Tuesday, April 9, 2019

econlife - Why Times Should Change by Elaine Schwartz

Through a very unscientific online survey, I just concluded that Starbucks opens earlier on the U.S. West Coast. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, we can enjoy our grande Caramel Macchiato at either 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. For NYC, it was 5:30 or 6:00.

The difference takes me to a proposal that relates to DST (Daylight Saving Time) and the hour we lost this morning. So let’s start there.

DST History

The DST idea has been around for a long time. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin suggested (somewhat sarcastically) more morning light would let us conserve candles. And, for some reason, DST history commemorates George Vernon Hudson, a New Zealand entomologist who, in 1895, wanted more evening light to study his insects.

In the U.S., we have to look to 1918 when the Congress included a DST clause in time zone legislation. Hoping to move the clocks forward every May 31, instead they created a huge flap. On one side, farmers objected saying their cows could not be milked and their work could not begin in dark wet fields while baseball team owners cheered that later games would boost attendance. Convinced that more women would shop after work, the founder of Filene’s department store was also delighted.

In 1919, the Congress wound up rescinding DST and then went back and forth until the Uniform Time Act of 1966 and the Energy Policy Act of 2005 made it the law for (most of) the land. The problem though is that DST’s rationale relates to energy conservation and current research indicates that DST could even increase energy consumption.

The DST Debate

Last year we looked at one huge reason that daylight saving is good for us. Crime rates diminish when there is more light at night.

Two years ago, we considered how falling back and springing forward affected our health. Our conclusion was definitive for the fall back because more sleep is good for us. However, the health-related harm from spring forward is debatable.

There is more though that muddies our conclusions.

Some say evening rush hour is less dangerous because there is more light with DST. Others though indicate drivers’ DST sleep deprivation leads to more pedestrian deaths during the week after the change over. Furthermore, a recent study from economists at the University of Pittsburgh concludes that late sunset communities experience the sleep deprivation that diminishes health and productivity. Calling it social jet lag, with DST (late sunset), we go to bed later and that is not good for us. Still others point out that we burn more calories at night time activities and that is good for us. And finally, later light appears to spur more commercial activity.

Where does all of this take us? To one time.

Our Bottom Line: One Time

For many of us, the debate is about whether we change times twice a year. However, for me it just comes back to one time. Wherever possible, we should all use the same clock. Yes, November is delicious when we get an extra hour. And today is torture because lost it. However, the real question is what should we all do?

I suspect that the earlier Starbucks opening in California reflects coordination with New York financial markets. Similarly, Quartz told me that the people in Austin, Texas go to work at 8 a.m. rather than 9 a.m. because of NY time.

So, for the sake of the economic coordination that already occurs informally, let us create two time zones. My two zone proposal is a compromise. I actually would have suggested one time zone but hesitate because that would have taken us too far from our circadian clocks.

This division is a possibility:

And because of my night owl bias and the slight tilt of proof toward DST, it could become perpetual.

My sources and more: Quartz had the summary support for DST, the business side of the debate, and also the two time zone proposal. Tim Harford in a Slate article from long ago had the argument for one time zone. But, if you disagree with all I say, this University of Pittsburgh paper on social jet lag convincingly has your side.

Please note that the section on DST history was previously published in a past econlife post.

Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.