Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Numbers that matter: the AAAS Report on Site Looting in Syria, and where we go from here

The tempest in a teapot about how much the looted artifacts are worth or whether they are the third or fourth largest source of revenue for ISIS should not distract us from the main point, made irrefutably by this gold-standard analysis of the hardest of hard data: market-driven looting of archaeological sites is rampant in Syria.

What's needed most now, the next step, is not more argument about how much, but more clarity about where and how looted materials move from site to various destinations, through what exchanges, with what participants.  That information in turn will help inform market design research by economists, by providing answers to such questions as:  Where, if anywhere, are the most fragile links in the supply-chains? Where can leverage be most effectively brought to bear (for instance, by the US on emirates that are providing freeports for transiting illicit antiquities and enabling their own wealthy citizens to amass collections of illicit antiquities)? How can the various tools of governmental and intergovernmental action be used not to make these markets more efficient but to disrupt, cool, or smother them?

This is the direction, at least, that we're trying to pursue more generally in the project now getting underway at Chicago,