Sunday, November 1, 2015

Time to End Government Regulation of Daylight Saving Time

This morning, I set my non-automated clocks this morning on account that Daylight Saving Time ended. It was nice to get the extra hour of sleep. However, it is annoying to have to deal with losing an hour during springtime (not to mention that as an observant Jew, Shabbat starts a whole lot earlier, thereby making that part of my life more hectic than normal). As I set my clocks an hour back, I had to ask myself why we have this practice of Daylight Savings Time (DST). Wouldn't it just be easier if we didn't have to switch the times twice every year?

Contrary to popular belief, Benjamin Franklin did not propose DST. In 1784, Franklin wrote a satirical piece suggesting that Parisians save money on candles by waking up earlier to use more sunlight. This piece included such glib remarks as rationing candles, ringing church bells, and firing cannons to help people wake up early. In no way was this meant to be taken seriously. The modern-day concept of daylight saving time came from George Hudson. Hudson was an entomologist who suggested in 1895 a two-hour daylight saving time shift in order that he could collect more bugs for his entomology collection. DST was first implemented during WWI by Germany and Austria-Hungary to conserve on coal consumption. The Allied nations followed suit. The United States repealed it after the Great War. DST was reinstated during WWII. After WWII, some states kept DST with interstate inconsistencies. It was with the Uniform Time Act in 1966 when the United States federal government made DST the law of the land for the first time under peacetime conditions. Ever since, DST has become a mainstay of the United States calendric system.

Back in 2010, an economist from Utah State University, William Shughart II, ran a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and found that it was costing us $1.7 billion per annum. Although inflation and population have increased, I can argue that technological advancements have decreased the amount of time and energy at which one uses to go about and changing the time on clocks. There is not only the hassle (read: opportunity cost) of the act of changing clocks to consider, but also the effects as a result. When changing back to DST in the springtime, there is an increase of heart attacks, traffic accidents, and work-related injuries, not to mention the decreased workplace productivity. Given that DST is messing with circadian rhythms twice a year, these findings are not at all surprising. The main intent of implementing DST was to conserve energy. However, it turns out that DST might not accomplish its prime directive. A research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed a negative tradeoff between reduced demand for lighting and increased demand for heating and cooling (Kotchen and Grant, 2008).

Whether we decide to keep daylight savings time year-round (also see here) or adopt Universal Time (UTC), one thing is for certain: we would be better off it the government was no longer in the business of establishing time standards.

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