Contra Time Writer’s Claim, Ayn Rand Did Not Advocate Mooching Coffee (or Anything Else)

These days various journalists and pundits routinely misrepresent Ayn Rand’s ideas in order to smear her; see Daniel Wahl’s recent post for a number of examples. The latest smear comes from an article by Bijan Stephen in Time magazine about a coffee shop that uses a voluntary honor system for payments:

Any time the honor system is used successfully, I think of Ayn Rand—the founder of Objectivism, the academically bankrupt theory of overriding and extreme self-interest. According to her philosophy, the honor system should never work: According to her, rationally, it shouldn’t work because one should take what they want and pay nothing for it.

Of course, Stephen doesn’t quote anything by Rand to support his claims—because Rand never said or implied anything of the sort. In fact, she often said the exact opposite regarding payment. For example, one of her favorite aphorisms was “Take what you want and pay for it”—something that applies not only to buying goods in a marketplace but more broadly to acting rationally to achieve any value. She also wrote often of the morality of trading value for value: “A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved.” (Stephen’s other smears are too crude even to merit a refutation.)

How does Stephen turn “take what you want and pay for it” into “take what you want and pay nothing for it”? Quite simply, he does it by taking what he wants—to smear Ayn Rand—without “paying” for his claims by showing where Rand said or implied such a thing. The only thing Stephen has proven is that, in the honor system of ideas, he is a cheat.


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