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Why Are We Still Using A ‘Second-Rate’ Calendar System ‘Imposed By A Pope Over 400 Years Ago’?

Politics / Religion Dec 31, 2014 - 03:19 PM GMT

By: Steve_H_Hanke

Politics

If Canadian-born astrophysicist Richard Conn Henry were in charge, New Year’s Eve would have been four days ago.

Under the intricately designed Hanke-Henry calendar (slogan, “It stays exactly the same, year after year!”), the day we’ve known for centuries as New Year’s Day would actually be Jan. 5.


And 2015 would be even weirder. There are no leap years in the Hanke-Henry calendar. Instead, an extra week is tacked onto December every five or six years.

“My fear is that it would be one big drunk,” Mr. Henry, 74, told the National Post by email. “I don’t like the extra week; but I have to tolerate it of course, nothing can be done about it.”

There are few things riper for reform than the Gregorian calendar, the glitch-riddled 16th-century Roman Catholic invention that has survived revolution and reformation to become humanity’s dominant system of day-counting. Its months are different lengths, its quarters are not equal and dates jump around the week from year to year.

I don’t like the extra week; but I have to tolerate it of course, nothing can be done about it

In the words of economist Steve Hanke, co-designer of the Hanke-Henry calendar, the Gregorian system is a “second-rate calendar imposed by a pope over 400 years ago.”

That may be true, but if history is any guide to those who have attempted to overthrow the Gregorian calendar, Messrs. Henry and Hanke would not be the first to die trying.

It was in 1752 Canadian colonists were instructed that they — along with the rest of the British Empire — were to go to bed on Sept.  2 and wake up on Sept. 14.

For nearly 200 years, Protestant Britain had staunchly resisted the Catholic-designed Gregorian calendar (named for Pope Gregory XIII), clinging to the Roman-era Julian calendar.

But the Julian calendar’s chief problem is that it was 11 minutes too short. As a result, by the 18th century the British were 12 days out of sync with the Catholic countries of continental Europe.

A persistent myth has held that British crowds rioted when the new calendar was passed by Parliament, rallying under the sloganm “Give us back our 11 days!” In reality, even the most outraged Brits took to the “Popish” calendar with muffled indignation.

But it was persistent. When Charles Dickens penned A Christmas Carol in 1843, Britain was still divided into rival camps of those who observed Christmas on Dec. 25 and those who stubbornly celebrated it on the “old” date.

The tricky part of designing any calendar is it takes exactly 365.2422 days for the Earth to revolve around the Sun. If the planet could be slowed down by just 30 hours, we could design an even 52-week year — but the harsh realities of astronomy demand any accurate calendar needs to include an awkward system of “catch-up” days.

Which is not to say that Gregorian reforms have not been attempted before.

After the French Revolution, the young republic took time out from guillotining dissidents to design a metric calendar comprised of 10-day weeks. Introduced in 1793, the staunchly atheist and anti-monarchy calendar enjoyed a 12-year run until it was canceled by Napoleon.

In the optimistic 1950s, the United Nations considered a calendar that would remain the same from year to year, would resize months into four equal quarters of 91 days and include Worldsday, a global holiday celebrated on the 365th day of every year.

The plan was ultimately scuttled, in part because it could not obtain the cooperation of the United States.

The selling point of the Hanke-Henry calendar is that every date falls on the same weekday, year to year. Universities, governments and yoga studios could keep the same schedules, year after year.

By Mr. Hanke’s estimates, the savings would equal $130-billion annually.

“It is virtually impossible to reform the calendar now,” said Richard McCarty, a philosopher at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., and expert in calendar reform.

It is virtually impossible to reform the calendar now

Unlike the 1500s, there is no longer a Vatican-like authority with power over a large number of European states. And as he noted in an email, “the Gregorian reform was so successful because it was so minimal.”

Even then, it took nearly 400 years for the rest of the world to catch on.

Greece stuck to the Julian calendar until 1923. In Russia, it took a Communist revolution to switch to the Gregorian system. According to legend, Team Russia showed up late at the 1908 Olympics because they forgot what date it was in the host city of London.

Mr. Henry is certainly not the first academic to advocate for a bold conceptual project to improve humanity.

Entomologist George Vernon Hudson spent his life amassing New Zealand’s largest insect collection, but history knows him best for inspiring the shift to Daylight-saving time.

Conversely, the Polish physician L.L. Zamenhof dedicated his life to advocating the international language of Esperanto as a means to prevent war, but died as the world was consumed by the First World War.

And, of course, Mr. Henry was only a recent American immigrant when he witnessed the utter failure of the United States to convince its citizens to use the metric system.

“The question of what makes a winner certainly interests me deeply,” he said. “I wish I had answers.”

Eight years ago, he was among astronomers who helped to downgrade Pluto’s status to that of a dwarf planet.

Changing calendars is a bit trickier, but Mr. Henry remains optimistic the world will catch on. So optimistic, in fact, the Hanke-Henry system not only asks the Earth’s seven billion people to change their calendars — but also to do away with time zones.

Instead of holding more than 40 separate New Year’s Eve ceremonies over 24 hours, the peoples of the world would simply ring in the New Year together at midnight, Greenwich Mean Time: 11 a.m. in Perth, Australia, 7 p.m. in New York and 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland.

Wednesday night, while his fellow citizens in Baltimore congregate on the waterfront to welcome 2015 with midnight fireworks, Mr. Henry will follow his tradition of toasting the “conventional New Year’s Eve” at 7 p.m.

Said the astrophysicist, “It is much more convenient for me as I get older.”

By Steve H. Hanke

www.cato.org/people/hanke.html

Twitter: @Steve_Hanke

Steve H. Hanke is a Professor of Applied Economics and Co-Director of the Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Prof. Hanke is also a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.; a Distinguished Professor at the Universitas Pelita Harapan in Jakarta, Indonesia; a Senior Advisor at the Renmin University of China’s International Monetary Research Institute in Beijing; a Special Counselor to the Center for Financial Stability in New York; a member of the National Bank of Kuwait’s International Advisory Board (chaired by Sir John Major); a member of the Financial Advisory Council of the United Arab Emirates; and a contributing editor at Globe Asia Magazine.

Copyright © 2014 Steve H. Hanke - All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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