Metric analysis

Why America Won’t Go Metric

This caught my attention because the units of measurement of the same product were not the same. The can was in US customary units, while the bottle was in metric units.

Today, the American public remains overwhelmingly on the side of American customary units. 2016 survey found that only 32% of Americans wanted to switch to metrics.

It’s a political story that has dominated the landscape since colonial times and has been a huge political fight many times in our history.

At the turn of the 19th century, the system of measurement we used played an important role in how America saw its place in the world. When the French and English fought in the 1790s, America had to choose a side.

According to Stephen Mihm, a history professor at the University of Georgia, many Americans were against the French and “the idea of ​​adopting their system of measurement was considered heretical and a dangerous invitation to sow the seeds of revolution in United States”.

America therefore never joined the French Revolution, nor the revolution of the complete adoption of the metric.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t gotten closer.

America seemed poised to join the rest of the world in December 1975. It was then that President Gerald Ford signed the Metric Conversion Act in the law. He declared metric “the preferred system of weights and measures for United States commerce and commerce”.

Ford’s push was part of a larger effort in the country to adopt the metric. This is a big part of why soda bottles are liters.

There was just one big problem with the law. It was all voluntary, so the Metric Board that was going to oversee the whole move to metrics didn’t have a lot of teeth.

This meant that for the country to become fully metric, the cooperation of the American people was needed. And a lot of Americans didn’t want it. According Gallup poll in 1977among Americans who knew what the metric system was – which, in a way, not all of them were – 60% opposed the metric system.
Small groups of activists, opposed to “metrication”, have appeared. One such group, Americans for Customary Weight and Measure, held meetings that were broadcast on CNN.

Of course, politicians know how to read polls. So, a few years later, President Ronald Reagan canceled funding for the Metric Board that Ford had created.

Today, there is still controversy surrounding the metric. fox Tucker-Carlson went against the system: “Nearly every nation on earth has fallen under the yoke of tyranny – the metric system. From Beijing to Buenos Aires, from Lusaka to London, the peoples of the world have been forced to measure their surroundings in millimeters.”
At the other end of the equation are people like the former governor of Rhode Island and the senator. Lincoln Chafe. He briefly ran for president in the 2016 cycle and noted in his announcement speech, “Here’s a bold embrace of internationalism: let’s join the rest of the world and embrace the metric.”

Chafee was mocked for his stance and his campaign went nowhere.

For the bold few, it’s pretty clear where the battle lines are being drawn right now. Metrics is the system of internationalism, and those who wish to fight it are against the country becoming metric.

But Mihm told me that “most Americans don’t really care. The only thing that seems to bind us is that we don’t like change, really.”

But then why do we have metric units in this country? Going back to the grocery store, the unit for a packet of crisps that accompanies the aforementioned soda? Well, nutritional information is almost metric (eg how many grams of fat).

What happens there is a whole other story that you’ll have to tune into the podcast to hear. Quick hint: it’s all about the economy.

But I should note that maybe it’s OK that we have two systems.

I leave you with these words from Mihm, as they explain how our measurement systems are a reflection of us as a country:

“If I had to describe what makes America America, it’s often our clumsy workarounds that are actually sometimes less disruptive and allow us to function and tolerate the many different ways of doing things in one country. And it’s not a minor achievement, actually, on some level, if you think about it. And it’s built into our political system, with 50 state governments operating simultaneously with one national government. And maybe on some level it’s well integrated into our very ugly but functional measurement system.”