Why we should have one global timezone

What if, when it was 09:00 in New York it was also 09:00 in Beijing? What if, instead of going to sleep at 23:00 PST those of us in California went to bed at the same time, but that time was called 06:00 GMT instead? What if, when you were trying to talk to someone in another country, you suggested a time and they immediately knew when you meant? What if we had one global timezone, where it was the always the same time everywhere?

What if we had one global timezone, where it was the always the same time everywhere?

Timezones were conceptualized in an era when the world was much less global. 100 years ago it wasn’t very important that the time be the same in San Francisco and London. You didn’t have to know the time outside of your immediate zone, even if you wanted to coordinate a meeting with someone far away, figuring out what time to do it was the least of your concerns.

Today, business and communication is routinely conducted across regions, cities, countries and, most importantly, timezones. Meetings have to be coordinated, flights have to be scheduled and deliveries have to be made. Beyond history and convention, there’s no reason that we have to have 24 timezones. Sure, it’s nice for the sun to come up around 07:00 and set around 19:00, all over the world since that’s how I’ve always known the world. But what if it didn’t? What if the entire world had one timezone, say GMT/UTC (obviously time is relative so it doesn’t matter which zone we chose)?

That’s what astrophysicist Richard Conn Henry and and economist Steve Hanke suggested two years ago. In their proposal the world would have only one timezone, GMT/UTC, which would mean that when it’s 03:00 in Tokyo it’s also 03:00 in Buenos Aires. It would mean some people would wake up on a Tuesday and go to sleep on a Wednesday, but a day change is just as arbitrary as an change in an hour (or a second for that matter!) The point is that it would be the same time everywhere all the time. When I want to schedule something with someone in China, I just ask what time they’re available and we’d know right away if it would work or not. When I’m calculating how long a flight takes, I don’t have to scribble a few calculations on a piece of paper just to find out when I land or how long the flight is. Think of how easy that would be! Once everyone got over the initial confusion to the change our lives would only be easier, nothing else would change. In industries that require coordination across timezones (banking, etc.) companies would open and close at the same hours, no matter their location. Beyond the long term “harmonization dividends” this change would also be convenient for those who must work during daylight hours (farmers, etc.), as in many places these newly coordinated companies would be open either early or late in the day than they are today.

While they’re at it, Henry and Hanke also advocate streamlining another arbitrary time keeping device, the calendar. Each day would fall on the same day of the week each year, and we’d have a “leap week” every 5 or 6 years.  That means less workdays lost to holidays (not great for most of us, I know) and a much easier time figuring out what day birthdays fall on each year, plus no more having to plan out schedules of events, etc. Sports games would always be on the same date and day of the week every year.

There are some obvious drawbacks to a single timezone (you’d still have to figure out what time normal sleep/wake hours in each location and the initial costs brought about by the confusion of the change would be large) but in the long run the gains from this harmonization would be massive. It would represent one of the biggest decreases in global transaction costs and lead to a much more efficient world in the long run.

Comments or questions? Send them to me @jeremysjacob