Would No DST Be a Good Sign?

Monday, March 13, 2017

In the past, I have sometimes wondered if abolition of Daylight Savings Time might be an early indicator of cultural change in the direction of properly limited government. I think not, and to begin to appreciate why, it's worth it to consider a recent article about the mounting evidence against the practice:

Some of the last defenders of daylight saving time have been a cluster of business groups who assume the change helps stimulate consumer spending. That's not true either, according to recent analysis of 380 million bank and credit-card transactions by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

The study compared Los Angeles with Phoenix in the 30 days after the March and November time changes. Arizona is a natural test case since it's one of the two states, along with Hawaii, that doesn't do daylight saving. In the spring, according to the consumer transaction data, the additional hour of evening daylight in Los Angeles managed to slightly boost card spending per person, compared with that in Phoenix, although by less than 1 percent. That spending uptick is swamped by the negative impact of the November time change, which sees the darkened population of Los Angeles spend 3.5 percent less at local retailers. [link omitted]
There is not a single whiff here of indignation about the fact that the government is imperiously compelling everyone to make these switches. All we see are (1) the assumption that that's one of the "things government does" and (2) arguments about the costs and benefits of the practice to the main pressure groups keeping it alive.

If there were such indignation, particularly regarding a universally-despised, top-down decision of dubious merit, this silliness would go away in an instant (and we wouldn't need to worry about the government forcing us to accept other dumb ways of keeping time, either). But there isn't and it won't. Indeed, the article mentions a great deal of inertia -- aside from the fact that the federal government is behind this -- in favor of keeping DST. This has thwarted efforts in nineteen states to pick a time, standard or daylight-savings, and stick with it. And even if all the senseless clock-setting were to stop in any of these cases, the government would still remain in charge of everyone's clocks. So the "disappearance" of DST in any of these cases would be for the wrong reason (enough pressure groups to make the government adopt a new central plan) and so the real problem (that the government tells everyone how to keep time in the first place) would remain.

All that said, this is hardly one of the most important priorities en route to a properly limited government, but it seems to be low-hanging fruit. So government clock-setting (and with it, DST) might be an early casualty of an improved political culture, but that would be a function of the idea coming at an opportune time against a backdrop of more fundamental reforms -- if it weren't a simply by-product of one these.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one, to an extent.

Any government must have a standard time keeping system, able to track times from minutes to years, because it is vital to the function of several legitimate government activities. For example, chain of custody for evidence in criminal investigations involves knowing precisely when Person A gave up custody of the item and Person B received it. Similarly, military operations require precise coordination, which necessitates all parties involved--often separated by thousands of miles in current warfare--having identical time keeping conventions. Even such trivial things as when courts are open can become problematic if a single time keeping method isn't adopted by the government--it's likely that someone can be called into court in a different city or state (I have been called as a witness, for example), and a standard time keeping convention makes that much easier.

I think this is akin to an official language. Governments need to have an official language--and, I would argue, an official time keeping convention--but, while this would necessarily have profound implications for the population, it would not mean that the population is required to adopt it. One may speak Spanish, German, French, or Klingon at home if one wishes, but when one goes to court one must use English. Similarly, one may keep time however one wishes privately, but the government must have a standard method.

Gus Van Horn said...


I agree that the government has to use things like a language or a system of measurement to perform its functions, but it still needn't dictate what those are. English itself is a prime example: Our government uses it, but it isn't actually an official language. Nor is there a government body anywhere that enforces grammar or usage.

It used to be likewise regarding time zones, which were originally established by railroads when a real need to coordinate local times arose.

People have very good reasons to want standards in things like language and time, and needn't be compelled to have them. (Indeed, there are numerous private standard-setting bodies that do just that, without any input from the government.) The government needs these things, too, but that doesn't mean it has to be in charge of them, or should be.


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, a few comments on this. First, just to be persnickety, or to shed great light on an obscure subject, your choice which, there is a basic difference in standardization between standards, which are issued by standards institutions and are purely voluntary, and technical regulations, which are like standards but are adopted and enforced by the government. (I translated some of both for an EU project. This was the first point the director made to me when familiarizing me with the work. He was really irked by people confusing the two, and he was generally an easy-going Belgian--but just don't ever get him started on (1) abuses of standardization terminology or (2) the continued existence of Dutch beers.)

Second, English isn't the official language on the federal level. On the state level, there's a good deal of variation: 32 states have official languages, and while English is one of them in all of these states, Hawaiian is also official in Hawaii and Alaska made around 20 native languages official in addition to English. (I'm not sure of the reason for the latter; I suspect it has to do with making sure the populations of remoter majority non-English speaking towns are able to receive government services in a convenient language, but that's just a surmise.) New Mexico's constitution, I might add, might have made Spanish official alongside English, but apparently it was phrased in such a way that that might have lapsed since statehood and no one has done anything about it (which suggests it's not a major problem in any case). Some of the territories also have official languages besides English--Spanish in Puerto Rico, Chamorro in Guam and the Northern Marianas, Carolinian in the Northern Marianas, and Samoan in American Samoa. Official language means it's the official language of government in which all functions are carried out and no provision is made for the use of other languages; on the federal level, this means that provisions have to be made for official documents in a wide variety of languages. (I remember running across the figure of 72 languages in one place or another, but I read it decades ago and have no idea how accurate it is.)

Third, many nations do have some provisions for official language work. The most famous is the Académie française, of course, though its authority is purely advisory. In many cases, their job is simply to compile a dictionary and make other provisions for the accepted form of the language(s) used in government--in the case of newly independent nations using a formerly unwritten language as an official language, this is actually a major undertaking. In other languages the work is minor and often an irritation--the government might have an orthographic commission that hands out lists of official spellings every three or five years, often with irritating changes from version to version that do little but waste people's time. (Miao!) In still others, there's wholesale language planning practically constituting social engineering--an example of this is the Faroese Islands, whose government has a language planning institute that jury-rigs new coinages for ever-advancing technology from native roots, mostly to protect the Faroese language from the moral hazard of importing too many (wait for it...) Danish words.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the clarifications.

Regarding governments that attempt to curate languages, I was aware that some do this, but probably could have stood to mention it, so thanks for adding that as well.