The Politics of Time Zones

What time is it? Photo: ToniVC/flickr

Last weekend Fareed Zakaria devoted a short segment of his program, Global Public Square, to some startling news: in the Pacific island nation of Samoa, there will be no 30th of December this year. Samoans will go to sleep on Thursday the 29th and awake on Saturday the 31st. The country is set to hop the International Date Line, moving from 11 hours behind Greenwich to 13 hours ahead of it.

Samoa’s Prime Minister noted in May that the move would be good for tourism—as, since neighboring American Samoa will remain on the other side of the line, “people wanting two birthdays or two wedding anniversaries can travel to Samoa and have them.”

More significant benefits are associated with the underlying shift that the move reflects. As Zakaria tells us, while the east side of the date line was originally preferred for its closeness to the Americas, Samoa now conducts most of its trade with Australia and New Zealand, which at present are almost a full day ahead—an inconvenience indeed. Hopping the date-line is an attempt to adjust to this new economic reality.

But ever since the need for a Line was demonstrated on a Thursday afternoon in 1522 – when Magellan’s Victoria sailed into Cape Verde with a ship’s log showing Wednesday – many countries have seen the benefits of toying with the Line.