Sunday, August 07, 2011

A few thoughts on today's Guardian article on "Stamping Out the Illicit Trade"

No doubt the Arab Spring is generating some opportunities for looting, but the examples given in this article are all of looting that occurred before this year, including the most recent one. It also is simply not the case that the market for antiquities from the Middle East is dominated by American and British buyers. There are millionaires all over the world interested in this material, including of course many in the Gulf States and Lebanon, where it is certain that much of what was looted from Iraqi sites in the 2003-2006 period is gracing living room mantels. Shutting down the international trade in Iraqi material helped somewhat but did not put an end to the looting there. So the policy solution cannot just be more stringent provenance rules, though that would be helpful. The power of the demand side needs to be tapped to provide the resources that are needed to better police the supply side. A good step in this direction would be to put a "pollution tax" on the sale of licit antiquities, with the proceeds going into the equivalent of a SuperFund that would pay for more and better security at sites, museums, and borders. That could be done domestically without the nearly impossible herding needed to get international conventions passed.

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