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How to Negotiate Better: The Daylight Saving Time Debate as a Case Study

How to Negotiate Better: The Daylight Saving Time Debate as a Case Study

A story of cakes and clocks

As many of you may already be aware, a bill making Daylight Saving Time (DST) permanent by November 2023 has already made its way through the Senate. The decision has been met with mixed emotions. Some argue that permanent standard time is the better option and some are simply happy to no longer have to change the clocks twice a year.

Arguments in favor of permanent standard time and more early morning light exposure include reduced disease risks, safer bus stop environments since kids won’t be waiting in the dark, and fewer traffic fatalities involving schoolchildren.

Permanent DST, on the other hand, finds a strong advocate in big business since longer daylight hours lead to more consumer spending. As far as potential health benefits go, some research suggests that later sunsets allow children to get more exercise.

Horacio de la Iglesia, a neuroscientist who studies biological clocks at the University of Washington, believes that the attempt to make DST permanent will likely fail, citing the precedent of January 1974 when the United States implemented permanent daylight saving amid a national energy crisis.

Within a week, school boards were flooded with complaints from parents that children were going to school in darkness. An experiment that was designed to last two years was instead terminated in a matter of months. Public support for DST plummeted from 79% in December 1973 to 42% in February 1974.

Iglesia argues that sleep disruption hits adolescents especially hard since they naturally have an advanced cycle. Teenagers don’t begin to secrete melatonin until much later in the evening (around 11 p.m.) compared to adults. For this reason, many advocacy groups have historically proposed delayed start times for middle and high school students. In addition, cortisol regulation across the board is resistant to changes in clock time with daylight saving.

Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too?

The diversity of opinions concerning DST can teach us a lot about the art of negotiation. How, you might ask? Let me explain.

A successful negotiation has three defining characteristics:

  • Envy-free: neither party would willingly trade their share for the other share

  • Equitable: neither party feels shortchanged since both shares are of equal value

  • Efficient: resources have been divided in a way to maximize utility

Let’s consider a simplified example—dividing a cake in half between two minions, Kevin and Bob. There is a single knife position that Kevin would consider a 50/50 split and another knife position that Bob would consider a 50/50 split. If the knife positions are the same, simply cut the cake there. If not, start sliding both knives toward each other at the same speed until they meet. This point is the ideal split.

The solution is envy-free since neither Kevin nor Bob prefer the other person’s piece and equitable since both pieces have the same perceived value. The arrangement is also efficient in the sense that one party would be worse off if the knife were moved to a different position.

If we consider the more complex issue of choosing one time standard to adhere to as a nation, the above approach obviously wouldn’t work, but different negotiation tactics have different strengths and weaknesses.

The “I cut, you choose” method, sometimes known as the shotgun clause in legal vernacular, is oftentimes envy-free but not equitable or efficient. If we return to the cake analogy, this approach means that if Kevin cuts the cake, Bob gets to choose which piece he wants. Kevin is incentivized to make both pieces as even as possible since he doesn’t know which piece he will end up with.

But Bob has a distinct advantage as the chooser since he may value one piece more than the other, allowing him to walk away with more than what he considers half. In this way, the shotgun clause isn’t equitable. Moreover, the division may not suit each person’s preferences. Imagine that the cake is half vanilla and half chocolate, and Kevin prefers vanilla while Bob prefers chocolate.

The optimal solution would be for Kevin to receive the vanilla half and Bob the chocolate half. But unless Kevin is aware of Bob’s preferences, he will be sure to include equal amounts of vanilla and chocolate in each piece. In other words, the division isn’t efficient.

A Matter of Time

How do these concepts relate to the legislation at hand? The effects of DST on sunrise time are not consistent across the country. Cities closer to the western boundary of their respective time zones experience later sunrises compared to those on the eastern border.

Switching to permanent DST would be most harmful to service industry workers, minority groups, and individuals with lower income status, many of whom may have to commute in the dark. From this point of view, the Sunshine Protection Act could be considered a “tragedy of the commons,” a situation where certain users act independently according to self-interest and contrary to the common good of all users.

When it comes to choosing a time standard, an envy-free solution is not possible. Whichever option we settle on, permanent standard time or permanent DST, one group will feel slighted.

Unless states depart from the established standard (as Hawaii and most of Arizona have done for decades), an equitable solution isn’t possible either. However, we can allow social welfare to dictate the most efficient solution, aiming to maximize the number of days with reasonable sunrise and sunset times across all localities.

Depending on whether sunrise or sunset times are given priority, the optimal solution will change. Science suggests that sunrise times should receive priority since early morning sunlight exposure synchronizes the master circadian clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the brain with all the other peripheral circadian clocks in our bodies.

Under permanent daylight saving time, the average number of days with sunrises after 7 a.m. would increase from 146 under our current system to 190, with many of the country’s most populous metro areas, including Atlanta, Miami, Cincinnati, and Salt Lake City, seeing well over 200 days with sunrises after 7 a.m. each year.

If we define the latest reasonable sunrise time as 7:00 a.m. and the earliest reasonable sunset time as 6:00 p.m. and sunrise times matter significantly more as sleep experts suggest, switching to permanent standard time is optimal for nearly all cities except those that hug the eastern boundary of their respective time zones.

Most cities would benefit from abolishing daylight saving time if 7 a.m. sunrises and 6 p.m. sunsets are considered ideal, and reasonable sunrises matter significantly more. Source: Andy Woodruff

If sunrise and sunset times are given equal importance, however, the picture becomes a little murkier. Most of the Mountain, Central, and Eastern time zones would benefit from permanent standard time while the Pacific time zone would be evenly split among the options of abolishing DST, always using DST, and keeping the status quo.

Map of US if reasonable sunrise and sunsets are equally important. Andy Woodruff

Given the circadian disruption, accompanying health risks, and disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable members of society, permanent DST would do more harm than good. A return to permanent standard time would likely be the best course of action for the vast majority of Americans. Envy-free? No. Equitable? Also no. Efficient? All signs point to yes.

DST maps
Evolving with Nita Jain
Evolving with Nita Jain: Health | Science | Self-Development
Whether it's a workout protocol, productivity routine, or mindfulness practice, Nita Jain shares actionable insights designed to help listeners optimize their lives and become their best selves. Topics covered include science, psychology, philosophy, health, fitness, longevity, entrepreneurship, and everything in between. The show aims to be interdisciplinary, encourage forward thinking, and approach subject matter in a balanced way.