How Much Can the US Gain from Going Metric?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 6/05/2015 01:30:00 AM
Soak the rich? Eliminate ISIS? Hope? Change? Heck no...let's go metric!
As a lover of fringe candidates, I gleefully note that former Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island) is running for the Democratic nomination. So it's not quite Dick Cheney running for the Communist Party of the USA nomination, but hey, it'll have to do in 2015. Most international readers are probably asking themselves, "Who is Lincoln Chafee?" Which, of course, is a fair observation insofar as he was not exactly the most international public official during his days in office. But, that may changing. Can you imagine a more quixotic platform to run on than fully converting the United States to the metric system? Well, that's what he's running on for what it's worth:
Lincoln Chafee launched his presidential bid Wednesday on a platform of what he called "bold" ideas, but few are as bold as his proposal to switch to the metric system... "This is just one piece, as I said, of becoming internationalist as a country and getting away from that unilateralist approach, that muscular approach to the world, that I don't think is working in our best interests," he said. Chafee added that it would be "good for our economy, bottom line."
Take that, Dubya. And he keeps harping on the economic benefits of the metric system:
"Let's be bold -- let's join the rest of the world and go metric," he said during his launch. He clarified during a question-and-answer session after that it would be a "symbolic integration" meant to show goodwill to the world. He acknowledged that shifting to the metric system could cost the U.S., but that "the economic benefits that would come in would surpass those costs of putting up new signs and the like."
While the US has adapted some metric conventions, incredible peculiarities remain such as measuring distance in miles. But, do not doubt that there are real gains to be had by making this change:
Politics and economics have been the real incentives to go metric. The world’s most anti-metric nation—Great Britain—grudgingly began to ditch its Imperial system in the 1970s because it was the only way to gain access to the markets of continental Europe. Most of the rest of the world adopted the measures in order not to fall behind in the global economy.

There is no question that a uniform global system of measurement helps cross-border trade and investment. For this reason, labor unions were among the strongest opponents of 1970s-era metrication, fearing that the switch would make it easier to ship jobs off-shore. (Which it did.)

Is global uniformity a good thing? Not when it comes to cultural issues, and customary measures are certainly a part of our national culture. But to have brains trained in the thirds, quarters, sixths, eighths, and twelfths of our inches and ounces, as well as the relentless decimals of the metric system can only be beneficial, in the same way that learning a second language is better than knowing only one. That ours is a dual-measurement country is part of our great diversity.
Given how so few areas of academic research remain, I am surprised that pointy-headed American economist types haven't investigated how much the US stands to gain in economic term$ if this transition to international-standard measurements was made. The same gains from standardization should obtain.