At a party last week, I was discussing the issues I have raised in my blog about the antiques industry to a good friend, neighbor, and client who is a very successful fund investor. He responded that, yes I was right on most accounts, but the government or any regulatory agency just won’t and can’t make political hay out of an issue that affects the top 2% of most affluent people.
On the surface, I would agree; if you’re rich enough to play the game and don’t care about being duped with secret reserves, collusion on pricing and operating methods, or multiple conflicts of interest, why should politicians. Maybe that is why the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly is trying to eliminate the small value (and more unprofitable) lot, to greater concentrate on the fewer, richer, more politically less challenged.
If this is their strategic approach, it actually insulates all the smaller auctioneers from the same threat. After all, if you can’t attach the duopoly, you can’t change the methods that they make as industry standards for deception and conflict of interest.
The interesting thing about my friend’s theory is that the auction industry really is much broader than just the top 2%. I would venture to guess that the threshold for wealthy buyers and sellers is much lower when you take into account eBay and the auctioneers in the second and lower tiers. The number of people that really are subject to fraudulent and illusory auctioneering methods does in fact cover a significant and growing population. The problem is that the public has had to accept these methods by never having a voice to challenge them or raise the issues.
Unfortunately, the real culprit in this conundrum is, of course, the dealer’s of the world and what ever organizations that represents them, like the Antiques Dealers’ Association of American, The Art and Antiques Dealers’ League of American, The Antiques Council, The British Antiques Dealers’ Association, the international association CINOA, and every local and state dealer organization. With all these organizations, why aren’t they representing the interests and issues of dealers, and the buying & selling public?
Wouldn’t it be in the dealers’ best interest to represent the public case; the duopoly sure won’t, and with their political muscle, would fight it tooth and nail.