On Metrifying the United States

I had an interesting thought this morning — and it’s probably because I haven’t yet had my first cup of coffee.

The metric system.

We don’t use it here in the United States. There was some effort in the 1970s to metricify the United States and join the rest of the world in solidarity, but those efforts went nowhere; they were voluntary and there was no political will behind them. (See Wikipedia’s article for more.)

It occurred to me, not more than ten minutes ago, that if Congress wanted to create a jobs program to help kickstart the American economy, legislating a transition to metric would be the way to do. There would be a massive investment in making new road signs and installing them, making new grocery scales and the like. making new industrial tools. With 9 percent unemployment, a government works project on the scale of a nationwide metric conversion would be perfect. It would be like one of FDR’s New Deal programs. We built dams in the 1930s, we can make America metric!

But then, I realize, after witnessing the past two years, there would be many on the Teahadist right who would see the metric system as yet another federal government overreach. They would claim that the Constitution doesn’t permit the federal government to legislate on the issue. They would argue that the Imperial system was what the Founding Fathers used. They would claim that imposition of the metric system infringes upon the rights of the states to set their measures and upon the rights of the citizens to measure however they see fit.

The massive investment required and the public outcry have been the two things that have flummoxed the metric system in the past. Try and do it now? It’d be a political nightmare. It would need leadership, someone to appeal to the history of America’s willingness to do the hard things. Metrification would have a great benefit — metrification would put people to work — but at a great cost to the body politic.

And that’s why it won’t happen, unfortunately. 🙁

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