Thought of the Day: Metric System

Shaded in red are the countries that do not use the Metric System

I was looking through the ‘maps that will help you make sense of the world‘ and this one caught my eye. It shows the countries around the world that do not use the metric system.

The metric system is a system of measurement, incorporating kilogrammes and metres, originally created in France.

This map frustrates me as an economist. Economists are always striving for efficiency and this is a prime-example of a situation where billions of pounds (pardon the pun) a year are wasted due to the lack of a universal measurement. Most recipes you look at have to double up their writing on measurements, showing the amount in lbs and in grams, and almost all food packaging will feature some sort of duplication – especially if the product is marketed and sold in the US and elsewhere.

Jos V. Collins wrote an article called ‘A metrical tragedy’ (page 2 here) where he concluded within that a:

“Total annual loss of $315 000 000 ‘could be attributed per year to non-metrication in the USA at that time. (Note: if you allow for inflation between 1915 and now, then Collin’s figure for annual losses becomes $6,100,000,000 per year in 2005)”

This becomes a fine example of Opportunity cost. Take a moment to imagine what the USA government could do with an extra $6 billion dollars a year; they could purchase Group-on, fund an election, give every man, woman and child in the US $20 or buy the equivalent of 64 Gareth Bales. There is an endless world of possibilities, in fact they could even put the money away each year and after 2131 years the government will have paid off their $13 trillion of debt.

Great news, however, there is a petition you can sign up to that hopes to switch the system by 2019.

Let me know what you think of this issue @Breadeconomics. Would be especially great to hear from some Americans.



2 thoughts on “Thought of the Day: Metric System

  1. I wonder how metric we really are in the UK. Nobody I ever ask gives me their weight in kilos or height in cm and mums always want to know what the weight of their child is in pounds and ounces

  2. That is interesting, but how do you submit the weights and heights into your system? A lot of the efficiency gains aren’t from ‘word-of-mouth’ changes in the system, but more how businesses and systems store the information.

    As mentioned in the post above, simply having to print both the metric and non-metric weights in a recipe can add to costs.

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