Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Ethical collectors don’t need lawsuits

In replying to Robyn, the former President of the ACCG Washington lawyer Peter Tompa suggests that:
"unethical dealers" and "unethical collectors" would not worry about contesting the State Department's actions through lawsuits and the like. Rather, they would just smuggle these highly concealable items and not worry about the niceties of legal import. As such, I find your posts about this test case as well as those of Barford, Gill and Elkins to be highly insulting if not defamatory.
Well, first of all there is a confusion here about the role of dealers and collectors, the hypothetical unethical dealers would be the ones smuggling, the collectors just buy what the dealers offer them. This is a confusion born of the naming of a dealers’ lobby group the Ancient Coin Collectors’ Guild.

As somebody employed by a legal firm specializing in employment law Tompa will be well aware that there is a great differences between business ethics and businesses staying within the letter of the law. It may not be illegal in some Third World countries to employ children in sweatshops, but many of their customers would regard it as unethical for a US business to buy only goods produced under such conditions, their customers are less interested in what the law allows that the ethics about how the goods on offer were obtained. So it should be with portable antiquities.

The Cyprus and China MOUs introduce into the coin market the idea that coins with documentation of legitimate origin are not only desirable, but also documentation of legitimate origin may be demanded by US law. Here US law comes dangerously (for no-questions-asked dealers) close to the notions of ethical trading proposed by the conservationists. Despite all their protests to the contrary, that is why, we may fairly conclude, US coin dealers are fighting it.

Mr Tompa finds posts which questions the ACCG actions in staging this “test case” to be “highly insulting if not defamatory”. I really do not see it makes an antiquities dealer in any way “ethical” if he fights a law which aims to help prevent illegal transfer of ownership of cultural property from two countries which have requested such help. To my mind quite the opposite. Neither do I think this is in the interests of US “collectors”. But I’d be happy for Mr Tompa to explain it all to us, but please do not spare the details.


Marcus Preen said...

Mr Tompa seems hopelessly confused. Perhaps he is in love.
Let me clarify things for him.

He is mistaken. "Unethical dealers" in the pure sense of the phrase anyway, don't smuggle. Criminal dealers smuggle.

See? Take a random coin that might have been looted because (as Mr Tompa says subsequently about the ACCG's state of knowledge regarding the coins in question) no-one knows "where or when they may have been found."

Like a photon, it can travel the Atlantic in one of two ways, depending how you look at it. Criminal dealers can secretly import it or unethical dealers can launch a lawsuit to enable them to openly import it. For further guidance upon it's trajectory, see the uncertainty principle and the honest/dishonest paradox. I can tell you no more, other than the fact it is the same coin however it arrives.

Hope this helps.

Paul Barford said...

Well, it helps me Marcus, it may help any readers that may be looking in. I doubt whether it "helps" Mr Tompa who seems determined on his course of confrontation, taking 50 000 US ancient coin collectors with him, like the Pied Piper of Hamburger.

Marcus Preen said...

Well, it will be regrettable if 50,000 US coin collectors accept this issue as purely a matter of "law" as Mr Tompa and his dealer friends would have them believe. I would hope some could see it as more than that.

Edmund Burke was a lawyer but also a moral philosopher, which makes a huge difference.

He summed up the inferior role of lawyers and the law in the affairs of civilised society rather well:

"It is not what a lawyer tells me I MAY do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I OUGHT to do.”

There's not a lot of "ought" in this stunt is there? In fact there's not a lot of ought in anything the ACCG or Mr T. ever say so far as I can see.


Paul Barford said...

His speech on "Concilliation with America" I believe...?

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.