DST: Daylight Savings Tax

When told the reason for daylight saving time, the Old Indian said, “Only the Government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.”

Daylight Savings Time is that peculiar tradition whereby we get up an hour early but pretend we didn’t. A bit like pretending we lost 10 lbs because we turned the zero point on the scale to -10 lbs. The real mystery though is why DST is a government-mandated program. Since there is no obvious crony that benefits from it, it must fall into that broader category of laws known as the Nanny Statutes, that is, laws enacted by those who simply enjoy telling the rest of us how to live our lives.

The putative goal of DST, to give us more daylight in the evening hours, is preposterous on its face. It is daylight tax and spend hocus-pocus that tricks us into thinking the day is longer because we “see” the extra evening hour but don’t see the morning hour of daylight we lost. Of course this begs the question: why are we trying to add hours to a day that is already getting longer? It’s a bit greedy if you think about it. As the days get longer on both ends in the summer, there are those that want to redistribute daylight from the morning to the evening. This is great for night owls, but what of the early birds (like some of us crazy runners that run at 5:30 am)? We’ve had our early hour of daylight stolen away!

The current “green” appeal to DST is that it will save energy. But even a cursory analysis reveals that the tradeoff between fewer light bulbs burning vs longer hours of air conditioning operation will result in a net increase in energy usage. And then there are the safety issues. All things being equal, it is always less safe to drive in the dark. All things being equal, a child standing at a bus stop in the dark is more likely to be accidentally struck. Additionally, there is no accounting for the expenditure of countless collective hours fitfully engaged in the semi-annual secret-handshake of the clock reset.

Given the mutually exclusive (“I want more evening light!”, “Well I want more morning light!”) there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will satisfy everyone. In this case there is no right or wrong answer. But with the current government mandate of DST, all are forced to endure the top-down one-size-fits-all solution. DST is essentially a solution in search of a problem. The solution to that solution though is to remove government mandate from the equation. Allow the people and businesses to determine for themselves what works best. Leave the darn clocks alone and shift your own schedule around if needed. If a business benefits by having their doors open only during daylight, then they can shift their hours anytime during the year to best serve their customers. Think this could never work? That it would be total chaos? Well, dear reader, once upon a time in this country people found solutions to problems on their own. The most apropos example here is that of time zones. It was private business (the railroads) that established the time zone system we use today. They did not mandate it by decree; they simply set it up for themselves to simplify the nightmare of hundreds of different city based time regions. Soon enough it became easier to simply refer to “railroad time” and in short order the people collectively and freely chose to follow a system that benefited them. It wasn’t until nearly 40 years later that government redundantly lumbered onto the scene and memorialized into statute what was already common practice. Of course this begs the question: if it worked for 40 years before becoming law, what exactly did making it a law achieve?