Fort Report: Town hall, Healthcare, and Daylight Saving Time

Mar 20, 2017
Fort Report

A medical doctor once asked me in a public forum if healthcare is a right. I paused, having not fully considered the question, and I've thought about this for a long time since. Fast-forward to last Monday’s town hall in Lincoln where I asked those gathered the same question. Is health care a right? Most in attendance boisterously said yes. I followed with another question: Is health care a responsibility? Most thought it was not.

I followed with my own answer. I told the audience that I believe it is both. We are all familiar with the part of the Declaration of Independence which speaks of the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Basic healthcare is an extension of the "life" principle, and correspondingly, we have a responsibility to properly care for ourselves and for those under our authority, to the best of our ability. This also begs the deeper questions in the healthcare debate about the duty of the individual, the opportunity of the community to ensure a vital insurance and care delivery system, and the needed backstop protections of the government for those most vulnerable.

I intended to get to another question Monday evening, but I did not have the chance. Do you support Daylight Saving Time (DST)? 

According to Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: the Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, the idea was originally promulgated by the Boston Chamber of Commerce to ostensibly benefit farmers. However, farmers fought DST. They explained, “The sun, not the clock, dictates a farmer’s schedule, so daylight saving is very disruptive. We do not want to wait an extra hour for dew to evaporate to harvest hay. Our hired hands work less since they still leave at the same time for dinner. And cows aren’t ready to be milked an hour earlier because human shipping schedules dictate it.”

DST was widely adapted worldwide after WWII. It was supposed to save energy, yet studies largely show no significant changes in energy expenditure. A 2008 United States Department of Energy report found a statistically irrelevant 0.03% reduction. States like Indiana actually showed an increase in energy use from shifting patterns of air conditioning and heating.

During the spring, not only do we lose an hour of sleep, but also our productivity suffers. Economists estimate a total annual United States productivity loss of between $434 million and $2 billion. These disruptions come in many forms, some more deadly than others. One study demonstrated that the one-hour change from DST could cause disruptions in sleep patterns that “persist for up to five days after each time shift.” A university review of hospital data found that the rate of heart attacks increased by 25% the Monday after Daylight Saving Time. Another study found an 8% increase in traffic accidents on the Monday after the “spring forward” time change.

It feels like DST is an attempt to get “extra daylight” without understanding the complex collateral effects of an often-unquestioned American tradition. With all these negatives, and with so few empirically provable benefits, why do we continue with Daylight Saving Time? It seems unnatural.

Twice a year I go through the same decision process. On my stove is a clock. The mechanism to change the clock is broken. I can either choose to mentally subtract or add an hour each time I look at it, or get the pliers and painstakingly manipulate the remnant of the clock shaft to change the time. Perhaps the question seems trivial at a time of more pressing national debates like healthcare, but maybe it is time to eliminate Daylight Saving Time. What do you think?