Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lying about Ayn Rand and Social Security

In 2010 I discussed a smear that was done on Ayn Rand, one of the favorite targets in the world for smears and attacks. Typically her critics have invented lies about Rand or, at the very least, grossly distorted the facts.

In the 2010 smear some online pundits claimed that Rand said a serial killer was her ideal man and used him to model her heroes. This was a gross misrepresentation of the truth, as I documented at the time.

What was particularly dishonest was that these smear-mongers pretended that some dark truth had been uncovered by the anti-Ayn brigade. In fact, what they did was misquote some material from her journals released by Rand's own estate. They misquoted material, ripped it out of context, claimed it meant the complete opposite of what Rand actually said, and then pretended that they uncovered this truth. They invented it, they didn't uncover it.

I was asked by someone about a new attack on Rand, which some of the rabid haters on the Left were doing, alleging some sort of hypocrisy by Rand for "taking social security." Some childish writer at the rather unreliable AlterNet wrote an article entitled: "Ayn Rand Railed Against Government Benefits, But Grabbed Social Security and Medicare When She Needed Them."

The article claimed "Rand herself received Social Security payments and Medicare benefits under the name of Ann O'Connor." O'Connor was her married name but her given name was Alice not Ann, but then facts are not important to the smearbund.

The author quotes Michael Ford of the "Center for the Study of the American Dream," saying, "In the end, Miss Rand was a hypocrite but she could never be faulted for failing to act in her own self-interest." (I suggest "own self-interest" is redundant. What other kind of self-interest is there?)

I found this odd since Rand had commented that people who are forced to fund government programs are NOT immoral for taking the benefits for which they paid. For instance, it is not wrong for people to attend government schools, which are funded with their tax monies, whether they like it or not. They have to start with a false premise: that Rand said receiving Social Security, that one is forced to pay for, was wrong. Without that false claim they have no charge of hypocrisy. They pretend she took a position she never took and then accuse her of violating the position she didn't take.

in 1966 Rand's Objectivist Newsletter said that not collecting from programs that one is forced to finance would be wrong. It said:
...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.
The AlterNet smear also claimed that Rand said that the link between smoking and cancer was a hoax. She actually never said that. She said she was not convinced that the case had been made, and at the time it hadn't been fully made. She never said it was a hoax and she stopped smoking instantly when her physician showed her a dark spot on her own lung's x-ray.

According to AlterNet one Evva Joan Pryor, "who had been a social worker in New Yorker" said that "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." What job was that? Well, if you believe AlterNet she was "social worker" during this period. The implication being that Rand had to seek out a social worker to help her. Some smear-mongers of Rand have argued with me that she died penniless as the result of the evils of capitalism and that was why she sought out this social worker.

Pryor was NOT a social worker. She worked for the law firm of Ernst, Crane Gitlin & Winick which handled all legal matters for Rand. Nor was Rand penniless or in need. She was penniless when she arrived in America but during this period she had cash reserves of a few hundred thousand dollars and a steady income from book royalties.

Pryor argued with Rand because Ayn did not want Social Security, nor did Rand go out and seek it, or Medicare, even though doing so was entirely consistent with her own ethics. What Pryor said was that she tried to convince Rand to sign up and they argued. Pryor says Rand "was never involved other than to sign the power of attorney. I did the rest." Beyond that Pryor said nothing else. There is no indication whether Pryor used the power of attorney to apply for benefits, or whether Rand knew about it. There is no indication that such benefits were ever used. There is simply no evidence to show Rand "Grabbed Social Security and Medicare When She Needed Them."

Pryor's full interview in 100 Voices: Oral History of Ayn Rand, indicates the opposite. It shows Rand fighting with her attorneys and telling them that she didn't want to do this. She signed a power of attorney and Pryor said that she acted "whether [Ayn] agreed or not." Pryor never actually says what actions she (Pryor) took in spite of whether Ayn "agreed or not." What we have is the rabid Left jumping to numerous conclusions not warranted by the evidence.

So, there are numerous things wrong with these claims. First, it would not be hypocrisy if Rand did take benefits from programs that she was forced to fund. Second, Rand clearly didn't "grab" any such benefits but fought her own attorneys about doing so and they, not she, were the ones pushing it. Third, there is no indication she actually got any benefits because Pryor doesn't say. And, fourth, Pryor makes it clear that she acted as Rand's attorney on health issues even when Rand didn't agree with her. And fifth, there is no indication that Rand knew all of the decisions that Pryor made on her behalf. Perhaps she did, but perhaps she didn't.

Rand had sufficient resources to cover the health issues she faced. In fact, she had sufficient funds to pay for heart surgery for her brother-in-law from Russia. Rand's estate had a substantial sum of cash at the time of Rand's death indicating that Pryor's concerns that health costs could "bankrupt" Rand never took place. And, since Pryor argued that Rand should have these things in case health care bankrupted her, it is entirely possible that Rand never got a cent. We just don't know. But if she did, there is nothing to attack her over either.

Here is an indication of the dishonest attacks on Rand. One site claims that "Ayn received Medicare benefits under an assumed name (is that even possible?), that explains why my FOI request came up empty." How stupid is this writer? Ayn Rand was the assumed named, Alice O'Connor was Rand's legal name. This writer repeats the false claim that Pryor was "a New York social worker" who was "a consultant for Rand's attorneys." The book, from which they claim to glean this information, says Pryor worked at the law firm, doesn't mention social worker, and Pryor said she had power of attorney from Rand, something a social worker would not have.

This article claims that Rand and her husband collected a grand total of around $14,000 in Social Security between the years of 1974 and 1982. This would be far under the amount of Social Security taxes that Rand was required to pay in during her lifetime even if we don't include any income for Frank O'Connor. Social Security taxes were first collected in 1937, well before her first best-seller in 1943, The Fountainhead. She earned substantial amounts of money during the 40s, 50s and 60s and would have paid substantial amounts in social security payments because she was self-employed as an author. In other words, the $14,000 she and Frank got back would have been a small percentage of the amount she paid in. (I am assuming the author of that piece is telling the truth about the $14,000, which given his record of truthfulness, is a big assumption on my part.)

The absurdity is that the one site lies by claiming that this small amount, spread over eight years "allowed Rand and her husband to maintain their quality of life, remain in their apartment and live out their final years with dignity." Considering the several hundred thousand dollars that Rand had in savings, does this moronic author really believe that without that $1,750 per year, that Rand would have been unable to maintain her quality of life, would have lost her apartment and not lived out her final years with dignity? Another indication that Social Security was not responsible for Rand's quality of life, etc., is that she employed a secretary to help her pay her bills, a housekeeper and a cook. The cook, Eloise Huggins, was given $10,000 by Rand's Estate in appreciation for her work—a sum almost equal to the total amount that the O'Connors received from Social Security over an eight year period.

The hyperbole and distortions are typical. Sadly it shows that so many of Rand's critics lack any integrity and couldn't give a critique of Rand without resorting to lying.

Pryor's obituary in Variety says that she had a master's degree in "psychiatric social work" but never indicates that she worked as a social worker as multiple articles claimed. They said she worked as a "rights agent" for law firms for authors and that she also worked as "copyright/trademark specialist" and that she was a specialist in business systems and "did bond financing on Wall Street." She was NOT Ayn Rand's social worker! Social workers don't get obituaries published by Variety, the entertainment newspaper.

In spite of how easily one can verify if Pryor worked as a social worker, the falsehood that she was Rand's social worker was repeated on dozens of Left-wing websites. That so many sites are repeating this false claim indicates how quickly they mimic the slogans of each other and indicates that none of them have the level of commitment to the truth to research it for themselves. Had they done so they would catch the numerous errors, that the errors are spread from site to site, indicates they have no interest in checking facts before they spread the claims.

UPDATE: As noted elsewhere on this blog comments are down. But a somewhat rude "response" came in to this, with such vitriol I can only assume the author of Alternet article is the author, but I can't be sure. He claims the Alternet article is "substantially correct" because Rand "never held a job that required SS withholdings" ... except "when she was a screenwriter in Hollywood in the late 30's." He claims I am "not much of a historian or fact checker." First, Rand was a employed in Hollywood in the late 30s. But what this claimant leaves out is that she continued employed in Hollywood until 1951. He ignores that she earned royalties on We the Living in the late 1930s, royalties on Anthem, that The Fountainhead was a national bestseller in 1943, that she continued to be screenwriter on films like Love Letters (1945) and The Fountainhead (1949).

He mentions the "late 30s" and then dishonestly ignores everything from 1940 to 1951. But, even then he is dishonest. Authors earning royalties had to pay social security taxes as well. So, in fact, she paid SS taxes from the their inception until her death in 1982. That is a period of 47 years, while he pretends it is just five years. Atlas Shrugged was a bestseller in 1957 and continued to sell in substantial numbers every single year since. Fountainhead has continued to sell well every year since. In fact, they continued to sell well during the 70s and 80s and until this day.

From that he concludes she received SS "benefits far in excess of what they had actually paid in." In fact, if you only look at the last two years of her life, her social security taxes exceeded ALL the "benefits" it is claimed she received. In the 1970s her social security taxes would have been at least $9000 per year.

He claims that "by the time of her death, she had not written a book in decades and her prior works were all but forgotten by the 70s and 80." Once again he just has no facts. How was she "all but forgotten" by the 70s and 80s? Her book, The New Left was published in 1971, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology was published in 1979 and Philosophy: Who Needs It was being printed at the time of her death in 1982. Romantic Manifesto, missed the 70s by a few months. In addition, Atlas Shrugged was still selling approximately 75,000 copies during the 70s and 80s by itself,  not counting the sales of We the Living, The Fountainhead and Anthem, all of which remained in print during from the late 50s until today. All of which earned royalties, all of which had social security taxes paid on them.

By pretending she had no income in that last years of her life, which is patently false, he then concludes "she left a very meager estate, as Leonard Peikoff, the heir to her estate can attest." Ah, yes, sure go ask Leonard. Peikoff has enjoyed a substantial income due to being Rand's heir. And he helped endow a non-profit named after her with said proceeds. How is that possible if the estate was so meager?

A close friend of Leonard and Ayn commented here that the estate was worth approximately $1 million in 1982. But our rude commenter insists we don't know our facts. I would guess that over my lifetime I have spent considerable time talking to approximately 15 of Rand's friends. In addition I know all three of biographers and read the biographies before they were published. In addition to reading her works and newsletters, and my own interviews, I think I've done my fact checking—which is not something I can say for the hit piece on Alternet.

The rest of the comment was simply insults. I wish Rand's critics would try something other than lies and insults—that they don't is quite revealing.