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In 1956, Charles Tiebout published a famous paper that hypothesized that when faced with an inefficient government, people would “vote with their feet” and move to another jurisdiction. While he applied his model to local governments, we can think of this happening across national borders as well. This can provide us with some insights about the current refugee crisis.
ISIS views itself essentially as a government and has been at work establishing geographic boundaries. This government is clearly coercive and millions of people are “voting with their feet” by fleeing ISIS-controlled territory and territory that ISIS may control at some point. The fact that a vast number of people have fled indicates that either ISIS wants them to leave or it is ineffective in containing its population.
It doesn’t seem logical that ISIS would want a government with few people rather than one with a large number of people, so we might assume that it has trouble keeping its people within its geographical boundary. If it cannot keep people from leaving, the next strategy would be to keep anyone else from receiving those fleeing ISIS-controlled territory.
The Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, for which ISIS claimed credit, and the more recent attacks fit a strategy of eliminating places that people fleeing ISIS can go to. More than half of our nation’s governors have announced plans to block Syrian refugees from resettling in their states due to the terrorist actions in California and a backlash can be seen throughout Europe as it struggles with the refugees attempting to gain entrance.
The refugee problem that has been created by the violence throughout the Middle East is substantial and difficult to unravel. While the vast majority of refugees pose no harm to countries that receive them, there is some probability that ISIS might send terrorists into the US or Europe disguised as refugees.
The normal politics of immigration make the situation even more difficult. Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris has suggested a very interesting solution to the problem. He has offered to purchase a privately-owned Greek island to place refugees. This has a number of advantages, not the least of which is private foundations and governments could provide aid to the settlement without facing the hostility of those in their countries who fear the refugees. The island could become another beacon of freedom, particularly if a social structure were set up based upon markets and constitutionally limited government. It is quite possible that such an experiment would lead to a place where individuals were able to set up a productive society that would outcompete the centrally planned autocracies that dominate the Middle East today.
With its continued attacks, ISIS will be able to enforce its coercive government on many more people than would otherwise be the case. However, if rather than simply closing their borders to the millions of innocents seeking refuge, our governments responded by seeking out innovative solutions to the problem such as proposed by Mr. Sawiris, ISIS will have created its own downfall.