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Should EAs in the U.S. focus more on federal or local politics?

by evelynciara1 min read5th May 20213 comments

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PolicyUnited States policy and politics
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It's often claimed that it's easier and more impactful for people to get involved and make change through state and local politics than through federal politics because federal politics is much more crowded. On the other hand, most of the issues that EA focuses on are national and global: we're often trying to influence global governance, mitigate global catastrophic risks, facilitate global development, and so on. And in the United States, at least, the federal government has the most obvious leverage points for foreign policy, through which we can influence global issues. Are there a lot of opportunities for EAs to influence state and local politics re: EA causes? Should we prioritize federal or state/local politics?

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My own thoughts: In farmed animal welfare, I think it's possible for EAs to influence state governments to fund research and development on alternative proteins (especially through land-grant universities like Cornell University in New York) and improve regulations on animal agriculture. It may also be possible to change state and local environmental laws to improve wild animal welfare.

I agree with evelynciara that animal welfare in agriculture is highly relevant to EA and that most progress toward animal welfare laws are being made at the state and local level. I would add that progress towards national and global goals often starts at the local level--more states adopt a particular law (e.g. increased welfare standards in agriculture), and that sets an example for others to start a more national conversation. 

Other things that come to mind are scalable improvements in institutional and governmental decision making such as adopting approval voting. These are  important for similar reasons to animal welfare laws--they set an example and set the stage for a national conversation.

Local governments also fund universities and other research programs that might be high impact and in principal they could fund much more and much more effectively. They have jurisdiction over housing, zoning, and transport which have enormous environmental and economic impact. They have at least partial jurisdiction on mental health programs, policing, criminal justice, vehicle and pedestrian safety, lead abatement, and charitable grants.

With that said, no one can make much of dent in nuclear weapons policies by showing up to their local city council meeting, so there is plenty of work to be done on the federal level as well and where any individual should focus probably depends on their personal situation, skills, interests, etc. 

1 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:07 PM

I started to write a more thorough response to this but realized I was essentially copying Rethink Priorities' post on Ballot Initiatives, which covers a lot of EA causes with high leverage at the local/state level.

Two popular EA causes that I think are missing:

  • Climate change interventions
  • UBI (difficult, but not impossible to enact at the state level in the US because states can't deficit spend. See Alaska as an example)