Mark A.R. Kleiman

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Mark Kleiman in April 2012

Mark Albert Robert Kleiman (born May 18, 1951) is an American professor, author, and blogger who is a Professor of Public Policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs. Kleiman is a nationally recognized expert[1] in the field of crime and drug policy and the author of When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment, Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control, and Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results. Kleiman also advises governments from the local to federal levels on crime control and drug policy.

Early life[edit]

Born in Phoenix to a Jewish family, Kleiman grew up in Baltimore and attended the Baltimore public schools. He is a graduate of Haverford College and received a M.P.P. in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1977 and a Ph.D. in Public Policy, also from Harvard, in 1985.

Academic career[edit]

In addition to his duties as Professor of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Kleiman is an adjunct scholar at the Center for American Progress. Previously, he has served as visiting professor at Harvard Law School, at the University of Virginia Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy (2012), and, as the first Thomas C. Schelling Visiting Professor, at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy (2006-2007).

Kleiman is also a member of the Committee on Law and Justice of the United States National Research Council and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis.


In 1993, Kleiman wrote Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results. Here, he makes a ground breaking argument: drug enforcement agencies should view arrest and incarceration of offenders as a "loss" not a "win." By setting up systems in which resources are concentrated to ensure certain arrest for the worst offenders rather than a small risk of arrest for all, agencies can create environments with less drug abuse, less incarceration, and, most importantly, safer streets.

In 2010, Kleiman wrote When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment. James Q. Wilson says of the book: "This is very good. It's not quite as good as Einstein predicting light bending around the sun, . . . but it's a step in the right direction." Jail Break was a September, 2007 article in Washington Monthly that Kleiman took from the Brute Force book. The piece describes the success of Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program.[2]

In 2011, Kleiman co-wrote Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken. Thomas Schelling, 2005 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, said of the book: "A product of genius, in form and content: more than two hundred questions, all relevant and urgent, with succinct and lucid answers. When I started the book, I had strong opinions on many of the topics it covered; again and again--every time the book came into conflict with my original beliefs--the authors changed my mind. If you care about drugs, you need to read this book. If you don't, read it anyway, just to see how it's done." That year, Kleiman also co-edited Encyclopedia of Drug Policy with James Hawdon.

Kleiman's most recent book is Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, co-written with Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, and Beau Kilmer, published in 2012. The book is written in question-and-answer format, covering over 100 questions and a variety of subjects, including marijuana's intoxicating effects, public health risks, methods of production and distribution, law and enforcement policies, and methods for regulation and legal reform.

Other Activities[edit]


Kleiman is the organizer of a group blog, The Reality-Based Community. His writing has also appeared on CNN, The American Prospect, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Foreign Affairs, Andrew Sullivan, and Washington Monthly.

Previous Positions[edit]

Kleiman was a legislative aide to Congressman Les Aspin (1974-1975) and a special assistant to Polaroid CEO Edwin Land (1975-1976). From 1977 to 1979, he was Deputy Director for Management and Director of Program Analysis for the Office of Management and Budget of the City of Boston. From 1979 to 1983, Kleiman worked for the Office of Policy and Management Analysis in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and in 1982-1983 he was its director and a member of the National Organized Crime Planning Council.

Academic Contributions[edit]

Dynamic Deterrence[edit]

As described in a 2006 paper co-written by Kleiman:[3]

The efficacy of a deterrent threat in enforcing a rule depends in part on the probability that it will be carried out. When sanctions capacity is constrained, those subject to the rule face interdependent choices: the greater the frequency of violation in the population, the less the risk of sanction for any given violation. In that situation, focusing threats on a subset of potential violators can increase their efficacy, reducing both violation rates and the frequency of actually administered sanctions.

Dueling Failures[edit]

Kleiman suggests that "failures of voluntary action" or "failures of private choice" may warrant government action, as would a conventional market failure. Market failures describe only one type of scenario where the unconstrained action of rational, self-maximizing individuals fails to bring about an ideal scenario. Failures of voluntary action are not dysfunctions of the market, but rather of the self-control and biases of freely-acting individuals. Just as market failures impede markets from behaving productively, failures of voluntary action can infect and disable the proper functioning of non-market institutions, or "civil society": families, neighborhoods, voluntary associations, and even norms and values.

Kleiman and Steven Teles write in a 2006 paper:[4]

Actual human beings report that they have bad habits, succumb to temptations, procrastinate and favor the very near over the slightly more distant future, act badly under pressure, and regret actions motivated by appetites for food, sex, and mood-altering chemicals, aversion to pain, financial loss, or embarrassment. They regard self-control not as an axiom but as a constant struggle.

Kleiman contends that while competent policy-making defers to private, unconstrained choice by default, it also recognizes both the potential gains of constraining voluntary action and the detrimental effects of government coercion. This coercion may be enacted through legal prohibition or taxation, but in either case, it disturbs the individual's ability to act freely. Therefore, the concept of dueling failures seeks to refine the analysis used to justify instances of beneficial paternalist intervention, but not necessarily to expand or contract the currently-accepted range of paternal interventions.

Risks and Prices[edit]

Effect of Demand-Elasticity and Price on Policy Outcomes[edit]

Kleiman posits the price control is a central feature of anti-drug law enforcement, for two reasons: insofar as a drug has elastic demand, increases in price reduce the quantity consumed; insofar as a drug is inelastic, increases in price increase the profit to dealers, suppliers, and traffickers. Since from a drug-control perspective, the first effect is good and the second effect is bad, the wisdom of attempting to control prices via law enforcement will vary depending on the demand-elasticity of the drug.

Targeting Enforcement to the Costliest Aspect of Drug Distribution, Production, and Purchase[edit]

In order to increase prices, enforcement should target the most expensive aspects of the production and distribution of the drug. Since the retail price of most illegal drugs greatly exceeds the actual production cost, enforcement efforts targeting production will not efficiently increase the final cost that the user pays to his dealer. It follows that strategy should focus on obstructing efforts at distribution, either high-level (typically, importation and centralized distribution) or low-level (street-dealing). Alternatively, enforcement efforts can target the user's possession or consumption. For reasons varying by market, either high- or low-level enforcement in distribution could be ineffective.

Application to Different Drugs: Heroin, Marijuana, and Cocaine[edit]

Kleiman notes that the demand elasticity for heroin is relatively high compared to those of marijuana and cocaine, and this partially explains the success of enforcement efforts against the first drug rather than the latter two. He argues that law enforcement budgets targeting demand-elastic drugs such as heroin are better justified than those targeting demand-inelastic drugs.

Kleiman notes that efforts controlling heroin have been extremely successful, especially when compared to those targeting cocaine and marijuana. Kleiman and Peter Reuter write in a 1986 paper:[5]

“a white powder, readily manufactured from poppy gum, which would cost only a few dollars if legal, instead costs about $2,000 per gram on the streets of American cities. Not only is it absurdly expensive and of extraordinarily low purity, but it can also be obtained only by incurring significant risks. One surely could ask no more of enforcement against an illegal market.”

Kleiman argues that for marijuana and cocaine, even intensified enforcement efforts cannot attain the same degree of success realized with heroin. High-level marijuana and cocaine enforcement is unwise: the federal government is unlikely to succeed in changing prices or availability, and raising prices would increase profits to dealers without significantly decreasing consumptions, since these drugs are demand-inelastic. However, Kleiman also warns that low- (or street-) level enforcement is equally futile, if less counterproductive, because enforcement faces an uphill battle. The markets are already too large to handle with any realistic enforcement effort, and transactions already occur with too much privacy too catch them, either in progress or after the fact.

Policy Views[edit]

Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan[edit]

Efforts to reduce the combat drug trafficking in Afghanistan could exacerbate the ill effects that already make trafficking so harmful: poverty, corruption, and violence. A conventional counter-narcotics campaign, in which the primary goal is to reduce the volume of production, sales, and use of illicit drugs, maximizes these unintentional harms. Accordingly, a counter-narcotics campaign for Afghanistan should be specially tailored to reduce corruption, decrease the power of violent American insurgents and warlords, and improve the well-being of Afghans.

The upside of a conventional counter-narcotics campaign is severely limited. Due to the path dependence of illicit drug production and trafficking industries, Afghanistan's history as a dominant opioid producer, and the unrelenting global demand for opiates, counter-narcotics efforts cannot realistically hope to destroy the industry in Afghanistan. Therefore, the best case scenario for a counter-narcotics efforts would be to displace the sites of production within the country and increase the price of opium and opiates. Since the export price of opiates from Afghanistan is only a sliver of the street price paid by users in purchaser countries, variations in the export price will only slightly affect the price to consumers. Therefore, even if efforts succeed in increasing the Afghan producer price, they would accomplish only modest reductions in worldwide opiate use and volume of sales from Afghanistan.

In terms of downside, a conventional campaign could increase the corruption, lawlessness, and violence that it aims to solve. Stepping up the intensity of anti-trafficking strategies could drive further business to professionals offering services to confound that enforcement: namely, corrupt officials selling exemptions from the law and violent insurgents promising safe-havens from the reach of American military and Afghan police. Since insurgents currently take a small share of illicit opiate proceeds, Kleiman estimates that disturbances in the production and trafficking industry could easily increase their proceeds. Moreover, since any increases in the export price of opiates would likely outpace reductions in export volume, a "successful" conventional counter-narcotics effort may actually grow the dollar value of the illicit Afghan opiate industry.

Kleiman and collaborators Jonathan Caulkins and Jonathan Kulick make recommendations for an Afghan counter-narcotics campaign in a 2010 paper produced for the Center on International Cooperation,[6] including:

  • As primary goals, use improving governance, security, and well-being, rather than targets for reduction in use, production and trafficking;
  • Attempt, if feasible, to incentivize opium exports against selling product associated with (protected by or taxed by) insurgents and warlords;
  • Elevate anti-corruption goals ahead of arrest and conviction targets, and diversify rather than concentrate enforcement power;
  • Expand demand-reduction campaigns in Afghanistan and consumer countries alike, with a special emphasis on harm reduction in Afghanistan.

InnerChange Freedom Initiative[edit]

Kleiman stated that he does not oppose the InnerChange Freedom Initiative program, but he is opposed to the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society study about the program.[7]


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