Ratcheting Down the Antiquities (and Drug) Wars

The NYT has an article suggesting President Obama’s choice for “drug czar” (the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy) could substantially alter federal drug policy in positive ways (my emphasis):

The anticipated selection of Chief Kerlikowske has given hope to those who want national drug policy to shift from an emphasis on arrest and prosecution to methods more like those employed in Seattle: intervention, treatment and a reduction of problems drug use can cause, a tactic known as harm reduction. Chief Kerlikowske is not necessarily regarded as having forcefully led those efforts, but he has not gotten in the way of them.

Under John P. Walters, the drug czar during most of the administration of President George W. Bush, the drug office focused on tough enforcement of drug laws, including emphases on marijuana and drug use among youths. The agency pointed to reductions in the use of certain kinds of drugs, but it was criticized by some local law enforcement officials who said its priorities did not reflect local concerns, from the rise of methamphetamine to the fight against drug smuggling at the Mexican border.

 There has never been a “war” on antiquities looting which could approach the America’s often wrong-headed illegal drug policy.  But it’s hard not to notice the parallels between the potential shift in American policy on drugs and the efforts of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which has achieved some notable policy successes by taking a pragmatic approach, aimed at similar kinds of “harm reduction”.  
One of the weaknesses with prohibitionism is it restricts supply, without taking account of the potential demand.  This makes the targeted trade — whether it’s drugs or guns or antiquities — this makes the illegal trade  more profitable, allowing better more sophisticated tactics to evade law enforcement.  There’s a good argument I think that some prohibition helps create and incentivize large-scale criminal operations and organized crime networks. 
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “Ratcheting Down the Antiquities (and Drug) Wars”

  1. I agree, an open and collaborative method is the best way to maximize the amount of information gleaned while minimizing the amount of damage. I think it’s much better to deal with some wrong headed or ill informed metal detectorists than it is to try and convince organzied criminals to change their behavior.

  2. Is this not a false parallel?

    A US focus on intervention and treatment of drug users rather than suppliers cannot be cited as having a parallel in the antiquities world in a focus upon suppliers. The true parallel is a focus upon antiquities users. In other words, in the education of collectors, not suppliers.

  3. Marcus,

    I’m not sure that it is, I thing it is a pretty good analog. I think if you ask government officials in Columbia or elsewhere in South America they’d have a different view of the efforts directed at their nations. The purchasers of antiquities are a large part of the problem, no doubt. The point is to work on a more collaborative relationship, which continues to use criminal penalties to punish the really serious crimes, whatever those are. I’m not sure there exists all of the time the collaborative or other kind of relationship which the article was discussing above—but I think there should be.

  4. “The point is to work on a more collaborative relationship, which continues to use criminal penalties to punish the really serious crimes”

    Like you, I’m against sin and we can agree what should be done about major sinners (looters and those who knowingly deal in such goods). But I do not see the bulk of the problem lying with them. Far more numerous are those I could term, for the sake of not having an argument, “harmers”, those at both ends of the chain that contribute to it inadvertently or carelessly (less than careful purchasers in the US and – in Britain – non-recording detectorists).

    In both cases “collaborative solutions” are easier to talk about than achieve – as the endless debate suggests. At one end they involve reconciling commercial imperatives with conservationist sentiments and at the other private unwillingness with official pleading. Which side at which end shows willingness to agree a middle way?

    I confess, I’m no longer up for a middle way (although I used to champion it). I do not see PAS as the beacon of collaboration which detectorists, collectors and PAS itself represent it as. I do not even see it as the half-satisfactory, “glass half full”, “better than nothing and therefore a good thing” solution that many represent it as. Beyond the millions of words, the STATISTICAL reality of PAS is that despite a decade of official pleading it is a glass only a quarter full and one which has merely served to enable a continuance of three quarters of the damage. So no successful “collaborative solution” can be pointed at over here!

    On the other hand, successful solutions HAVE been achieved in the British Isles – in both Southern and Northern Ireland. There is no significant “non-reporting” problem in either of those places and the recent report said nighthawking in Northern Ireland is “virtually unknown”. How was this miracle achieved, without a PAS and without liaison and education and persuasion? By the simple expedient of legislation (efficient banning in the south, licensing in the north).

    For me, comparing the Irish and British experiences suggests that irreconcilable aims can’t be reconciled, and harm can only be prevented by the use of the law. Not quite the view of PAS that US Collectors and dealers like to present, but the stats are there for anyone to see. I do wonder, if legislation is the only viable harm-reduction strategy at the supply-end whether the same applies elsewhere in the chain.

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