Friday, 14 September 2012

Did Ayn Rand use government programs she'd advocated against using?

No. Ayn Rand consistently held the position that opponents of government programs still have a right to use those programs while they are present, and consistently recommended that others use them as well.

It has been brought up frequently in recent years that Ayn Rand received Medicare. While it appears by all accounts that she did, no one familiar with her positions (or - in my view - common sense) should be surprised by this.

Ayn Rand, regardless of what many hit pieces imply, never said that one shouldn't accept the payments of redistributive programs. She argued that the government should not institute such programs. These are hardly equivalent statements. Refraining from using a government program does not prevent it from being instituted, nor free you from participation in it. One is forced to pay into them regardless. So, of course, are those around you - such as your parents, potential employers, etc. - which imposes a secondary cost on you. Government redistribution is not a mere habit that certain people partake in, but something institutionally imposed on all citizens, that all citizens are part of whether they want to be or not.

Was it hypocritical if Ayn Rand used public transportation, the post office, or various other government services? Was she hypocritical for taking the food rationed to her by the communist government when she was a teenager living in the USSR? If not, why was it hypocritical to use a program between these extremes? Why should victims of coercion ever respond to it by arbitrarily making it worse for themselves?

Ayn Rand made explicit her belief that one should use redistributive programs years before she received Medicare. For instance, she responded to those asking whether it was appropriate to accept government scholarships or research grants with a full essay arguing that they should.
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.
Ayn Rand's detractors seem to believe that if they present the fact that she received Medicare with the tone of an expose, framing it as though it was obviously hypocritical, people will assume that it was without actually considering whether there is any good reason to believe that. There isn't one.