Some Policy Ideas and Updates

Effective Altruism Policy Analytics updates

In the November elections, the public supported experiments with genetically modified mosquitoes in Key Haven in a non-binding poll. Though only 38% of Key Haven supported the test, 58% of the county supported the test, which seems to indicate that Oxitec likely did good outreach. It is very likely that tests are going to happen. To see our original policy comment on the potential benefits of genetically modified mosquitoes, click here. *Update* As of August 5th, 2016 trials were approved by the FDA and in April 2017 trials began in the Florida Keys.

I have no new updates on responses to policy comments from EAPA since the first comment response was received. It seems that most rules we commented on have yet to be finalized, and that we were unusually lucky in finding a policy so close to finalization with our first test comment.

During the second Debug Politics Hackathon in San Francisco, Tessa and I got together a team to work on improving the United States Federal Register. Our solution: (which is probably broken right now!) enables  users to have additional ways to sort through the Federal Register in order to more quickly find relevant comments and regulations. The idea here is that since federal agencies are often required to respond to relevant comments and change their rules if a significant problem is found, making this system more easy to use for high time value people, and making it easier to find good analysis could improve many government rules. If you are interested, you can see our presentation at around the 1:11:00 mark here. Going forward, it will probably best to make code and propose changes directly to those running the federal register… it is a bit silly to make a site have to download, host, and search the entire thing itself.


Building Code Policy Comment Idea

During the summer I was running EA Policy Analytics, we submitted a comment referencing a change to International Residential Code to support an argument for making the Bureau of Indian Affair’s housing program more efficient. An idea that comes out of this is that influencing international building codes could potentially be a way to influence many places at once, rather than having to fight battles in each country and state. For example, when the minimum room sizes decrease and cities update their building codes to the new international code it means that new building stock can become more dense, enabling more people to be housed in urban areas, potentially decreasing rents. Cases where you can safely make building code more lenient are probably more effective than cases where you can make it more strict since there are fewer parties to fight, there is a lag in implementation of code on local levels, and code is not always enforced fully. Ultimately, local planning and zoning will decide what happens, but removing the top level restraints can lead to larger gains when planners do make beneficial decisions on land use reform.

My recommendations:

  •  If you are an engineer and plan to remain an engineer, get on a code committee that you think will be important, learn what people’s interests are, and push for reform in areas where instead of having good justification the code was set arbitrarily so that there would be some standard to prevent people from doing horrible things. 
  • Seek comment processes. The change to minimum rooms size appears to have come from a commenter with a fairly short comment… if it is that easy to change building code this is likely a very effective sort of intervention for people who are already in a position to notice. For policy, getting yourself in a position to be “lucky” can sometimes be very high impact. 


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