Time to start wasting time debating time


"Does anybody really know what time it is,

"Does anybody really care?"

–Robert William Lamm, from the “Chicago Transit Authority” album, 1969

From past experience, we can guess that the Indiana General Assembly will spend at least half its time in the coming session arguing about measures that have no chance of passage.

Reform of redistricting won’t happen because Republicans would have to give up their ability to control their own re-election chances. A hate-crimes law will fail because legislators can’t agree on whether to include transgenders. Medical marijuana won’t fly because, well, it’s Indiana.

I expect my favorite time-waster will come from the calls by some lawmakers to put all of Indiana in the Central Time Zone. Because this state is one of the 13 that are split into two zones, time is a perennial source of controversy here, some of it quite acrimonious.

During one of the annual go-arounds, I wrote a sarcastic column saying we should be allowed to go on libertarian time. We should each be able to set our own times. If I wanted it to be 10:30 a.m. at my house, and my neighbor across the street wanted it to be 11:30, or even 11:17, whose business would it be but ours that we kept missing appointments with each other?

Of course, that’s sort of the way it really was until around the latter part of the 19th century. People generally didn’t travel more than a few miles from home, so if didn’t matter that different jurisdictions set their own times based on where the sun was in their sky, not the next town over’s sky. Life was local.

The railroads changed all that when they “annihilated distances and made reform necessary,” note economist Steve Hanke and professor of physics and astronomy Dick Henry. Trains couldn’t possibly keep and maintain schedules while dealing with the more than 300 local sun-times. So, the rail line owners pushed for the four-time-zone system the contiguous 48 states still have.

But today, Hanke and Henry argue, the Internet “has annihilated time and space completely,” so we should now replace the world’s 24 to 40 time zones (it’s complicated) with one universal time zone. If it were 0700 or 1300 in Indiana, it would be 0700 or 1300 in Tokyo and Moscow and London and everywhere on Earth.

I dunno. There are lots of arguments for and against such a proposal, but there is one strong one against, and that is the disruption it would cause in our mental processes. Life is still mostly local – we move as always with the arc of the sun – and the problem will always be in how we deal with other people’s local lives, and what we call non-local time.

As it is now, we have to figure out what time it is in a foreign location and whether that means it’s likely they would be sleeping or up and around. We are used to that. With a universal time zone, we’d always know what time it was somewhere else, but we’d still have to figure out how that time corresponded to their local sun movement. We are not used to that.

In other words, better to keep the aggravations we know rather than adopt aggravations we’d have to learn.

So, keep the time zones.

But one to a state, please. It’s complicated enough dealing with other states. Having to figure out what time it is in Indiana’s cities as well is just too much to ask.

Since I live in the Eastern zone, I hope I can be forgiven for going with my parochial preference, and, besides, all of the state except for a dozen Western border counties are in it as well. But, honestly, I don’t care. Pick one. A lot of us will be spitting mad for a while, but we’ll get over it.

And, for heaven’s sake, stay with it all year.

There should be an award for really stupid stuff done by really smart governors, and Mitch Daniels would walk away with the first prize. When he pushed daylight saving time through the General Assembly – expending considerable political muscle to do so – he claimed that it would boost the state’s economy.

You can find economists who argue that the adoption of DST (Daylight Saving Time) has had little or no effect, and ones who argue that it has actually hurt the state’s economy. But you will look long and hard (as I have) to find evidence that it has actually had a positive benefit.

The principal result has been that it aggravates the heck out of Hoosiers twice a year as we try to readjust our body clocks to losing or gaining an hour of sleep. It disrupts our mental processes having to cope with political time, which makes sense to no one but the politicians.

I should note that sometimes I have two time zones in my house. There has been a clock in my kitchen for several years that I have never bothered to set forward or back in accordance with DST. So, this spring, while the rest of you are racing around in a frenzy trying to comprehend what’s happening to your diurnal rhythms, I will always be able to step into my kitchen and enjoy the halcyon time of one hour ago.

I expect I’ll need numerous trips in the legislative session to come. The time-zone dispute might be my favorite pointless exercise, but I do have my limits.

Leo Morris is a columnist for The Indiana Policy Review. Contact him at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].

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