No Interest on Daylight Savings

Americans, except those living in Arizona and Hawaii, got to sleep an extra hour this weekend. Daylight Saving Time (DST) ended at 2:00 a.m. Sunday, November 7, when the local time reset to 1:00 a.m. and the hour “lost” last spring was paid back.

Unfortunately, no interest is earned on those savings. That’s because the length of the day, measured by the number of hours of daylight, is unaffected by “springing forward” or “falling back.”

DST is a ruse that generates no measurable benefits for society, but does impose some real costs on every man, woman and child.

Conceived originally by Ben Franklin, DST was first imposed during the emergencies of the First and Second World Wars, supposedly to furnish workers in defense-related industries an extra hour of daylight at the end of the working day. Of course, many of those industries operated 24/7 and so that hour actually was gained only by people assigned to the first shift.

DST became a permanent fact of life during the energy crises of the 1970s. Its stated purpose was to reduce electricity usage by allowing sunlight to replace artificial light for an hour after commuters had returned to their homes. The goal of energy savings plausibly was fulfilled early on, but nowadays those savings are offset in many parts of the country as workers arriving home in the summer while the sun is still shining crank up their air conditioners.

All of the studies published by professional economists therefore show either no change in energy consumption during the months of DST or a small, but significant increase in it.

DST also supposedly benefits farmers, who get an “extra” hour a day to tend to their fields and livestock herds. Although I am not a farmer – and don’t even play one on TV – I find it improbable that cows and chickens start getting up an hour earlier in the spring and then begin sleeping an hour later in the fall. Like human beings, their internal “clocks” are governed by seasonal changes in the length of the day and, because animals don’t wear watches, don’t really care what time it is.

What are the costs? First and foremost, time is money and time spent adjusting clocks twice a year is a complete waste of it. Even if one does not sacrifice wages before retiring Saturday night, one has to sacrifice something of value, such as missing five or ten minutes of playing with the children, of a favorite TV show, or of sleep. The managers of every hotel in the 48 states that comply with this biannual ritual must assign employees to change the clocks in guest rooms or print and distribute leaflets reminding the current occupants to do so.

Second, and more seriously, clinical studies conducted in Sweden have reported evidence of spikes in heart attack risks in the week following the switch to either daylight savings or standard time. Unlike cows and chickens, the body clocks (circadian rhythms) of people are forced twice a year quickly to accommodate themselves to a new time regime. That adjustment may cause fuzzy-headiness on the job (and lost productivity) for a few days, but in some cases result in death.

Third, and of particular relevance for this season, the return to standard time is associated with an increase in the number of automobile accidents, especially those involving pedestrians, because drivers are not yet accustomed to commuting home in the dark.

So-called standard time lasts for a little over four months. If DST really is the boon our politicians say it is, it ought to be extended year-round. If, as I suggest, it produces no real benefits, then abolish it. One way or the other, it would be far better, in my view, for government to leave our clocks alone

William F. Shughart II is Research Fellow and Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University, past President of the Southern Economic Association, and editor of the Independent book, Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination.
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