Seeing the Daylight

As someone with an undergraduate degree in engineering and two graduate degrees in economics (from British and U.S. institutions), I never cease to be amazed by the differences in approach of these two disciplines, as illustrated in a short aside in Paul Krugman’s feature article “Eurotrashed” in the Sunday Magazine Section of The New York Times of January 17, 2011.

The specific paragraph, to which I am referring, is the one in which Milton Friedman referenced as having drawn an analogy between daylight saving time (DST) and the adjustment of the value of currencies. Friedman had asserted that the economic benefit of DSTis that it allows businesses to change their hours uniformly so that no individual business is out of sync because of a unilateral decision to change its own hours of operation.

In my view, not only is DST an unsupportable throwback in today’s online global economy, the actual time adjustments have been shown to have many adverse physical and mental consequences, such as increases in the incidence of heart attacks. road accidents, missed meetings, and so on. The automatic time adjustments on your PC might also (in the U.S.) occur on different days if you did not update your internal PC routines. This would be due to the decision in 2005 to move the dates of time change, beginning in 2007, to extend DST by four weeks to save energy … which assertion is itself highly questionable.

Incidentally, when the dates of DST were changed in the U.S. in 2007, many organizations incurred considerable costs, since they had to ensure that all their application and system software, firmware, hardware, business processes, etc., were properly adjusted so that time-dependent systems would not go out of sync … a mini Y2K as it were. I was involved in this activity for the U.S. banking and finance sector, and I can tell you that it required considerable effort to ensure compatibility across the thousands of systems upon which the industry relies.

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