considered fraud.

Ayn never stated that people should never be in need. Maybe you should read the book again.

Gruntled said...

Applying in her real name is relevant because it explains how this fact did not come out at the time.

The core of her idea is that people should take care of themselves, not turn to the community for help.

Whit said...

I'm not a Randian. Most conservatives, and many libertarians, are not. And you focus on the reason - her view of many human beings as parasitic.

But I don't think it's a choice between two extremes, one in which those in need are left to starve on the one hand. And one in which Government provides all the basic, or maybe more than basic, needs for people regardless of how the person got to be in need, by taxing the successful.

There may be other middle ground positions, but mine is that the community (read voluntary charities) not the government should help the poor. This encourages people to be generous, and allows distinctions to be made between those who deserve help, and those where help is undeserved or where help might encourage a continuation of the same behaviors that got these people into trouble in the first place.

When the government provides an entire need, such as medical care, for a person, that person will cease to take steps to provide that need for himself, and will cease to have any concern for the cost of the care being provided. This sets up an unavoidable conflict between the recipient who wants the best care money can provide, and those paying for the care which can only be resolved by political rationing. A free market, even if the government provides some of the funds, preserves proper incentives to provide for yourself and watch costs.

Anonymous said...

Her goal of writing this text was to show how desperately the world needs prime movers how, viciously it treats them and to portray what happens to a world without them.

Gruntled said...

Whit, I agree that there are many middle positions. I think the problem with relying entirely on charity for help with basic existence is that charities don't help everyone. Even the undeserving poor don't actually deserve to die of stupidity. I know the "moral hazard" problem that you point to is real, but I think there has to be a universal safety net at the bottom.

Whit said...

Gruntled, I agree there needs to be a minimum safety net, even for the stupid, evil or foolish. But it should not make the recipient too comfortable. And I leave room for the government to provide some of the money. The welfare payment is also better if it is simply a fixed sum letting the recipient make the allocation among his various needs and wants.