Saturday, March 01, 2008

Daylight Savings (minus the savings)

An article in this week's Indianapolis Star debunks the idea that daylight savings time saves energy. The Star reported a study by UCSB professor Matthew Kotchen which concluded that, contrary to popular thought, DST actually costs Hoosiers an extra $8.6 million dollars a year; the lighting savings is offset by greater heating and cooling costs. This isn't much -- just a few dollars per household. But I was happy to see the debunking of another DST myth.

I also never bought the economic-development line. The theory was, because Indiana didn't change its clocks, it put us at a competitive disadvantage with other states; doing business here would somehow be more difficult. I never bought this. For one thing, not changing our clocks is easier than changing clocks. There can be no local confusion about what time it is, because we never reset our clocks forward or back on an apparently randomly-selected day. And as for making it difficult to do business with companies in states that change their clocks, I'm amazed they even raised this argument. I'm not particularly interested in attracting businesses that are so poorly run that they can't figure out time zones. Any sufficiently large company is already used to doing business across time zones, on different coasts or in different countries. Anyone who lives near the right border can be a few minutes' walk from a neighbor in a different time zone, yet these people seem to cope. And Indiana's been pushing to draw international business for a while; we're opening a huge Honda plant soon, amongst others. It can't be a big selling point to someone from a non-DST country (many countries have tried DST, but quite a few have switched back), when the governor explains that for vague nonscientific reasons, we all change our clocks by an hour, twice a year. It would be like explaining to prospective business partners that we're all legally required to wear silly hats every July for the entire month (for reference, Indiana doesn't have any kind of silly hat law. Yet.) I would think that not being on DST would be a selling point.

The thing that really bothered me about Indiana's switch to DST was that I couldn't see the angle. I still can't. It's pretty obvious that the arguments raised in favor of DST were fatuous or faulty, but no politician pushes so hard for something likely to be unpopular with a lot of people, if it doesn't benefit someone. So who comes out ahead in the switch? The official list is short, populated by companies that run golf courses and similar outdoor after-work activities. And the list of economic losers is longer than the list of gainers. The options are that either somebody powerful is making out like a bandit from the DST switch, but they're so good at covering their tracks that I can't see who; or that our governor is easily swayed by pursuasive snake-oil men. Neither option makes me happy. Of course, there is a third option: the governor prefers later tee times....

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