Scott Horton Interviews James Ostrowski

Scott Horton, August 28, 2009

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Buffalo attorney and libertarian activist James Ostrowski discusses his strategy to try to keep the tea parties a libertarian movement, prevent astro-turfing by the war party and find common cause with conservatives out of power, plans for antiwar protests on September 5, how the G.I. bill increased college enrollment, lowered standards and is used to lure young people into the Army.

MP3 here. (23:06)

James Ostrowski is a trial and appellate lawyer and libertarian author from Buffalo, New York. He graduated from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in 1975 and obtained a degree in philosophy from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1980. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1983. In law school, he was writing assistant to Dean David G. Trager, now a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York. He was a member of the Moot Court Honor Society and the International Law Moot Court Team.

He served as vice-chairman of the law reform committee of the New York County Lawyers Association (1986-88) and wrote two widely quoted reports critical of the law enforcement approach to the drug problem. He was chair of the human rights committee, Erie County Bar Association (1997-1999). He has written a number of scholarly articles on the law on subjects ranging from drug policy to the commerce clause of the constitution.

His articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Buffalo News, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Legislative Gazette. His policy studies have been published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the Ludwig von Mises Institute at Auburn University, and the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. His articles have been used as course materials at numerous colleges including Brown, Rutgers and Stanford.

Presently, he is an adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a columnist for two of the largest political websites in the world, Mises.org and LewRockwell.com.

He and his wife Amy live in North Buffalo with their two children.

26 Responses to “James Ostrowski”

  1. "Where does big government come from? It comes from war." I agree with everything Horton and Ostrowski said here. However I see no hope.

    I was recently at a health care town hall meeting in Kokomo IN. Since so many questions were about how we would pay for any new health care system, I thought I would mention the cost savings of ending the endless wars and withdrawing our hundreds of foreign military bases. I doubt if anyone on either side of the debate there would have a clue what I was talking about.

  2. Dear Timothy!

    Shall I – an outsider from a very distant place – really believe what you say?
    Could that be true that your fellow subjects (you don't really seem to be citizens in your empire, if you can excues me the remark) are all THAT ignorant?

  3. excellent comment Timothy – we need to do it anyway …. I don't care about Red or Blue –
    let's tell it like it is – no one else will ….

  4. Do I ever wish Timothy wasn/t right, Foreign reader. I am also a Hoosier.

  5. Anarcho-capitalism sounds great. I really mean that, it sounds far better than the current system.

    Free people compete in free markets and the only major role of the government is to protect property rights and keep the playing field even.

    Some people work hard, get lucky, are smart etc and end up succeeding in the marketplace. These people get rich, and their example inspires hard work and innovation by society.

    Those who succeed in the marketplace pass money on to their children, and secure jobs for friends and relatives. They establish corporations, which buy up smaller and less successful competitors. Larger size and larger sales volumes allows them to further undercut competitors and provide still better deals for consumers.

    Successful business empires develop, and large amounts of wealth accumulate to the most lucky, ambitious and successful families. Eager to safeguard their success, market leaders curry favor with politicians, contributing to their campaigns. The political system becomes dependent on large financial contributions to even enter the race. Accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, some nouveau riche and old money families actively subvert the political process to grant themselves cartels, monopolies, and government contracts. No longer forced to compete, they grow complacent and non-competitive. Pocketed politicians declare them "too big to fail," and demand that the tax payers, now virtual serfs, pay tribute with their sweat to keep favored corporations profitable.

    OH WAIT. Anarcho capitalism leads straight to the current system! There's no firewall between wealth acquired in the "free market" and political power! There's which prevents the system from trending towards monopoly and the total concentration of wealth, so that's what happens! Anarcho-capitalism and laisse faire are really just temporary periods preceding fascism, or at least that seems to me.

    The U.S. Constitution is flawed, as evidenced by the fact that it's been defeated and subverted. There's a lot I like about libertarianism, so-called. It would be a lot better if it had a better plan than "let's try the Constitution and laissez faire again and hope history doesn't repeat."

  6. Anarcho-capitalism sounds great. I really mean that, it sounds far better than the current system.

    Free people compete in free markets and the only major role of the government is to protect property rights and keep the playing field even.

    Some people work hard, get lucky, are smart etc and end up succeeding in the marketplace. These people get rich, and their example inspires hard work and innovation by society.

    Those who succeed in the marketplace pass money on to their children, and secure jobs for friends and relatives. They establish corporations, which buy up smaller and less successful competitors. Larger size and larger sales volumes allows them to further undercut competitors and provide still better deals for consumers.

    Successful business empires develop, and large amounts of wealth accumulate to the most lucky, ambitious and successful families. Eager to safeguard their success, market leaders curry favor with politicians, contributing to their campaigns. The political system becomes dependent on large financial contributions to even enter the race. Accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, some nouveau riche and old money families actively subvert the political process to grant themselves cartels, monopolies, and government contracts. No longer forced to compete, they grow complacent and non-competitive. Pocketed politicians declare them "too big to fail," and demand that the tax payers, now virtual serfs, pay tribute with their sweat to keep favored corporations profitable.

    OH WAIT. Anarcho capitalism leads straight to the current system! There's no firewall between wealth acquired in the "free market" and political power! There's nothing which prevents the system from trending towards monopoly and the total concentration of wealth, so that's what happens! Anarcho-capitalism and laisse faire are really just temporary periods preceding fascism, or at least that seems to me.

    The U.S. Constitution is flawed, as evidenced by the fact that it's been defeated and subverted. There's a lot I like about libertarianism, so-called. It would be a lot better if it had a better plan than "let's try the Constitution and laissez faire again and hope history doesn't repeat."

  7. Puhlease.

    These people are mostly right-wing authoritarian lunatics. If Bush and Cheney had turned up on their doorsteps demanding to eat their children they would have responded with 'Would you like fries with that, Sir?' They are the ultimate proof of Mill's observation: 'Not all conservative people are stupid, but nearly all stupid people are conservative.'

    It should be renamed the Mad-hatter's Tea Party. They make the 9/11 conspiracy crowd look pretty stable. They are more of a bowel movement than a mass movement.

  8. As long as Spite Right pseudocons believe "the Left" is against a war, they will be for it.

  9. There isa serious flaw within the contents of your post. Anarcho-capitalism presents a situation where there is a complete absence of government, particularly in the traditional sense. Therefore, the idea that "Anarcho capitalism leads straight to the current system" is nonsense. The Constitution may not be as liberty-oriented as one might initially believe:

    The Hoppe Effect
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/rockwell/hoppe-effect1

    Additionally, a greater understanding of the subject of economics would prove most helpful before attempting to spout such rash and reactionary statements.

  10. I enjoyed the Hoppe article.

    A complete absence of government? So if two capitalists have a dispute about a deed, it would be resolved by who could field the more effective mercenary para-military force?

  11. Anarcho-capitalism = lawless compitition, King of The Hill economics.

    A. Einstein described capitalism, correctly imo, as the barbaric phase of human develpoment.

  12. It is statist opposition to the free market that is a reactionary return to " the barbaric phase of human develpoment."

  13. A piece on Chomsky that addresses socialism, social democracy, and syndicalism.

  14. "It's the demand for direct, decentralized economic democracy which is the way out of the barbaric phase. It's not "capitalism" when the people who work there own it and decide what it does. "

    Syndicalism? An article on Chomsky that addresses the matter.

  15. It's the demand for direct, decentralized economic democracy which is the way out of the barbaric phase. It's not "capitalism" when the people who work there own it and decide what it does.

    Ron Paul had a pretty good idea when he backed a House Bill which would have exempted all employee owned and operated corporations from all Federal taxation.

    http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Employe

  16. We don't differ in terms of values, we differ in how fully we apply them.

    I object to capitalism because it's not sufficiently responsive to or driven by market forces, it relies too little on persuasion and too heavily on state coercion for its survival. Capitalism is simply *inefficient,* and *for the same reasons* as state socialism.

    Economists like Mises and Hayek do a great job of explaining the 'fallacy of central planning;' that no centralized politburo can possibly have enough information, even with the best of intentions, to, for example, set prices effectively. Decentralized market participants have more knowledge of local conditions and are far more effective at running a market than a central authority.

    Yet, still, corporations are run by boards of directors, who give instructions to a CEO, who governs the entire structure through a bureaucracy, as if such central planning were effective or efficient.

    The reason democracy is more efficient than autocracy in the political sphere is the same reason that it's more efficient in the economic sphere. Both are also suppressed for the same reason.

  17. @leftlib: Your argument is certainly a fair description of many (perhaps most) societies with a political structure. However, when applied to anarcho-capitalism, the argument is incorrect at the point that you write, "Eager to safeguard their success, market leaders curry favor with politicians, contributing to their campaigns." In anarcho-capitalism, there are no politicians (or any other entity with a monopoly on force).

    An excellent essay on this topic is "Anatomy of the State" by Murray Rothbard? (http://mises.org/easaran/chap3.asp)

  18. [...] http://antiwar.com/radio/2009/08/28/james-ostrowski/ Share and Enjoy: [...]

  19. Point taken, clearly under anarcho-capitalism there would be no formal government, so technically there would be no politicians running a government. There would nevertheless still be politics.

    My point is that in a free-market economy, there are winners and losers, but in right-wing libertarian thinking, there is hardly any acknowledgment that wealth equals power, and that some market winners will inevitably try to use their wealth (power) to protect their wealth through coercion. Put another way, if we lived in an anarcho-capitalist utopia, it would last exactly until a coalition of unethical market winners had accumulated sufficient wealth (power) to afford to purchase a government to impose on everyone else for their private benefit. In other words, anarcho-capitalism is the road to corporatism if there are no firewalls between wealth and coercive power.

    I agree 100% with Rothbard's criticisms of the State, but States are basically private security forces hired by the wealthy to protect their property and/or acquire more of it. I wish lefties would read libertarian economists so they could better understand healthy economies, and I wish right-wing libs would think through this problem, because their proposed solutions are self-abortive.

  20. > Point taken, clearly under anarcho-capitalism there would be no formal government, so
    > technically there would be no politicians running a government. There would nevertheless
    > still be politics.

    Agreed.

    > My point is that in a free-market economy, there are winners and losers, but in right-wing
    > libertarian thinking, there is hardly any acknowledgment that wealth equals power, and
    > that some market winners will inevitably try to use their wealth (power) to protect their
    > wealth through coercion. Put another way, if we lived in an anarcho-capitalist utopia, it
    > would last exactly until a coalition of unethical market winners had accumulated sufficient
    > wealth (power) to afford to purchase a government to impose on everyone else for their
    > private benefit. In other words, anarcho-capitalism is the road to corporatism if there are
    > no firewalls between wealth and coercive power.

    A full-proof firewall? No, I agree that does not exist.

    What you are speaking of, "a coalition of unethical market winners" imposing a government on others certainly can occur; but this is conquest. (Other parties, like hooligans can also do this.) Again, being conquered is always possible.

    Individuals who can defend themselves decrease this likelihood. Individuals who work cooperatively further decreases this likelihood. Individuals who coerce their neighbors (through conscription and/or taxation) decrease this likelihood even further, but then they have become that which they were defending against.

    Do you have something else in mind?

  21. A gang of hooligans can cause some mischief. A very wealthy individual or clique of them can hire many gangs of hooligans and coordinate them for a common mischievous purpose.

    Individuals *do not* coerce their neighbors by conscription or taxation. Rarely do individuals break their neighbors door to force them into the army. Individuals hire groups of other individuals to coerce their neighbors. Police do not wake up in the morning thinking there should be more taxation or members of the army; they merely follow the direction of the people who pay them.

    The firewall is direct democracy, a situation where an individual's ability to participate in decision making is not tied to wealth or rank or station, but where decisions are made among equals and influence is tied to persuasiveness of arguments and desire to be involved in the process.

    The objection that '70 percent of the nation might wish to kill the other 30' is a specious objection to democracy. If 70 percent truly wish to kill the other 30 percent, then governments are neither necessary to do it nor able to stop it.

    The real question is who is best trusted to make such decisions; all individuals deciding together as a community, or a minority of individuals enforcing their decisions through hierarchy. Declaring that cliques have an absolute right to accumulate enough wealth to hire all the nations hooligans (because the right to property is sacrosanct) is deciding one way. Declaring that in matters which affect us all, we are all equal and these issues must be decided as equals, through direct democracy, is deciding in the opposite way.

  22. With direct democracy and no other notion of rights, a majority can vote to do anything that they want to the minority (regardless of whether or not the minority even agreed to participate in a vote).

    With direct democracy and some notion of rights that are defined by the majority, then the same is true.

    What am I missing?

  23. The powerful can *always* do whatever they want to the powerless.

    The more power is equally distributed, the fewer powerful and the fewer powerless there are.

    That is what direct democracy accomplishes, especially in a procedural framework which guarantees individual rights.

    What a free market with no democracy accomplishes very quickly is a small powerful class and a large powerless class. The powerful class will use its power to cement itself in place, and the free market will be over. With direct democracy, even with wealth disparity, the majority can prevent a minority from overturning the market for the benefit of a minority.

  24. > The powerful can *always* do whatever they want to the powerless.

    So we agree that no firewall exists that can prevent coercive power. Perhaps some things can reduce its likelihood, but no guarantee.

    > The more power is equally distributed, the fewer powerful and the fewer
    > powerless there are.
    >
    > That is what direct democracy accomplishes, especially in a procedural
    > framework which guarantees individual rights.

    (I apologize for these series of question, but I'm trying to understand your points.)

    What do you define as "power"? You have made two references to power above: wealth, and coercive power.

    Can a direct democracy change these guaranteed individual rights? (If you care to elaborate, I'd be interested in knowing what you define as individual rights?)

  25. Sorry for the late reply, but I think your question about the definition of rights is really two separate questions, because rights in the abstract and rights in practice are two very different things. For example, I may have a self-evident inalienable right to life, but if I'm an 'undesirable' in a repressive regime, my right may no be worth very much in practice. Also, let's assume [for the sake of argument] that I do not have a right to food stamps, in the abstract. Nevertheless, if I live in a society where I'm eligible to receive them, in practice I do have a 'right' to them, because if I'm denied them despite being eligible, I can take action to secure them.

    So yes, direct democracy, representative democracy, a republic, a monarchy, anarchy, or any societal arrangement can and does change what 'rights' are in practice. Rights in practice are derived by a process of societal negotiation. My point about direct democracy is that it is by far the safest route for engaging in this process of societal negotiation, because it allows for the widest possible input of information and hence the closest approximation of the truth. It also equalizes power, which minimizes the risk of the powerful defining rights-in-practice in terms of their narrow group interest.

    I'd rather live in a society in which rights-in-practice were different from what I considered them to be in theory but where they were negotiated democratically than a society where rights in practice were exactly as I'd wish, but arrived at through an undemocratic process, because in the latte case if things changed and were not to my liking, I'd have no redress.

  26. > So yes, direct democracy, representative democracy, a republic, a
    > monarchy, anarchy, or any societal arrangement can and does
    > change what 'rights' are in practice. Rights in practice are derived by
    > a process of societal negotiation.

    Thanks for that interesting and good point.

    > I'd rather live in a society in which rights-in-practice were different
    > from what I considered them to be in theory but where they were
    > negotiated democratically than a society where rights in practice
    > were exactly as I'd wish, but arrived at through an undemocratic
    > process, because in the latte case if things changed and were not to
    > my liking, I'd have no redress.

    (Ignoring, for the moment, that you have listed only these two options …)

    If a person free to choose whether s/he is in the direct democracy (DD)?

    What is this DD making decisions about (that an individual or group of individuals could not simply come to a voluntary agreement on their own)?

    What should be done with/to those individuals who do not comply with the decisions of the DD? (Does the answer change if those individuals are or are not a member of the DD?)

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