Journal of Cultural Economics

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 283–307 | Cite as

Arts and craftiness: an economic analysis of art heists

  • Frederick ChenEmail author
  • Rebecca Regan
Original Article


We study the incentives that museums face in determining how much resources to invest in the protection of their artwork from theft. We present and analyze a game-theoretic model of art heists that accounts for the strategic interactions between museums’ and art thieves’ decisions and that incorporates several key features of the black market for stolen art. We find that the equilibrium level of security museums choose need not be monotonic in the true market value or the black market value of artwork, i.e., increasing the value of an art piece—whether it is the true market value or the black market value—does not necessarily lead museums to invest more in protecting their artwork. The effects of parameter changes in the model that reflect a shift of public policy depend critically on what type of policy change is considered. For instance, an increase in the penalty imposed for committing art theft cannot raise the amount of theft in equilibrium and could in fact lead museums to increase their level of security. On the other hand, investing more resources on law enforcement agencies so that they are better able to solve art crimes can actually increase the amount of theft in equilibrium by causing museums to spend less on security.


Art heists Museums Art thieves Black market 

JEL Classification




Comments and suggestions from anonymous referees of the journal are gratefully acknowledged.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsWake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemUSA
  2. 2.Federal Reserve Bank of San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA

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