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Port: The Bank of North Dakota is the Kim Kardashian of financial institutions

Rob Port column sig
Rob Port
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MINOT, N.D. — The term “famous for being famous” originated, more than likely, with British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge.

“In the past if someone was famous or notorious, it was for something — as a writer or an actor or a criminal; for some talent or distinction or abomination,” he wrote in 1967. “Today one is famous for being famous. People who come up to one in the street or in public places to claim recognition nearly always say: ‘I've seen you on the telly!’”

The term may have been coined in the 20th century, but it is the 21st century which has the best examples of it.

People like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and others have launched lucrative enterprises based around little more than their fame which, is in turn, based on their proximity to the wealth and/or fame accumulated by others.

As the Bank of North Dakota celebrated its 100th birthday recently , it was this famous-for-being-famous phenomena I was thinking of.

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Why does the bank get so much attention?

There is a certain breed of North Dakota liberal who worships the bank. They like to chortle at the existence of a supposedly “socialist” institution in a deeply Republican state like ours, while simultaneously longing for the long gone fit of prairie populism which lead to its creation.

The bank isn’t really socialism.

Private banks operate in North Dakota.

There is no legal requirement that North Dakotans do business with their state’s bank.

It’s not any more socialist than your local public school (despite what modern socialists, eager to dilute their evil ideology’s nasty reputation, have to say).

Nor is the bank anything special, despite its uniqueness as an institution among the various state governments.

No other state has a state-owned bank, but what has North Dakota’s bank allowed our state to do that other states cannot?

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The Bank of North Dakota makes profits, sure, but most banks are profitable (or they quickly cease to be banks).

The bank backstops special loan programs organized around political agendas and aimed at helping finance education and businesses like farming and ranching which are important to North Dakota.

But other states have similar programs, and they don’t need a state bank to administer them.

Full disclosure, I have college savings accounts for my children at the Bank of North Dakota, and it’s a good program — yet not something necessitating a state-owned financial institution.

These days, it seems like North Dakota’s state-owned bank is famous just for being a state-owned bank and not much else.

At the time the bank was founded, the Bank of North Dakota did address real problems in North Dakota’s economy. Problems having to do with kinks in the flow of capital to the state’s agriculture industry.

But that only makes the bank seem like an anachronism. A monument to a moment of time in North Dakota’s political and economic history that has persisted into the present more through inertia than anything else.

North Dakota doesn’t really need the Bank North Dakota, but we have it. So there’s that.

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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.

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