Once More for Metrics

by Rich Lowry

Michael, In the light-bulb column today, I mention the metric system as another efficiency measure that’s long been resisted. A supporter of the metric system writes in to object:

Dear Mr. Lowry,

Thank you very much for your interesting analysis of the light bulb issue.  It goes hand in hand with the changes in technology we have experienced since Thomas Edison’s time.  However, I take issue when this line of thinking is, once again, extended toward U.S. changeover to the International System of Units, the modern metric system, as the Nation’s primary measurement system.  I believe that this very backward thinking is something that Mr.Edison, a tireless worker for improvements and a man who lived in the future, would himself resent.

America’s march toward a decimal system of measurement began long before the Metric Conversion Act of 1975. America gave the world decimal currency. Thomas Jefferson argued for decimal measurement during the country’s earliest days. Alexander Graham Bell, another celebrated American inventor who gave us the telephone, argued fervently for U.S. metrication, as did Melvil Dewey, who invented the Dewey Classification System for libraries in 1876. The metric system was first authorized for use in the U.S. by the Congress in 1866.   This was followed by the U.S. signing the Meter Convention in 1875, which established international measurement. In 1893, U.S. Measurment Superintendent T.C. Mendenhall established that traditional units used in the U.S. were to be defined only by metric units.   In 1988, the Congress declared metric to be the preferred measurement system for U.S. trade and commerce.  Today, our country stands as the last major nation in the world not to communicate measurement primarily in decimal metric units. 

This reluctance of our country to make the switch is dragging on our trade and  retarding our students’ ability to compete academically with students of other countries.  It is too bad that Americans are influenced to fear U.S. metrication as an attack on  liberty and as some feeble bureaucratic move “in the name of efficiency,” when it would be a product of the authority of the Congress provided in -Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution to fix the standard of weights and measures. It is time that the Congress do that for real.  And, as I like to say, our standards-loving nation needs to stop being so hypocritical, and embrace this standard–a standard of measurement–that really matters.

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