Free at last! Free at last! We’re back on standard time again.
DST (Demonstrably Stupid Thinking) is one of the most insane ideas foisted upon citizens of a democracy. Sadly, it’s also an example of how easy it is for the well-connected few to gain benefits for themselves they couldn’t otherwise earn without the power of government.
Like so many bad ideas, DST came out of wartime “necessity”. First passed in 1918 during World War I, it was ostensibly designed to save energy by reducing electric consumption during sunnier evenings. Of course, policies don’t “save” anything, they just encourage people to alter their consumption habits from what they would otherwise have wanted to do.
But even if we concede that point, I’ve been unable to find any evidence that DST actually saves energy. I did find a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows people actually use more energy during DST, because reduced lighting demand is lost in increased heating and cooling. A study by the German Institute for the Study of Labor studied the effects of DST in Australia and found similar results.
The best source on DST is Michael Downing’s book “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Savings Time”. Today, DST is in effect for eight months of the year. Ever wonder why it’s not six?
DST actually started out with a half-year duration. It was expanded by law from six months to seven in 1986, back when I was in grad school and not paying much attention. It was expanded to its present eight months in 2005, back when I had two teenagers at home and was paying even less attention.
Why, you might ask, were these laws passed? Was it due to evidence-based reasoning that showed Americans were using less energy? Of course not.
It turns out when we have longer evenings, we do more leisure activities, and we drive more. That’s why oil and gas companies lobbied so hard for a longer DST. Then, apparently, leisure industries like golf, home improvement and barbecue grill makers all got into the act, because they noticed millions of dollars of increased revenue due to the shift in our consumption habits. So much for decreased energy use.
The second expansion put the “fall back” point into November, the one we’ve finally emerged from. Who might you imagine would benefit from encouraging people to stay out later on a certain evening on the last day of October? If you said “candy makers”, you get a gold star. Apparently they lobbied hard in 1986 to get DST pushed into November, but only crossed the goal line in 2005. The only thing scarier than Big Oil is when it teams up with Big Candy.
To make a bad idea even worse, some states have made or are planning to make DST permanent. Predictably, these are the states with large leisure sectors like Florida. The insidiously named “Sunshine Protection Act” from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and others would make DST permanent across the country.
The language promoting this bill is embarrassing. It’s sponsors claim to “provide more sunlight”, because “Americans could use a little more sunshine”. It also notes it will “give families more time to enjoy all that Florida has to offer”.
Crucially, another sponsor noted that DST “positively impacts consumer spending and shifts energy consumption”. Shifts, not reduces. The idea that Americans can make their own decisions about how to spend their leisure time is completely foreign to elected officials.
Making DST permanent is a terrible idea. Return everything to Standard Time, and let people make their own decisions about how to deal with natural phenomena. Let the sun be at its highest point around noon, and stop messing with our sleep cycles. You’d be amazed what people can figure out if given the chance.
Barry Fagin is senior fellow in Technology Policy at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can contact Fagin at barry@faginfamilynet.