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Should we start using the metric system?

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By The Staff

Hannah Hayes

The English imperial system of measurement remains in use among three countries — Liberia, Myanmar and the United States. It would be to our benefit if we jumped over to the clearly superior and simpler-to-use metric system.

Since the 1960s, the International System of Units, which is based on the metric system, has been the internationally recognized standard for commercial and scientific purposes.

The physical qualities of length, area, volume, mass, force, pressure, energy, power and temperature all have only one unit of measurement that is combined with the following prefixes: micro, milli, centi, deci, deca, hecto, kilo and mega. To keep it simple, as it inherently is, let’s compare meters to measure length, and we find in the English system a multitude of terms such as inch, foot, yard, mile and 10 other terms including ones most of us can’t fathom (a unit of length equal to 6 feet).

To love in liters may not sound as romantic as a bushel and a peck, but what the heck are those anyway other than arbitrarily sized units? Unsystematic units make conversions difficult. Do you know how many teaspoons there are in an ounce or how many cubic inches in a cubic foot? (6 and 1,728). In the metric system, it’s simply a matter of converting prefixes and moving decimal points with no math required. Meters to kilometers (thousands)? Just move the decimal point three places. This system is already in use with money, making it easy to see that 33 cents is greater than 31 cents, but with fractions, it’s much harder to see that one-third of an inch is greater than five-sixteenths. Ease in adding and subtracting, having one representation of each fraction, and a more precise system, will eliminate confusing fractions.

Our archaic system was created using medieval measurements and can no longer address many modern needs such as wavelengths of light, powers of radiation or mass of blood cells. There is no need to engage in complicated conversions that will certainly be imprecise. Metrication simply requires a leap into long-term benefits that will override any short-term costs. Many U.S. companies have seen improvements in the quality of their products and ease in conducting international business when design and manufacturing are done in the same system. This enhances a competitive edge.

The global economy requires the U.S. to create advantages in the marketplace. Leaving behind the British government served us well in 1776, but we forgot to thumb our noses at their silly system of measurements. The distance from the tip of King Henry I’s nose to the end of his thumb (a yard) is not our heritage, and we can do better. It won’t take long to embrace Morrison as the 1,776-meter-high city, acclaim all 54 of our state’s 4,200-meter mountains and appreciate a 20-degree Celsius spring day.

Rebuttal

A pound is 0.4536 kilograms, or 0.3732 kilograms when measuring precious metals, or a hundred pence if we’re talking money. To quote poet, journalist and editor William Cullen Bryant, “Weep not that the world changes — did it keep A stable, changeless state, ‘twere cause indeed to weep.”

Caution in the face of change is a conservative value. Kelly is not the only one who fears change. But the status quo continually transforms, and those who don’t recognize that are tragically left behind. While many are reluctant to acknowledge the truth and cling to an image of the U.S. as dominant, unfortunately our current values and actions have caused the rest of the world to stop listening.

Opportunities for change abound. No one has said it will be easy. Essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote, “To-day is not yesterday: we ourselves change; how can our Works and Thoughts, if they are always to be the fittest, continue always the same? Change, indeed, is painful; yet ever needful; and if Memory have its force and worth, so also has Hope.”

A former educator, Hannah Hayes is a wife, mother and third-generation immigrant. She runs a national business in the natural products industry and is a co-founder of Evergreen Peace.

Kelly Weist

I must have been in one of the first classes of high school students who were expected to learn the metric system, in anticipation that President Carter would mandate that our nation adopt it. Certainly the metric system is easier to manipulate in and of itself, because it is based on a “deca.” In other words, humans find it easier to think in tens, maybe because God graced us with 10 fingers. (I wonder if that means that He expects us to use the metric system?)

However, the funny thing is that the measurements in the metric system don’t mean anything more than those in the old Roman system of pounds and inches. Who knows what a gram or a meter really is? The units of a foot or pound are based on things men could easily understand.

The units under the metric system are based on scientific ideas. As defined by Wikipedia and Dictionary.com the meter is defined as the distance traveled by light in an absolute vacuum during 1e,,299,792,458 of a second. The gram, originally one-millionth of the mass of a cubic meter of water, is currently defined by one-thousandth of the mass of a specific object that is kept in a vault in France.

Unfortunately, that object has not kept its mass, and no one really knows what a gram is right now. These are impossible for a common man to understand instinctively, and thus are truly uncomfortable.

In 1988 the U.S. government designated the metric system as the preferred system of measurement in the U.S. for business and industry, and charged the federal government with assisting industry, especially small business, with the process of voluntarily switching over. Industry, especially small business, has voluntarily kept the old system.

Ultimately, what units of measurement are used must be determined by the market. (Aha!) Yes, like pretty much everything else, this comes down to basic economics. What the actors in the market choose must be the system that prevails, not one mandated by a government agency. While it is true that one legitimate duty of government is to ensure standards of measurement, its duty is to make sure that the units of measurement used mean the same thing across the board — in other words, a pound is a pound is a pound — not to create an entirely new system of measurement not based on economic realities. Governments should not change something so central and so drastic merely on their elitist notions of what is best for us all.

It doesn’t matter that the rest of the world has switched to this created system. The U.S., after all, dominates global economics, and despite this current downturn, still does. So, I guess my failure to internalize the metric system won’t ultimately be that big a problem. And I can tell you one thing: Quilters will never switch. A quarter-inch and a yard are woven into our very fabric and always will be.

Rebuttal

I am aware that every schoolchild (including my second-grader) would advocate for a metric system, if it meant they could dispense with fractions altogether.

The point of a market economy is realizing that the market will utilize the most efficient means of design, production and transportation without government help. The actors in the market have no choice but to adapt on a daily and even hourly basis to the forces of the market, which are simply the results of the actions of the other actors in the market. If global commerce requires actors to utilize the metric system, or any other measurement system, then they will do it, without government intervention. The mere fact that European and Asian countries use the metric system does not make it more efficient. This seemingly silly discussion points out a universal truth that liberals and protectionists everywhere need to learn: The market will operate in the most efficient way it possibly can, because it has to. Policymakers who impose “efficiencies” or “best policies” on market actors merely skew the market and pick winners and losers based on their own prejudices.

Attorney and political activist Kelly Weist has served on the board of directors of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and is the co-founder of Mountain Republican Women.