Did Ayn Rand Advocate Harsh Treatment of “The Poor”?

Why has Ayn Rand been so influential on the right? That was one of the questions a segment on CNN today tried to answer. According to one of the guests, Rand critic Gary Weiss, the answer is simple: “Ayn Rand made it morally acceptable to be harsh in your treatment of the poor.”

With a whopper like that, Weiss could open a Burger King.

What Weiss was referring to is the fact that Rand opposed the entitlement state, and did so on the moral grounds that the individual has a right to keep the money he earns on a free market.

That’s “harsh”? Think of what that means: It’s “harsh” to earn money and spend it on yourself rather than low-income strangers. It isn’t harsh for the government to take your money before you’ve had a chance to spend it.

If that seems like an outrageous double-standard, blame the moral view Weiss is counting on: the altruist notion that a person’s need constitutes a moral claim on others. As Rand observes in Atlas Shrugged, this moral creed implies that:

it is immoral to live by your own effort, but moral to live by the effort of others–it is immoral to consume your own product, but moral to consume the products of others–it is immoral to earn, but moral to mooch–it is the parasites who are the moral justification for the existence of the producers, but the existence of the parasites is an end in itself–it is evil to profit by achievement, but good to profit by sacrifice–it is evil to create your own happiness, but good to enjoy it at the price of the blood of others.

Let’s get this straight: Rand did not advocate “harsh” treatment of poor people, nor did she think in terms of “rich” vs. “poor.” She thought in terms of individuals, arguing that every person, whatever his income, has an inalienable moral and political right to pursue his own life and happiness–neither robbing others nor being robbed by them.

As a consequence, Rand fought for capitalism, the system that has lifted billions of people out of poverty–the only system that has ever done so. What’s truly “harsh” is not depriving people of loot, but depriving them of economic freedom.

UPDATE: Here’s the original CNN segment.