Policy Brief No. 2: How Can We Fund the Fight Against Antiquities Looting and Trafficking? A “Pollution” Tax on the Antiquities Trade

The Antiquities Coalition Cultural Heritage Think Tank has published its second policy brief to address solutions to cultural racketeering. The latest release is by Dr. Lawrence Rothfield, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. In the paper, Rothfield argues for levying a “pollution” tax on the legitimate antiquities trade, in order to establish an antiquities-protection “Superfund.” This would provide funding for funding more robust monitoring and enforcement efforts against the illicit trade and the strengthening of archaeological site security.  

The Think Tank was launched in November 2016 to explore innovative solutions to pressing challenges in cultural heritage, publishing a new series of policy briefs by distinguished specialists from the public and private sectors. You can find Lawrence Rothfield’s executive summary and link to the complete policy brief PDF below.


How Can We Fund the Fight Against Antiquities Looting and Trafficking? A “Pollution” Tax on the Antiquities Trade
Policy Brief No. 2 – December 2016
Lawrence Rothfield

Executive Summary

Almost every nation has laws against looting, smuggling, and trafficking in antiquities, supplemented by international bans and bilateral interdictions. Yet the playing field remains badly tilted against the site guards, customs officials, antiquities police, and prosecutors charged with enforcing these laws, in large part because enforcers lack the financial resources needed to do their job.

To supplement and give teeth to the strict but ineffectual legal regime now in place, economic thinking, and basic public policy research suggests it would be helpful to institute a “pollution tax” on antiquities purchased by residents of “market” countries. Such taxes—imposed on such transactions in goods like tobacco, gas, coal, etc.—are designed to internalize the social costs of economic activities so that the polluting industry either takes measures to clean itself up or pays the government to prevent or mitigate the harm the industry causes. An antiquities tax, tailored to fall more heavily on antiquities with weaker provenance or extremely high prices, and channeled into an antiquities-protection “Superfund” (as was done to clean up toxic chemical sites) or via existing governmental agencies, could provide a sustainable funding stream to pay for more robust monitoring and enforcement efforts against the illicit market and for better site security. Such a tax is likely to face substantial resistance from both dealers and archaeologists, but it is suggested that the concerns of both sides could be dealt with through sustained discussion and negotiation.

Read the Full Policy Paper HERE


About the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank

The Antiquities Coalition unites a diverse group of experts in the global fight against cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in art and antiquities. This plunder for profit funds crime, armed conflict, and violent extremist organizations around the world—erasing our past and threatening our future. Through innovative and practical solutions, we tackle this challenge head on, empowering communities and countries in crisis.

In 2016, as part of this mission, we launched the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank, joining forces with international experts, including leaders in the fields of preservation, business, law, security, and technology. Together, we are bringing high-quality and results-oriented research to the world’s decision makers, especially those in the government and private sectors. Our goal is to strengthen policymakers’ understanding of the challenges facing our shared heritage and more importantly, help them develop better solutions to protect it. 

To subscribe to the think tank publications—and to stay informed of the Antiquities Coalition’s other work to fight cultural racketeering—please sign up for our e-newsletter here.