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Ayn Rand and the Drug Benefit

On Congress's new Medicare fraud.

by James Leroy Wilson
December 4, 2003

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Ayn Rand and the Drug Benefit_James Leroy Wilson-On Congress's New Medicare Fraud Ayn Rand was one of the most successful novelists of the 20th century and probably the most influential in the world of ideas. Atlas Shrugged is said to have kicked off the modern libertarian movement. Not just the extreme libertarianism you see in my columns, but the “mainstream” libertarianism of economist Milton Friedman and Cold War conservative Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. I haven’t seen a study on the subject, but I doubt that Goldwater would have won the 1964 Republican nomination if it weren’t for thousands of young activists who read Atlas Shrugged.

I’ve read only one book by Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, which contains an essay by her and excerpts of philosophical passages from her novels, including the Objectivist manifesto of “This Is John Galt Speaking” from Atlas Shrugged. In the 22 months since I’ve read it, I’m not sure how her influence on me could be measured. Although I fully “converted” to libertarianism two months before through my own investigations and thought, Rand gave me the ability to “think” like a libertarian. (I had felt like a libertarian long before, as in, by what right can the government prohibit restaurants or any workplace from allowing smoking?)

This gift of thinking like a libertarian, and this alone, I owe Ayn Rand thanks. Her philosophy of Objectivism may have been seriously flawed. She herself may have been an unpleasant person - but I only know that from what may be smears and libels (she’s not alive to defend herself). Her flaws may be most telling in her hawkish foreign policy and support of Republicans over the fledgling Libertarian Party. And her atheism and materialism may be repulsive at worst, and unsettling or unsatisfying at best, to many who have read her and may have agreed with her at points.

But it is at that very place - her materialism/atheism, that she is most valuable. She wasn’t a Christian or Jew who tried to “understand” atheism in order to refute Marxism, rather, she was an atheist herself who destroyed Marxism and all forms of collectivism on its own terms: reason and a passion for justice.

Her argument, or at least my understanding of her argument, goes like this: I exist, I want to live, I want to be happy while I live - which means living according to my values, and reason is the means by which I live according to my values. And because I want to live, I will respect your life and your pursuit to live life according to your values, as long as you accord me the same respect.

Down to the nitty-gritty, I will respect your right to free speech not just because I honor the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, but rather because I am a human being and so are you, and I will respect your liberty if you respect mine. I obey the command “Do not murder” not just because the Bible which my family and nation has believed in for generations says so, but because I can’t claim the right to life if I don’t respect the right to life of others.

I think that, with Rand, it came down to justice. The sneering, arrogant, materialist, atheist Marxists of her day (roughly, the middle fifty years of the 20th century) saw justice as a “social” goal of the equal distribution of wealth, to be achieved by government coercion, whereas Rand returned the sneers and arrogance, and remained just as fundamentally materialist and atheist, yet maintained that justice was the vindication of the individual’s right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. No one has the “right” to live off the living of anyone else; the definition of a dishonest man is one who wants to live by consuming more than he produces. Government exists to protect our basic rights of existence, not to protect “jobs” or guarantee social outcomes.

In my opinion, Rand’s great contribution was to restore the concept of justice back to where it belongs, to the individual, and upon mutual consent on contracts, and upon personal responsibility for one’s actions. That the general welfare of society as a whole was either diminished to the extent that it diminished the freedom and prosperity of individuals, or was fraudulently built from the start by raiding the property of individuals. These are the foundations of libertarian thought.

We are “indebted” to the past for everything, but we owe the past nothing. How can that be? Because the discovery of truth, and the discovery of freedom, is a continual process of history in which wisdom builds upon wisdom, error upon error, wisdom upon error, and error upon wisdom. The human condition is forever trapped where attractive ideas are disguised as wisdom, where the allure of relying on the State to receive more than what one has produced, reigns supreme.

I think of Ayn Rand when I think of the “drug benefit” expansion of Medicare, perhaps the single most irresponsible and destructive piece of legislation in my lifetime (that is, since 1970). I think I mentioned before that Democrats and Republicans both seem to be pining to destroy the Republic faster - to turn the United States into Argentina. Today’s politicians have it made. They get credit for having “done something” to help the elderly; they retire on fat pensions; and the next generation of politicians will get the blame for the federal government’s bankruptcy, inflation, and social disorder.

Meanwhile, the working people of today and tomorrow will be robbed blind by the government to subsidize the consumer costs (which means, increase consumer demand and raise the prices) of prescription drugs.

Why can’t seniors afford their drugs? First, because their savings had been depleted by Social Security taxes, which provide a far smaller return than personal saving and investment would have. Second, because of the monopoly of patents, in which the first drug company to the patent office gets exclusive monopoly privileges to profit from a new drug for a certain number of years. Third, the ridiculously lengthy approval procedures of the Food and Drug Administration. This approval process cuts into the time of the patent privilege: the longer the FDA sits on a drug, the shorter the drug company can enjoy its monopoly once it is finally approved. So the prices go up even higher.

Who loses? Obviously, the taxpayer. Who wins? The politicians and their bureaucrats, whose power is increased. And impoverished seniors - those who depend only on Social Security and Medicare, will always lose, no matter what “solution” to their problems the government comes up with. Well-off seniors for whom Social Security and Medicare are supplements, will do quite well. Poor seniors will still be at the mercy of the government.

Which is exactly what it’s all about. No matter what form of government, the idea of “power” is to force more and more people to be dependent on your will. There is never an ounce of good intention or compassion when the government increases its role in society, just the gratification of politicians and bureaucrats who enjoy greater and greater power over our lives.

Of course, many people want to be dependent on the government, because they know that their abilities through life could not carry them to self-sufficiency, or even enough good will from family and friends to support them. Force the working taxpayers to subsidize their existence.

But, following Ayn Rand, it is to such folks that I claim, I owe you nothing. You have no right to my productivity, to my earnings. If I have compassion, if I am charitable, I should donate according to my terms or according to the commands of my religious faith, not yours or the government’s, because I’m the one that produced the wealth. It is not yours; you have no claim to it. It is mine. And if you are rich and I am poor, the same principle applies. I have no right to what you have, either.

The Medicare drug benefit plan is nothing more than politicians trying to buy votes from senior citizens under the delusion that government can cut costs and make life easier for people. It can not and will not. So we will enjoy Grampa’s company until the age of 85 when he probably should have died at 75, and for that, we will spend the rest of our own lives in an impoverished, insecure, decaying, debt-ridden empire known as the United States of America.

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