MINOT, N.D. — In a column today in the Bismarck Tribune, education researcher Ellie Shockley gives the North Dakota legislature's "Bastiat Caucus" a skewering over their opposition to refugee resettlement.
Burleigh County (home to Bismarck) had a heated debate late last year about the question of whether or not to continue allowing refugee resettlement. The county has seen a couple of dozen resettlements per year for some time now. Ultimately the county's commissioners decided, in a 3-2 vote, to cap resettlement at 25 per year with annual reports to be made about the costs and impacts of that resettlement.
Leading the charge against resettlement during that debate was state Rep. Rick Becker, a Republican from the Bismarck area who is also one of the founders and leaders of the Bastiat Caucus in the state legislature. Other members of that caucus and their supporters were also outspoken in opposition to resettlement.
The Bastiats, as they're known, take the name of their group from Frederic Bastiat, a 19th-century French legislator who was also a prominent economist and writer.
Shockley points out that Bastiat, far from being anti-refugee, was supportive of allowing Polish refugees into France.
"To Bastiat, refugees without freedom of movement are 'prisoners of war.' He felt that all Frenchmen with 'some spark of humanity and justice in their hearts' should welcome free movement of refugees," Shockley wrote, also noting that Bastiat mocked those who suggested that refugees were disruptive to public order.
There are several ways North Dakota's Bastiats could rebut this, I suppose. They could say that Bastiat was reacting to a specific situation, in a different era, which is not comparable to modern challenges.
They could also argue that they, despite making the man the namesake of their group, do not agree with Bastiat on every issue.
Yet in opposing refugee resettlement — to the extent that Becker's actions represent the entire group — I'm not sure the Bastiats are even living up to their own stated philosophy.
On their website, the Bastiats list four primary principles: Limited government, low taxes, free markets, and consistency of principle.
How are government restrictions on the flow of refugees across our borders, and into our communities, in keeping with limited government principles? Granted, resettlement itself is a government program, but communities like Burleigh County were voting on resettlement because President Donald Trump issued an executive order and gave them a choice.
Not only did Burleigh County vote to continue resettlement, but not a single state or local government in the country has said no to date.
It sure seems like continued refugee resettlement is the will of the people.
I'm a bit at a loss as to how opposition to refugee resettlement is in keeping with free markets. There is a global marketplace for governments. People leaving places with abusive regimes to come to America — the "shining city" to quote President Ronald Reagan — is an example of voting with one's feet.
This is supposed to be the sort of thing people who love limited government and free-market support. Ilya Somin, a George Mason University professor and scholar for the libertarian Cato Institue, has described foot voting as "a tool for enhancing political freedom" because it represents "the ability of the people to choose the political regime under which they wish to live."
For a group of people who like to posture themselves as standing on principle, the Bastiats don't seem very... principled.
I'm concerned the Bastiats have landed on intransigence as their motivating principle. Having observed this sort of rump party in the Legislature for years now, it often seems as though they're motivated to oppose whatever they see their opposition — Democrats, moderate Republicans, etc. — as supporting.
Maybe that's a product of the Trump era. Our President, who many of the Bastiats very much support, is fond of fighting when he doesn't have to.
Or maybe intransigence is a given in any political movement made up of people who view themselves as being on the margins. Some people are just more comfortable being eternally on the fringe, forever the supposed victims of larger and more powerful factions, and will adjust their views to remain there.
I hope that's not what's happening with the Bastiats. As someone who very much believes in free markets and limited government, our state Legislature needs voices promoting those things.
Bastiats, do a better job of it.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.