The dynamics of deterrence

Why concentrated enforcement is better than “equal-opportunity” enforcement.

Beau Kilmer and I have been at work on a paper exploring the logic of deterrent threats (as applied to individuals rather than states) in a world of scarce punishment resources. We now think it’s almost ready to go out the door. Here’s the abstract:

The threat of punishment facilitates cooperation by discouraging opportunistic defection and aggression. But punishment is costly to impose and unpleasant to suffer. That raises the problem of how to achieve any desired level of compliance at minimum cost in punishment actually inflicted. Positive feedback due to the effect of violation rate on the risk of punishment for each violator can create “tipping” phenomena, where a temporary surge in enforcement can produce lasting reductions in violation rates. Targeted enforcement strategies that exploit positive feedback by concentrating sanctions can reduce both violation rates and punishment, compared to “equal opportunity” enforcement.

Email me at kleiman (at) ucla (dot) edu if you’d like to see the full text. Any comments would be welcome.

Here’s a link to a practical application.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: