How rent-seeking is present even in selecting World Heritage sites and how does one solve it?

Bruno Frey  of University of Zurich (and others) have been doing some interesting research on economics of  World Heritage sites and there are some interesting findings. For instance this paper shows that apart from historical reasons some human factors (frailties rather) are responsbile as well:

The official intention of the UNESCO World Heritage List is to protect the global heritage. However, the existing List is highly imbalanced according to countries and continents. Historical reasons, such as historical GDP, population, and number of years of high civilization, have a significant impact on being included on the List. In addition, economic and political factors unrelated to the value of heritage, such as rent seeking by bureaucrats and politicians, the size of the tourist sector, the importance of media, the degree of federalism, and membership in the UN Security Council, influence the composition of the List.


In this note on voxeu he explains some more findings :

The World Heritage List is generally considered to be an excellent effort to save the globe’s common history in the form of cultural monuments and landscapes worth preserving. The achievements of list have been well recognised and we need not repeat them here (see for example Frey and Steiner 2011). There are, however, serious criticisms, most of them referring to the selection of sites. It has been argued that there are too many properties on the list, reducing their exclusivity. Another striking aspect is the highly unequal distribution of sites according to countries and continents, with almost 50% of the sites located in Europe.

How to to fix this rent seeking problem here as well. Random select both sites and people selecting the sites:

In order to reduce such unwarranted political influence we propose to apply random selection. It is fair in the sense that every item has the same probability of being selected, which ensures a broad representation and reduces unwanted political interventions. In the form of demarchy (or lottocracy) this procedure has been extensively used in classical Greek and Italian city states such as Venice. Today it is still used for instance for jury services. Applied to the selection of World Heritage sites, two random mechanisms are possible.

The sites to be put on the World Heritage List can be chosen by lot from among all sites considered ‘acceptable’ by the experts – that is, all those that are not rejected. Alternatively, all acceptable sites can be weighted by the classifications of the experts. Weight 3 could be given to those with recommended acceptance, weight 2 to the ones which have to be revised, and weight 1 to the ones with significant shortcomings. While this procedure would ensure representation of all acceptable sites, it makes it less attractive for governments to invest money and effort to propagate a property because the final selection is beyond their influence.

A possible disadvantage may be that a random selection does not provide the same prestige as (what is claimed to be) a serious choice by a World Heritage Committee. To circumvent this problem we suggest a second random mechanism. The selection is applied one step ahead at the composition of the World Heritage Committee which today takes the allegedly politicised decisions. The members of the committee are selected by lot from the 186 member countries of the convention. Random selection of the Committee members makes ex ante bargaining, strategic voting, and logrolling more difficult. Undesired political influences can then to a large extent be excluded which should give more weight to an objective selection of sites based on the ten criteria agreed.

Amazing to know of rent seeking and corruption in such cases and that too in the higher echelons (read Europe) of world society.

Fascinating applications of economic tools/ideas to problems..Wonderful to read about such papers/research.


One Response to “How rent-seeking is present even in selecting World Heritage sites and how does one solve it?”

  1. autorent Says:


    […]How rent-seeking is present even in selecting World Heritage sites and how does one solve it? « Mostly Economics[…]…

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