The Moral Integrity of Condemning Social Security While Collecting It

In an absurd act of injustice, the left routinely castigates those who criticize government redistribution programs while accepting some benefits of those programs.

For instance, writing for the Huffington Post, Michael Ford blasts those on the right who allegedly hold the attitude, “venerated in public, disdained in private”; he describes such people as “vip-dippers.” Ford proceeds to smear Ayn Rand with the term because she accepted Social Security and Medicare payments—after being forced for most of her working life to pay into those rights-violating programs. According to Ford, Rand accepted those “benefits” even as she “said it was wrong for everyone else to do so” (a flagrant misrepresentation of Rand’s position). Ford concludes, “In the end, Miss Rand was a hypocrite. . . .”

Similarly, commenting prior to the Republican convention in August, David Sirota wrote for Salon:

Hysterical jeremiads against “socialism” and for the “free market” are sure to pepper the Republican convention, if not from the dais then from the assembled rabble. . . . [Y]ou can expect the assembled media to loyally echo the themes—and barely notice that the paroxysm of anti-government hysteria is taking place inside a socialist enterprise.

That’s right, as the Daily Dolt first noted, “The stadium where the GOP will be announcing ‘We Built This!’ was financed primarily by the government.” Specifically, according to Marquette University’s National Sports Law Institute, “The total budget for the project was $139 million, of which public money accounted for $86 million and team money accounted for $53 million.”

Sirota thus implies that, if one uses a tax-financed stadium, not only can one not properly oppose the tax financing of the stadium, one cannot justifiably condemn socialism or promote free markets.

One more example: This summer Eli Stokols reported for Denver’s Fox31:

Mitt Romney’s Colorado campaign held an event involving local business owners expressing their outrage over President Barack Obama’s statement that businesses “didn’t build” their companies themselves.

“It pissed me off,” said Jack Davis, who hosted the press conference . . . at Advance Surface Technologies, which he bought 15 years ago. “To me, that statement really demonstrates to me that the president doesn’t have an appreciation for what it takes to start and run a business.”

Like the business owner who hosted the Romney campaign’s “We Did Build That” event Monday in Colorado Springs, Davis acknowledged that he did receive a government-backed SBA loan.

This story led to predictable smears. Lynn Bartels, a reporter for the Denver Post, Tweeted, “Great reporting by @EliStokols on the ‘You didn’t build that’ double standard.” The leftist publication ColoradoPols.com asked, “[A]t what point will people stop the fake rage against the evil ‘government’ when they knowingly take advantage of government programs?”

In short, these leftists shrilly mock, “You hypocrite! You accept money the government is handing out, yet you dare criticize the government for handing out money!”

Never mind the fact that the government looted Rand’s paycheck for most of her life to finance rights-violating “entitlement” schemes. Never mind the fact that the government forcibly took people’s wealth to build the stadium in question (thereby driving private investment from the market) and that government continued to seize wealth from anyone doing business near the stadium. Never mind the fact that Davis was forced—by threat of criminal prosecution and imprisonment—to subsidize government loans long before he ever applied for one. To leftists, such facts do not matter. What matters to them is that government be free to hand out wealth without anyone recognizing where the wealth came from or criticizing the government for expropriating that wealth.

A message someone posted to Facebook illustrates the absurdity of smearing critics of government programs for drawing some benefit from those programs: “Saying that Rand was a hypocrite for benefiting from social security . . . is like saying people who opposed communism were hypocrites for benefiting from government issue clothing.” Or, as I wrote a couple years ago, “According to the logic of [leftists], somebody standing in a Soviet bread line has no right to criticize Soviet bread lines, because he is after all waiting his turn for the bread.”

Consider the implications of the left’s smears. According to the left’s “logic,” the bigger the government program—the more wealth distribution it entails—the less legitimate is any criticism of the program. Today, we are forced to finance government roads, government schools, and myriad government “entitlement” and handout schemes. By the left’s “reasoning,” if a person drives on government roads (that he is forced to fund), sends his children to government schools (that he is forced to fund), or “benefits” from any government assistance program (that he is forced to fund), then he is a hypocrite for criticizing those programs. The implication is that, if the government forcibly confiscated every last cent of your income, making you dependent on the government for your every scrap of food and rag of clothing, you would have no moral right to criticize the government whatsoever.

Such is the utter inanity of today’s left, which claims that the victims of government rights violations cannot complain about those violations because and to the extent that the victims are victimized.

Ayn Rand offered a retort to such absurdities in her 1966 essay, “The Question of Scholarships” (in the book The Voice of Reason). Although Rand here specifically addresses tax-subsidized scholarships, her reasoning applies to all cases of recouping some of one’s wealth taken for government programs:

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. 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.

Contrary to the smears of the left, there is no contradiction or lack of integrity in condemning a rights-violating government program that one is forced to finance, while simultaneously recouping some benefit from that program. To forego the opportunity to recoup some of one’s stolen money would be to compound the injustice.

The victims of right-violating government programs should proudly and righteously condemn those programs—and seek to minimize the injustice of the programs by recouping whatever value they can from them. Far from hypocrisy, this is an act of integrity: recognizing the full truth and upholding one’s principles accordingly.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/francescaford123 Francesca Ford

    By the left’s argument, if we could go back to pre civil war America, we should condemn every slave that advocated for his freedom a hypocrite for accepting food and housing from his master.

  • Francesca Ford

    By the left’s argument, if we could go back to pre civil war America, we should condemn every slave that advocated for his freedom a hypocrite for accepting food and housing from his master.

  • http://twitter.com/kapitalcon Jeremiah Dow

    A nice article. It’s good to see someone refute this particular smear on Rand. I have gotten pretty tired of hearing people jump on this without so much as having read Rand’s ideas. Thanks and keep up the blog. I really enjoy it.

  • http://twitter.com/kapitalcon Jeremiah Dow

    A nice article. It’s good to see someone refute this particular smear on Rand. I have gotten pretty tired of hearing people jump on this without so much as having read Rand’s ideas. Thanks and keep up the blog. I really enjoy it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maxfw Maximo F Wilhelm

    I have about 8 years of Social Security that I never collected, They own me money then?! :)

    • Anonymous

      Once you are eligible to start getting your money back then you can start at any time and the amount you collect per month depends on how long you waited after you were eligible in accordance with actuarial calculations. Wait longer and the payment rate goes up, but look up the schedules for what years you start at what rate. If you start collecting while still earning an income you will be taxed (again) on your SS payments (due to a change in tax law from Clinton).

    • Anonymous

      Once you are eligible to start getting your money back then you can start at any time and the amount you collect per month depends on how long you waited after you were eligible in accordance with actuarial calculations. Wait longer and the payment rate goes up, but look up the schedules for what years you start at what rate. If you start collecting while still earning an income you will be taxed (again) on your SS payments (due to a change in tax law from Clinton).

    • Anonymous

      Once you are eligible to start getting your money back then you can start at any time and the amount you collect per month depends on how long you waited after you were eligible in accordance with actuarial calculations. Wait longer and the payment rate goes up, but look up the schedules for what years you start at what rate. If you start collecting while still earning an income you will be taxed (again) on your SS payments (due to a change in tax law from Clinton).

    • Anonymous

      Once you are eligible to start getting your money back then you can start at any time and the amount you collect per month depends on how long you waited after you were eligible in accordance with actuarial calculations. Wait longer and the payment rate goes up, but look up the schedules for what years you start at what rate. If you start collecting while still earning an income you will be taxed (again) on your SS payments (due to a change in tax law from Clinton).

    • Anonymous

      Once you are eligible to start getting your money back then you can start at any time and the amount you collect per month depends on how long you waited after you were eligible in accordance with actuarial calculations. Wait longer and the payment rate goes up, but look up the schedules for what years you start at what rate. If you start collecting while still earning an income you will be taxed (again) on your SS payments (due to a change in tax law from Clinton).

  • http://www.facebook.com/maxfw Maximo F Wilhelm

    I have about 8 years of Social Security that I never collected, They own me money then?! :)

    • ewv

      Once you are eligible to start getting your money back then you can start at any time and the amount you collect per month depends on how long you waited after you were eligible in accordance with actuarial calculations. Wait longer and the payment rate goes up, but look up the schedules for what years you start at what rate. If you start collecting while still earning an income you will be taxed (again) on your SS payments (due to a change in tax law from Clinton).

  • Anonymous

    Does the Left’s condemnation of complainers about The System qualify as “blaming the victim”? Just curious.

  • karlostj

    Does the Left’s condemnation of complainers about The System qualify as “blaming the victim”? Just curious.

  • Friend of John Galt

    I collect “Federal Railroad Retirement” benefits, due to my having been employed by a rail carrier for much of my career. Railroad Retirement is similar to Social Security, except that the taxes are considerably higher, but with a higher benefit as well. (I also receive a direct pension from my former employer, but that was a result of my freely contracted employment agreement when I was promoted out of the union-employee ranks.)

    I would happily forego the Railroad Retirement benefit if the government would refund the money forcibly taken from both me and my employer. I would expect to receive that portion paid by the employer as well as my deduction, since the employer considered that as part of my compensation for the services I provided. In addition, the government owes me for the returns on the investment I would have made if the funds had not been extracted from my pay. (I have a 401K account that suggests the returns that are owed, as it covered about 2/3 of the period of my employment with the railroad.)

    Under objectivism, it is both moral and responsible for those who are unwillingly forced to pay for governmental redistributive programs. Funds received from these programs can safely be considered reparations for the original theft.

    I should point out, too, that the legal requirement that very much against my wishes forced me to join a union, has also created a considerable debt owed by those who enacted this legislation. I note that the union took my dues payments and funded support of policies and politicians that I (and many of my coworkers) did not support.

  • Friend of John Galt

    I collect “Federal Railroad Retirement” benefits, due to my having been employed by a rail carrier for much of my career. Railroad Retirement is similar to Social Security, except that the taxes are considerably higher, but with a higher benefit as well. (I also receive a direct pension from my former employer, but that was a result of my freely contracted employment agreement when I was promoted out of the union-employee ranks.)

    I would happily forego the Railroad Retirement benefit if the government would refund the money forcibly taken from both me and my employer. I would expect to receive that portion paid by the employer as well as my deduction, since the employer considered that as part of my compensation for the services I provided. In addition, the government owes me for the returns on the investment I would have made if the funds had not been extracted from my pay. (I have a 401K account that suggests the returns that are owed, as it covered about 2/3 of the period of my employment with the railroad.)

    Under objectivism, it is both moral and responsible for those who are unwillingly forced to pay for governmental redistributive programs. Funds received from these programs can safely be considered reparations for the original theft.

    I should point out, too, that the legal requirement that very much against my wishes forced me to join a union, has also created a considerable debt owed by those who enacted this legislation. I note that the union took my dues payments and funded support of policies and politicians that I (and many of my coworkers) did not support.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.s.williams.39 Paul Scott Williams

    I am afraid I must disagree. No, one does not have the option of preventing theft of one’s money by the government; they will send as many thugs as they need to collect, and defending oneself will only result in one’s demise. But one can choose not to accept stolen money, and this is a more moral choice than the one made and advocated by Ms. Rand. I myself will never accept Social Security, just as I never accepted Unemployment Insurance nor food stamps despite being unemployed almost five years. Even if it means my death, I will live by my principles and not the statism-tainted principles pushed by Mr. Armstrong in this article, much less the sewage-soaked socialist principles of the left. I also see that Mr. Biddle is still pushing the candidacy of socialistic “I thought of Obamacare first” Mr. Romney instead of that of the only true laissez faire capitalist party solely because of Ms. Rand’s irrational dislike of it while she was alive. Both of these articles show that at least these two Objectivists are not really serious defenders of the free market and opponents of statism.

    • Anonymous

      “No, one does not have the option of preventing theft of one’s money by the government; they will send as many thugs as they need to collect, and defending oneself will only result in one’s demise.”

      I must disagree. Your comment does not make sense. Everyone has the option of preventing the theft of one’s money from the government, the fact that they may send thugs to kill you is irrelevant.

      Tax payers prevent the government from taking money every day. Even when you freely pay taxes you are preventing the government from taking more than allowed by filling your forms correctly, using deduction, etc.

      “But one can choose not to accept stolen money”

      Again, I must disagree.
      Taking back money that was stolen from you in the first place is the only morally acceptable behavior.

      • Patrick Jarrold

        You are not disagreeing with Mr. Williams that an individual cannot prevent the goverment from stealing their money; that is what he is arguing.

        • Anonymous

          you need to read my reply again.

    • Patrick Jarrold

      As I understand objectivism, the purpose of principles is to manage and protect our value heirarchy. You cannot hold principles that will lead to your death unless you are trading your life for something you value more. Are you saying that you value the money that is taken by the goverment as taxes more than you value your life?

    • Anonymous

      The people who are serious act in accordance with what is possible in reality, not martyr themselves to death on the impossible. “Principles” that can’t distinguish between the mixed-economy Romney and the hate-America egalitarian nihilist Obama, which was the only choice in the election if one takes elections seriously, aren’t worth having. Getting part of ones stolen assets back from the government is not accepting stolen money; martyring oneself on Social Security doesn’t do either yourself or the country any good. Principles are for living, not dying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.s.williams.39 Paul Scott Williams

    I am afraid I must disagree. No, one does not have the option of preventing theft of one’s money by the government; they will send as many thugs as they need to collect, and defending oneself will only result in one’s demise. But one can choose not to accept stolen money, and this is a more moral choice than the one made and advocated by Ms. Rand. I myself will never accept Social Security, just as I never accepted Unemployment Insurance nor food stamps despite being unemployed almost five years. Even if it means my death, I will live by my principles and not the statism-tainted principles pushed by Mr. Armstrong in this article, much less the sewage-soaked socialist principles of the left. I also see that Mr. Biddle is still pushing the candidacy of socialistic “I thought of Obamacare first” Mr. Romney instead of that of the only true laissez faire capitalist party solely because of Ms. Rand’s irrational dislike of it while she was alive. Both of these articles show that at least these two Objectivists are not really serious defenders of the free market and opponents of statism.

    • gray_man

      “No, one does not have the option of preventing theft of one’s money by the government; they will send as many thugs as they need to collect, and defending oneself will only result in one’s demise.”

      I must disagree. Your comment does not make sense. Everyone has the option of preventing the theft of one’s money from the government, the fact that they may send thugs to kill you is irrelevant.

      Tax payers prevent the government from taking money every day. Even when you freely pay taxes you are preventing the government from taking more than allowed by filling your forms correctly, using deduction, etc.

      “But one can choose not to accept stolen money”

      Again, I must disagree.
      Taking back money that was stolen from you in the first place is the only morally acceptable behavior.

      If you took back your possessions from a thief who broke into your house at night and stole them, would you be a hypocrite? – a resounding NO!

      • Guest

        You are not disagreeing with Mr. Williams that an individual cannot prevent the goverment from stealing their money; that is what he is arguing.

        • gray_man

          you need to read mr. williams comment and my reply again.

    • Patrick Jarrold

      As I understand objectivism, the purpose of principles is to manage and protect our value heirarchy. You cannot hold principles that will lead to your death unless you are trading your life for something you value more. Are you saying that you value the money that is taken by the goverment as taxes more than you value your life?

    • ewv

      The people who are serious act in accordance with what is possible in reality, not martyr themselves to death on the impossible. “Principles” that can’t distinguish between the mixed-economy Romney and the hate-America egalitarian nihilist Obama, which was the only choice in the election if one takes elections seriously, aren’t worth having. Getting part of ones stolen assets back from the government is not accepting stolen money; martyring oneself on Social Security doesn’t do either yourself or the country any good. Principles are for living, not dying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pschearer Phillip Schearer

    If a robber holds you up at gun-point but offers to leave you bus fare home, take the money.

    • http://www.allthatgamingstuff.com/ JasonGW

      That’s a weird robbery, but it could make for an interesting short story :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/pschearer Phillip Schearer

    If a robber holds you up at gun-point but offers to leave you bus fare home, take the money.

    • http://www.uglybabystudios.com/ JasonGW

      That’s a weird robbery, but it could make for an interesting short story :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=name&id=100000501085308 Martin Lundqvist

    Indeed, it has been a collectivist wet dream: that the capitalists pay all the taxes, while the socialists collect all the benefits.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=name&id=100000501085308 Martin Lundqvist

    Indeed, it has been a collectivist wet dream: that the capitalists pay all the taxes, while the socialists collect all the benefits.

  • Ydemoc

    Mr. Armstrong,

    Thanks for this article. I myself have done battle with this kind of thinking from the left, recently raising similar points in the *comments section* of a post over on Freethought blogs, in an entry titled, “Paul Ryan was for Ayn Rand before he was against her.” (http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2012/09/01/paul-ryan-was-for-ayn-rand-before-he-was-against-her/

    I encourage anyone so inclined, to head on over there and throw your two cents in, even if it’s only posting Ari’s article.

    Ydemoc

  • ydemoc

    Mr. Armstrong,

    Thanks for this article. I myself have done battle with this kind of thinking from the left, recently raising similar points in the *comments section* of a post over on Freethought blogs, in an entry titled, “Paul Ryan was for Ayn Rand before he was against her.” (http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2012/09/01/paul-ryan-was-for-ayn-rand-before-he-was-against-her/

    I encourage anyone so inclined, to head on over there and throw your two cents in, even if it’s only posting Ari’s article.

    (That should read, “***Especially**** if it’s just to post a link to Ari’s article.”)

    Ydemoc

  • Anonymous

    Or to turn the argument around: Michael Moore wants single-payer socialized medicine. Is he a hypocrite for paying cash for medical care at a retail clinic?

  • wakalix

    Or to turn the argument around: Michael Moore wants single-payer socialized medicine. Is he a hypocrite for paying cash for medical care at a retail clinic?

  • Anonymous

    Supposed expert on Ayn Rand Jennifer Burns has also been promoting this fallacy, calling Ayn Rand a “hypocrite”.

  • Anonymous

    Supposed expert on Ayn Rand Jennifer Burns has also been promoting this fallacy, calling Ayn Rand a “hypocrite”.

  • Anonymous

    Supposed expert on Ayn Rand Jennifer Burns has also been promoting this fallacy, calling Ayn Rand a “hypocrite”.

  • Anonymous

    Supposed expert on Ayn Rand Jennifer Burns has also been promoting this fallacy, calling Ayn Rand a “hypocrite”.

  • Anonymous

    Supposed expert on Ayn Rand Jennifer Burns has also been promoting this fallacy, calling Ayn Rand a “hypocrite”.

  • ewv

    Supposed expert on Ayn Rand Jennifer Burns has also been promoting this fallacy, calling Ayn Rand a “hypocrite”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ned-Netterville/1293196142 Ned Netterville

    I
    would like to associate myself with Paul Scot Williams’ comment.
    Accepting a government benefit that can be turned down neither deprives
    the government of funds nor recaptures previously stolen funds. Your
    previously stolen funds are long gone by the time you collect your
    benefit, and now to pay you your benefit the government will forcibly
    tax money from others who have done nothing to you, or else lay the
    burden for your benefit upon future tax payers through deficit financing
    of your benefit.

    IMHO, the moral thing to do is decline the
    offer. Furthermore, your freedom from government dependency by
    renouncing its inducements will be worth far more to you than the
    proffered goodies. If you really want to stick it to the state,
    peacefully resist paying taxes in the first place. Join the tax
    abolition movement. But most of all, don’t accept anything from the
    state if you would be free.

    I would add this reason for just
    saying no. It is my observation that among my peers, age 75 or
    thereabout, those who signed up for Medicare are the ones who
    eventually needed it. Stay healthy! Keep those toxic government benefits
    from destroying your mental, moral and physical well being.

  • http://www.jesus-on-taxes.com/ Ned Netterville

    I
    would like to associate myself with Paul Scot Williams’ comment.
    Accepting a government benefit that can be turned down neither deprives
    the government of funds nor recaptures previously stolen funds. Your
    previously stolen funds are long gone by the time you collect your
    benefit, and now to pay you your benefit the government will forcibly
    tax money from others who have done nothing to you, or else lay the
    burden for your benefit upon future tax payers through deficit financing
    of your benefit.

    IMHO, the moral thing to do is decline the
    offer. Furthermore, your freedom from government dependency by
    renouncing its inducements will be worth far more to you than the
    proffered goodies. If you really want to stick it to the state,
    peacefully resist paying taxes in the first place. Join the tax
    abolition movement. But most of all, don’t accept anything from the
    state if you would be free.

    I would add this reason for just
    saying no. It is my observation that among my peers, age 75 or
    thereabout, those who signed up for Medicare are the ones who
    eventually needed it. Stay healthy! Keep those toxic government benefits
    from destroying your mental, moral and physical well being.

  • Anonymous

    It is worth noting that, in the quoted article, Rand did mention one characteristic which would require an individual to refuse the government grant (or job): if there were ideological strings attached. In other words, if, in order to honestly recoup some of what had been confiscated in a mixed economy, one needed to compromise on a fundamental value, it would NOT be appropriate to accept the recompense. This obviously would not apply to someone accepting SS/Medicare in the US.

    Of course, I assume she would have held that this did not apply to a fully nationalized economy, where acquiring the basic needs of human survival might require a “loyalty oath” to the regime, or some such. That would fall under the “ethics of emergencies” exception, where morality is not applicable.

  • rogerzimmerman

    It is worth noting that, in the quoted article, Rand did mention one characteristic which would require an individual to refuse the government grant (or job): if there were ideological strings attached. In other words, if, in order to honestly recoup some of what had been confiscated in a mixed economy, one needed to compromise on a fundamental value, it would NOT be appropriate to accept the recompense. This obviously would not apply to someone accepting SS/Medicare in the US.

    Of course, I assume she would have held that this did not apply to a fully nationalized economy, where acquiring the basic needs of human survival might require a “loyalty oath” to the regime, or some such. That would fall under the “ethics of emergencies” exception, where morality is not applicable.