This Week In the Mayonnaise Clinic: Actually, Changing the Clocks Is Good
Plus, why Los Angeles is awesome.
As you may have seen, the US Senate agreed by unanimous consent on Tuesday to abolish standard time and keep clocks on daylight saving time all year. As you may know, I fucking hate this idea, and I kind of hate having to write about it again, because I have said my piece about the matter, repeatedly. But apparently a lot of you did not listen, so I’m going to have to explain again why the status quo on time is good and the ideas to change it are bad, in hopes that will stop the House from approving the Senate-passed bill and sending this nonsense to President Biden’s desk.
The first thing I want to note is something I’m amazed many participants in this debate don’t seem to know: We have tried this policy before. In January 1974, the US entered what was supposed to be a two-year “experiment” with permanent daylight saving time. Unfortunately, daylight saving time does not add daylight to the day, it only shifts the daylight into the afternoon from the morning. And once people realized that — that daylight saving time in January means doing everything in the dark in the morning — they hated it.
There was a mass outcry to repeal the law, which Congress did later that same year. The vote margin for repeal in the House of Representatives was 383-16 in August 1974. Again, let me repeat what that vote was: 383 to 16. This was not a close call; people hated year-round daylight saving. Republicans, Democrats, northerners, southerners, people at the western edge of time zones and people in normal parts of time zones — their representatives reached near-unanimous agreement that people did not want to endure another winter of this nonsense.
In the past, when I have pointed this out on Twitter, I have often drawn snarky responses that 1974 was a long time ago and a lot’s changed since then. And that’s true, but more things haven’t changed. People still like ice cream and hate getting punched in the face. Most preferences are stable. And the reasons people would hate permanent daylight saving time persist.1
The problem with permanent DST is simple: it forces a lot more people to wake up in the dark for more of the year. If we had permanent DST, the latest sunrise of the year would be:
7:59am in Los Angeles
8:09am in Miami
8:18am in Chicago
8:20am in New York
8:25am in San Francisco
8:27am in Washington, DC
8:30am in Dallas
8:43am in Atlanta
8:49am in Omaha
8:50am in Portland, Oregon
8:51am in Salt Lake City
8:53am in Columbus
8:57am in Seattle
9:01am in Detroit
9:13am in Grand Rapids
9:18am in Boise
9:21am in Missoula, Montana
9:28am in Bismarck, North Dakota
You can find locations where sunrise times would be even more extreme than this, such as 9:33am in Marquette, Michigan. But as you can see from the list, this isn’t just a problem for a few isolated, northern communities near the western border of a time zone. There are a number of large and mid-size metropolitan areas where the sun would not rise until around 9am for weeks on end in the winter.
And this gets at one of the mysteries of Tuesday’s Senate action: Why did not even one senator object to the request to agree unanimously on this stupid policy? I kind of get why Marco Rubio likes the idea of permanent daylight saving, since Miami has some of the earliest winter sunrise times in the country. But where’s Gary Peters to save the people of the great state of Michigan from getting plunged into eternal morning darkness?
Maybe there was no objection because senators have become convinced of what Rubio claims: That a “huge majority” of Americans want to stay on DST all year. But that’s wrong.
Yes, there are polls that show majorities of respondents want to end semiannual clock shifts. But that’s not the same thing as supporting permanent daylight time— some people want permanent standard time. If you offer the options of continuing to switch, staying permanently fallen back, or staying permanently sprung forward, you find a public that’s hopelessly divided with no majority position. Plus, issue polling is generally crap anyway, in large part because people haven’t thought very deeply about the issues you’re asking them about.
On average, a person who tells a pollster they want permanent daylight saving time is really just saying they would like the sun to shine more. Well, so would I. But the government only controls the clocks, not the axial tilt of the earth. If you actually enact permanent daylight saving time, it will exit the realm of daydreaming about how the sun is nice and turn into actually forcing Americans to drag themselves and their children out of bed in the dark for much more of the winter. Once you have inflicted this upon them, they will think deeply about the issue. They’ll hate it (and possibly hate you) and they’ll demand a reversal, as I will remind you they sought and promptly received the last time we tried this.
Even autocratic governments can’t withstand the wrath of a public that’s sure to hate permanent DST. Vladimir Putin and his sometime minion Dmitry Medvedev were able to impose the apparently preferred policy of the entire United States Senate on Russia for about three years, from 2011 to 2014, outlasting the single winter that the Nixon/Ford administrations managed within our democratic system. But even Putin repealed this change under pressure from a groggy public that was sick of getting up in the fucking dark, changing instead to permanent standard time. (Note: An earlier version of this newsletter said Russia re-adopted seasonal DST in 2014; I regret the error.)
Sometimes, when I point this out, the response I hear is that people can adjust their schedules if they don’t like getting up in the dark. School or work could start later in the winter — as Tallahassee, Florida, for example, did in 1974, during the year-round DST experiment that I will again remind you people fucking hated — and sure, it could. But do you realize you are just inventing a shittier version of DST, where the clock changes happen not all at once but at sporadic times? So your work might shift its start time by half an hour three weeks after your kid’s school shifts by an hour. That would be annoying.
Okay, well then, you might say. Maybe we could have a public policy that standardizes those shifts so they all happen at the same time and are the same size — maybe there could be a day of the year when we all agree to start things an hour later as we go into winter, and then an hour earlier again as we go into summer, structuring our days so people tend to wake up shortly after sunrise and have as much of the day’s daylight as possible available for use. Well, that’s fucking daylight saving time, the policy we already have, at least until Congress goes and fucks it up for no goddamn reason.
Finally, I want to address the nerds who claim that “science” means we should have the same time all year, because people can’t handle clock changes and they crash their cars and have heart attacks or whatever. First of all, what the “experts” say is we should have permanent standard time (with stupid, useless sunrises at 4:24am in New York in June) because that’s supposed to be better for circadian rhythms or whatever. They think your preferred policy of daylight time all year will lead to suffering and death.
But I’m going to give you permission to ignore the experts. Saying a sleep researcher is an expert on what our time policy should be is like saying a nutritionist is an expert on what you should order for dinner tonight. If there was ever a policy area where the right answer is “whatever makes people happy,” this is it. The problem isn’t that your policy is going to kill people; the problem is that it’s going to make them wake up in the dark, and that will make them angry.
Finally, I would like to note why we’re really talking about this. It’s not because people hate changing their clocks. It’s because people love whining, and in March, this is a topic that’s available to whine about. Waaah, I had to change my clocks today.2 Well, guess what: if you change time policy, people will still love whining, and they’ll have even more to whine about (it being fucking dark at 9am).
Whining is fine for posters — the internet is for whining. But when posting turns into whiny legislation, that’s a problem. So I urge members of Congress to stop trying to pass this fucking idiotic law that will just make people even madder at them than they already are and instead go do something about fucking energy prices. Thank you.
Okay, now a reader letter that will put me in a better mood.
Jacob Oppenheim asks:
1) What are your favorite things about Los Angeles?
2) Why do East Coasters, especially New Yorkers, reserve so much hate for it? It's kinda crazy, no?
I’m actually writing this in Los Angeles right now. I taped an episode of the Very Serious podcast with my former All The Presidents’ Lawyers co-host Ken White at his office yesterday (follow here to get that tomorrow in your podcast player) and I’ll be taping the Lovett or Leave It podcast on Thursday evening at Dynasty Typewriter (tickets are still available). Meanwhile I’m enjoying myself — working from my hotel’s rooftop pool, going to some fun places for dinner, checking out the hot people who populate Equinox here at all hours of the day.
I have never lived in LA, but because I used to work for KCRW, I’ve spent a lot of time here over the last decade. And I’ve come to believe Los Angeles is the greatest city in the world, for a number of reasons.