Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Posner's Skeptical Observations

I found this paper interesting: The International Protection of Cultural Property: Some Skeptical Observations by law professor Eric A. Posner.
... it is not clear what it means for a “people” to “possess” cultural property. In practice, proponents of this idea mean that the cultural property should be stored in museums located on the territory of the state in which the people live; but why should this satisfy the requirement of possession? Is it necessary for the people to be able to see the cultural property? What if, as a practical matter, a state can only store its cultural property, or most of it, in warehouses, or must leave it in the ground? Is it sufficient if some (or many) people in the relevant population own the cultural property and keep it stored in their houses?


Similarly, we should consider the possibility that antiquities are treated poorly today because they are so heavily regulated. Looters fear detection by the police; that is why they remove antiquities without taking care. If it were legal to remove cultural property and sell it, then professionals would take over, and use care because antiquities are worth more when their provenance is known, and when they are undamaged.

... recipient states should stop respecting the export restrictions of origin states, and should encourage origin states to eliminate export restrictions and decriminalize the ownership and trading of antiquities. ... If the market were legal, then prospectors could extract cultural property from the soil in the open, more slowly, in daylight, with more care, and with more attention to context. Because antiquities are more valuable when their provenance is known, prospectors would be more likely to hire professional archeologists to remove and record objects...
Posner believes that land owners would hire archeologists to dig for them, so as to maximize the economic value of unearthed antiquities. Perhaps. The recording of precise positions and fills is something that only archeologists care about. Perhaps land-owners will charge archeologists to dig for them and record those fills! The archeologists will pay because they need data to write papers about.

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