Americans will lose an hour of sleep tonight as the clocks get set back for Daylight Saving Time. (Unless you live in Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, or American Samoa.) This caught me by surprise, because until last year daylight saving time didn't start until April. But DST was expanded by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, so now it starts a month earlier and ends a week later.
As a night person on an academic schedule, I don't mind the extra evening daylight. But starting daylight saving this early means that early risers, children going to school, and people with long commutes have to wake up in the dark in many places. So why the change? According to one of the Democratic legislators who sponsored it, the purpose was to save energy by allowing people to use artificial light less. But it turns out that daylight saving time actually increases energy consumption. The decreased use of light is more than counter-balanced by the increased use of home heating and cooling. See here for a study (in PDF) that demonstrates this, by studying parts of Indiana in the period before and after they started using DST.
It's possible that the sponsors of the DST extension were just too ignorant to understand the consequences of the policy they were proposing. But look below the surface, and it turns out that more nefarious forces are at work. According to the article linked above, two of the key advocates of the change were the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association and the National Association of Convenience Stores. The former is easy enough to understand--people will buy more outdoor goods if they have more daylight time to use them. As for the latter, it turns out that people buy more from convenience stores when it stays light later. And extending DST past October 31st means kids can stay out longer on Halloween, which is why many people believe the extension was pushed by--no joke--the National Confectioners Association.
Now, there are obviously better things to get worked up about than the undue influence of Big Candy on our national legislation. This stuff all seems pretty trivial next to a President who just used the veto power to defend his constitutional prerogative to have people secretly tortured. But I raise it to make a larger point--the influence of Capital and private business over our lives in this country is tremendous, and it extends into all sorts of odd corners, like Daylight Saving Time, that don't seem to have anything to do with the class struggle. In some ways, capitalist control is the most complete when it comes to these minor issues that no-one else is paying attention to. So the lesson is, never give a politician the benefit of the doubt when they give a high-minded rationale for some policy. You should always look both ways for lobbyists first.