Keeping Daylight Savings Time, or abolishing time zones altogether

Nov. 6, 2016

Most of the United States shifted from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time early Sunday morning, prompting critics of the switch—and of time zones in general—to come forward.

Writing in Vox, Brian Resnick cites the advantages of maintaining DST year round—thereby providing more daylight in the evening. He claims that people engage in more activities after work than beforehand—buying things, for example, thereby providing economic gains. In addition, there is some evidence suggesting robberies decrease with more sun in the evening hours.

In contrast to the economic argument Resnick presents, Henry Grabar in Slate cites evidence that people living in cities near the eastern end of their respective time zones earn more money, although they have to spend it in the dark. “If you like doing stuff besides working and sleeping, daylight saving time is great,” he writes. “Cities on the eastern ends of time zones get more sleep; cities on the western ends fill that time with living.”

Resnick at Vox links to Andy Woodruff’s visualizations of DST’s effects, including interactive maps, that are well worth a look.

Woodruff, a proponent of evening daylight time, writes, “If you want consistent morning daylight, you should be as far southeast in your time zone as possible. I recommend the Big Island of Hawaii. If, like me, you’re all about evening sun, hop the border to the southwest part of the next time zone.”

Unfortunately for me, I live in the northeastern part of my time zone, and there’s not much to the southwest that I can hop to. I am definitely in favor of a proposal for Massachusetts to leave Eastern Standard Time behind.

Time zones themselves have come under criticism. Three years ago, I recounted the proposal of economist and writer Allison Schrager to divide the United States into just two time zones—with the east and west coasts being only one hour apart.

Writing in The New York Times, James Gleick wants to go quite a bit further. “We need to deep-six not just Daylight Saving Time, but the whole jerry-rigged scheme of time zones that has ruled the world’s clocks for the last century and a half,” he writes.

“The time-zone map is a hodgepodge—a jigsaw puzzle by Dalí,” he continues. “Logically you might assume there are 24, one per hour. You would be wrong. There are 39, crossing and overlapping, defying the sun, some offset by 30 minutes or even 45, and fluctuating on the whims of local satraps.”

His solution? “Let us all—wherever and whenever—live on what the world’s timekeepers call Coordinated Universal Time, or U.T.C. (though ‘earth time’ might be less presumptuous). When it’s noon in Greenwich, Britain, let it be 12 everywhere. No more resetting the clocks. No more wondering what time it is in Peoria or Petropavlovsk. Our biological clocks can stay with the sun, as they have from the dawn of history. Only the numerals will change, and they have always been arbitrary.”

Here’s one drawback that Gleick cites: “Those bar-crawler T-shirts that read ‘It’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ will go obsolete.”

I’m not clear on the benefits. He cites Johns Hopkins University professors Richard Conn Henry and Steve H. Hanke as describing immense benefits stemming from the harmonization from a unified time zone.

But the examples presented in their paper are not convincing to me. “For example,” they write, “the adoption of Universal Time would give new flexibility to economic management in the vast East-West expanse of Russia: everyone would know exactly what time it is everywhere, at every moment. Opening and closing times of businesses could be specified for every class of business and activity. If thought desirable, banks and financial institutions throughout the country could be required to open and to close each day at the same hour by the world time. This would mean that bank employees in the far East of Russia would start work with the sun well up in the sky, while bank employees in the far west of Russia would be at their desks before the sun has risen. But, across the country, they could conduct business with one another, all the working day.”

That might work in Russia, but I’m not sure I want the government specifying when my class of business, whatever that might be, should open and close. And finally, it’s just not that difficult to find out what time it is in Peoria or Petropavlovsk.

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