Blogs > Liberty and Power > Daylight Savings Time

Oct 31, 2009 12:12 pm

Daylight Savings Time

As we approach the annual ritual of coming off Daylight Savings Time (or more properly, Daylight Saving Time, without the"s" as the end of"Saving"), we should remind ourselves of the dubious and unsavory origins of this seemingly innocuous form of government central planning. Like so much else the government does, Daylight Saving Time arose during war. Germany, pioneer of so many other forms of modern statism, was the first to impose the practice as an energy saving measure during World War I. Most of the other warring governments, including the United States under the perniciously meddlesome administration of president Woodrow Wilson, soon followed Germany's lead. Considered only an emergency act, Daylight Saving Time was repealed within the U.S. in 1919, over the veto of Wilson, who as an avid golfer wanted to keep the practice permanent. The repeal was supported by Wilson's heroic successor, President Warren G. Harding, who considered Daylight Saving Time a"deception."

During World War II, Congress enacted YEAR-ROUND Daylight Saving Time, again to conserve energy. In September 1945, at the war's end, what was officially designated as"War Time" was again repealed, leaving the practice entirely up to states and localities. This created a patchwork system, in which different states would start or come off Daylight Saving Time on different dates, if at all. As a result, United Airlines reportedly had to publish twenty-seven different time tables each year. So it was the airlines, along with other transportation industries, that lobbied for national uniformity, which was embodied in the federal Uniform Time Act of April 1966.

Under this act, state governments can exempt themselves from Daylight Saving, as long as the exemption applies to the entire state (or if the state is divided into more than one time zone, to at least the area encompassing one of the zones). Only two states still take advantage of this option: Arizona and Hawaii. Congress also subsequently played around with the starting and ending dates, shifting them for assorted reasons, with the last change (so far!) being enacted in 1987.

Yet there has never been any solid evidence that Daylight Saving Time saves energy. For an economic critique of the practice, see the article by William F. Shugart II,"Time Change Could Prove Hazardous to Your Health":

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Aeon J. Skoble - 11/1/2009

Clarification- it's DST that's double-plus-ungood, not your post.

Aeon J. Skoble - 11/1/2009

Double-plus ungood. Thanks for posting that!

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel - 10/31/2009

Message to Russell Hanneken from David Henderson: You ARE a constructivist rationalist.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel - 10/31/2009

Thanks for the correction, Russell.

Russell Hanneken - 10/31/2009

Jeff wrote, "Congress also subsequently played around with the starting and ending dates, shifting them for assorted reasons, with the last change (so far!) being enacted in 1987."

Actually, the last time the start and end dates changed was in 2007, thanks to the The Energy Policy Act of 2005. This cost people money, because a lot of software had to be updated. Congress seemed to think the change would cause people to use less energy, but in fact it did not.

This probably marks me as a constructivist rationalist, but I don't understand why we use locally defined dates and times. If everyone on the planet just used Coordinated Universal Time, it would eliminate the need for all the complicated conversions that currently need to be done for the sake of date/time arithmetic and comparisons. (Yes, it would mean we'd eat lunch in the San Francisco Bay Area at around "20:00" instead of "12:00pm." And yes, for much of the world the date and day of the week would change during daylight hours, every day. So what?)