The U.S.A. doesn’t measure up. Switch to the metric system!

There are three countries in the world that do not formally use the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar and the United States. Liberia and Myanmar, however, use the metric system widely, and Myanmar has plans to implement it formally.

So that leaves the United States. Of course, the United States uses a hodge-podge of units: yards, chains, furlongs, roods, hundredweights (which are not 100 pounds, as you may imagine) and many more.

One could try to make the argument that the United States has technically implemented the metric system already—we’ve defined our units of measurement in terms of the meter since the Mendenhall Order of 1893. But that’s not quite the same as common everyday usage.

The main reason we haven’t switched to the metric system is economic: It costs money to transition systems. NASA estimates that it would cost 350 million dollars to switch its drawings and diagrams. Of course, NASA also lost a 123 million dollar rover due to one of its subcontractors using imperial rather than metric units.

Okay, that was in 1999, but it was still an extremely expensive mistake that could have been readily avoided if Congress had mandated the use of the metric system.
In fact, in 1971 the National Bureau of Standards released a report titled “A Metric America,” recommending a full transition to the metric system over ten years. Four years later Congress passed the “Metric Conversion Act of 1975” which mandated teaching the metric system but did not enforce its usage and removed the ten year limit. As a result, it’s been forty years, and the metric system is still not in common widespread usage.

And yet, as a result of the Omnibus Foreign Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, the metric system became “the Preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce.”

This means the federal government already mandated its own usage, but the private sector can still choose which system to use. For practicality, corporations that trade internationally typically use the metric system.

Essentially, almost everything that we use internationally, including the military, foreign trade and multinational corporations, already uses the metric system. The two main uses of the imperial system in modern day life are distances (such as when driving) and temperatures.

In other words, if everyone looked at distances and temperatures in the metric system, we would be transitioned to the metric system. That transition, particularly for temperature, could be readily achieved by mandating the use of the metric system for these everyday measurements.

The United States should join the rest of the world in using the metric system so that the unnecessary standardization that occurs every time a company wants to do something internationally doesn’t cost time and money. In the long run, this transition would save us money and make fitting into the international community easier.

Post Author: westanderson

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