Economics

As We Usher in 2021, It’s Time to Adopt a Permanent Calendar

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Our calendar is cumbersome and outdated. We should adopt a consistent alternative.

For more than 500 years, the most popular and influential book after the Bible was The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Varagine. At the end of the 13th century, Varagine was grappling with how medieval Christians perceived time: He mapped the liturgical calendar and the stories of feast-day Saints associated with it.

Flash forward to today. We now waste a great deal of time fumbling around with the flawed Gregorian calendar. For one thing, new calendars have to be printed every year. What a waste of both time and money.

But this isn’t the only cost dished up by our Gregorian calendar: The scheduling of holidays, sporting events, and school curricula — to name but a few — must be redone each year. The Gregorian calendar also causes confusion when it comes to the age-old idea of “time is money.” For example, a wide variety of financial instruments — bonds, mortgages, swaps, forward rate agreements, etc. — accrue interest by the day. The current calendar contains complexities and anomalies that make calculating the value of these instruments needlessly burdensome.

And there are other financial problems generated by the Gregorian calendar. For example, back in 2013, Apple was caught up in a quarterly reporting fiasco. Following its Q1 2013 earnings announcement, Apple suffered its worst one-day loss in four years as a result of the company’s failure to meet Wall Street’s expectations. This was largely due to a simple calendar-generated error — most analysts failed to account for the fact that Apple’s Q1 2013 was one week shorter than the same quarter the year before.

The past 400 years have only seen a handful of cohesive efforts to standardize the modern calendar or iron out its kinks. For example, the crusade for calendar modernization found one of its most prominent champions in 19th-century industrialist George Eastman, the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. Driven by a desire to create a more business-friendly calendar, he developed the “Eastman plan.” It was one of the first cogent models of a fixed (or permanent) calendar designed to eliminate the practical and financial inefficiencies generated by the Gregorian calendar system.

However innovative, the Eastman plan was in many respects crude, failing most crucially to account for and preserve the Sabbath. Like many past attempts at calendar reform, the Eastman plan was doomed by its failure to address religious and cultural concerns. Indeed, one of the major criticisms of past calendar reforms is that they interfered with religious days of rest, which play an integral role in the organization of the work week.

To solve the problems generated by the Gregorian calendar and avoid the Sabbath pitfall that plagued George Eastman, we developed the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar (HHPC).

The HHPC offers a comprehensive template for revising the contemporary calendar. It adheres to the most basic tenet of a fixed calendar: Every date would fall on the same day of the week every year. New Year’s Day, for instance, would always be a Monday. The year would be divided into four three-month quarters, with first two months of each quarter lasting 30 days and the third lasting 31 days. Each quarter would contain 91 days resulting in a 364-day year comprised of 52 seven-day weeks. This is a vital feature of the HHPC: By preserving the seven-day Sabbath cycle — and by not inserting “extra days” that break up the weekly cycle — it would avoid the major complaints from ecclesiastical quarters that have doomed all other attempts at calendar reform.

As for holidays, with the HHPC, they predictably fall on the same date and day of the week year‐​after‐​year. For example, seven existing federal holidays, such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, fall on Mondays. The HHPC would also pin down floating holidays, such as Memorial Day, which would eternally fall on Monday, May 27, and Labor Day, which would fall on Monday, September 4. The calendar places both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve on Sundays.

There would be a disparity between the necessary length of our calendar (364 days) and that of the astronomical calendar (365.24 days), which the HHPC would account for by tacking an additional week on to every fifth or sixth year. So there would be an extra seven days added to the calendar in, for example, 2026, 2032, 2037, and so on. This additional week would serve the same purpose as the extra day we count in a leap year in the current system and keep the calendar in line with the seasons.

Julius Caesar, the dictator perpetuo, introduced the Julian calendar on January 1, 45 B.C. Today, the president of the United States could do much the same. Indeed, with the stroke of a pen, the president could sign an executive order writing a better calendar into law. With the federal government operating on a new calendar, state governments would follow suit immediately. Businesses and schools would follow shortly thereafter. Teachers would love it. Once they designed their syllabus and teaching schedules, it would be permanent. No more annual and aggravating committee meetings to decide school schedules.

Steve H. Hanke is a professor of applied economics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is a senior fellow and the director of the Troubled Currencies Project at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. Richard Conn Henry is an academy professor of physics and astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University and the director of the Maryland Space Grant Consortium.