The metric system and currency

Chapter 34 The metric system and currency

I find it interesting that we inherited almost all of our system of measurements from the British and have retained it despite declaring our independence almost 240 years ago. In terms of currency we made the switch to the currency metric system early on. I see that as a positive. On the other hand we desperately hold on to the cumbersome British system of measuring distances, long after that country has converted to the metric system along with almost all of the remainder of the world. I find it amusing that we adopted the system of a country, a war foe, and have decided to claim it as our own. As usual, if it is “American”, it must be best.

Measures such as inches, dozens & grosses are based on the number 12. This number has its origins in several of the early belief systems. The following excerpt was taken from Wikipedia:

“There are twelve “Jyotirlingas” in Hindu Shaivism. The Shaivites (orthodox devotees of God Shiva) treat them with great respect and they are visited by almost every pious Hindu at least once in a lifetime. The number 12 is very important in many religions, mainly Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and also found in some older religions and belief systems. In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the Pandavas and their wife Draupadi go to the forest for 12 years exile and 1 year disguise-appearance exile.

In antiquity there are numerous magical/religious uses of twelves. Ancient Greek religion, the Twelve Olympians were the principal gods of the pantheon and Heracles enacted out twelve labours. The chief Norse god, Odin, had 12 sons. Several sets of twelve cities are identified in history as a dodecapolis, the most familiar being the Etruscan League. In the King Arthur Legend, Arthur is said to have subdued 12 rebel princes and to have won 12 great battles against Saxon invaders. [source: Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 3d ed]

The importance of 12 in Judaism and Christianity can be found in the Bible. The biblical Jacob had 12 sons, who were the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, while the New Testament describes twelve apostles of Jesus; when Judas Iscariot was disgraced, a meeting was held (Acts) to add Saint Matthias to complete the number twelve once more. (Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.)

The Book of Revelation contains much numerical symbolism, and a lot of the numbers mentioned have 12 as a divisor. 12:1 mentions a woman—interpreted as the people of Israel, the Church or the Virgin Mary—wearing a crown of twelve stars (representing each of the twelve tribes of Israel). Furthermore, there are 12,000 people sealed from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, making a total of 144,000 (which is the square of 12 multiplied by a thousand).

In Orthodox Judaism, 12 signifies the age a girl matures (bat mitzvah)

There are 12 days of Christmas. The song Twelve Days of Christmas came from the traditional practice of extending Yuletide celebrations over the twelve days from Christmas day to the eve of Epiphany; the period of thirteen days including Epiphany is sometimes known as Christmastide. Thus Twelfth Night is another name for the twelfth day of Christmas or January 5 (the eve of Epiphany). Similarly, Eastern Orthodoxy observes 12 Great Feasts.”

While the number 12 is significant, especially as it relates to belief systems I fail to see it’s practical application in relation to weights & measures. A system based on 10’s seems far more sensible.

The “American” view of currency is puzzling. Take the penny. The Lincoln cent was the lowest form of currency in 1909, the first year of issue. The purchase power of a dime today is actually less than a penny was in 1909. In fact the purchasing power of a penny in 1909 would be the equivalent of $.16 today. And yet, we hang on to both our pennies and nickels like they are absolutely essential. How silly are we?

Then there is the issue of paper money, which has an average life of 5.8 years (for the $1 denomination). Keep in mind that the dollar bill, in 1909 terms has a value of about $.07. Almost all other civilized countries use long lasting coinage for anything less than the equivalent of a $5 denomination (about $.75 in 1909 terms).

I hear the argument, but what about all the vending machines. Like other countries do not have vending machines? Like the vendors were not able to adjust to accepting paper currency as prices rose?