Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Commanding building codes 

The Washington Post makes a good point here about the forthcoming cap-and-trade bill debate:
The bill would give the federal government power over local building codes. It requires that by 2012 codes must require that new buildings be 30 percent more efficient than they would have been under current regulations. By 2016, that figure rises to 50 percent, with increases scheduled for years after that. With those targets in mind, the bill expects organizations that develop model codes for states and localities to fill in the details, creating a national code. If they don't, the bill commands the Energy Department to draft a national code itself.

...Is the best way to achieve that, though, to federalize what has long been a matter of local concern? And if the point of cap-and-trade is to change market incentives, why does Congress, and not the market, need to dictate these changes?
To the extent our textbooks ever support tradeable pollution permits, it is that the market does better for deciding the efficient way to reduce pollution than does command-and-control. But efficiency is only interesting to the regulator if the regulator stands to gain from it, or can be made interested in it by good contracts, electoral check, etc. Absent that, government will always prefer to use command and control so that they have their electoral fate in their own hands.

I say this to those who are persuaded by manmade global warming hypotheses -- your case is improved to the extent you get command-and-control measures like this with building codes out of the bill.

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