Discover more from Econ Soapbox
Facts about DST
The more you know...
It’s daylight saving time. Not daylight savings time.
Daylight saving time is what the US uses from March through November. So most of the year is NOT standard time.
One of the first people to propose daylight saving time was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin proposed that the French change the time so that they would burn fewer candles. This is basically the rationale for daylight saving time today. The thinking is that by moving the day forward, people can use more daylight after work and use less energy, whether it be candles or electric lights.
DST is not, and has never been, related to farming. This has always amused me. Farmers work based on the sun, not what time the clock says!
Unfortunately, daylight saving time doesn’t reduce energy use. People do use less electricity in the evening because of DST, but they use more in the morning.
Even more unfortunately, the “spring forward” does increase suicides, fatal car accidents, and causes hundreds of millions in lost productivity. This is thought to be due to increased fatigue and stress from losing an hour of sleep.
Econ Soapbox is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
If DST doesn't save energy, costs millions in lost productivity, and even results in additional suicides, why do we do it? The quick answer would be inertia, but the reality is there isn't a great solution for getting rid of DST.
One option would be to keep DST all year. At first glance, this seems like a good idea – more light in the evening year round! The problem is that this means a late sunrise in December in January. In cities like Chicago or Boston, which are on the eastern edge of their respective time zones, sunrise would not occur until after 8AM! The most common argument against this is students would be waiting for the bus in complete darkness in much of the country. It's also terrible for your sleep hygiene. Having an 8AM sunrise means most people would be waking up hours before sunrise for months at a time.
The best argument against year-round DST, however, is that the United States already tried it. In December 1973, congress passed a bill that went into effect in early January 1974, abolishing DST for a two-year experimental period. It has been said that there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program. Yet year-round DST was so bad, so unpopular, that not only did this government program stay temporary, it was actually repealed early. After just one winter of year-round DST, public support fell from 79% to 42%! Instead of a two-year experiment with year-round DST, congress repealed the law after one year and went back to the schedule we know today.
The other option would be to stay on standard time year-round. This is the preference of the medical community, which argues that it would align our schedules with what is best for the human body. People hate this idea, however, because it means a lack of evening sun in the summer. To look at Chicago again, using standard time in the summer means the sun would rise around 4:15AM in June and set around 7:30PM. I don't think people are ever going to sign on to that.
So if permanent DST was a disaster, and permanent standard time means wasting a lot of daylight sleeping in the summer, that means sticking with the current system. I think the irony here is that ultimately people are putting too much emphasis on the time on the clock. Remember, time is ultimately the number that humans assign to the position of the sun. Instead of changing to permanent DST, companies could just say that the work day runs from 6AM to 2PM. People could start eating dinner at 4PM and primetime tv could kick off at 5PM. We could all go to bed by 8PM and wake up at 4AM. If that sounds silly or ridiculous, that's exactly what people are advocating for with permanent DST, just with different numbers assigned to the same time of day.