FREE MARKET REFORM OF WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

( 1997 Quentin Bristow)

For far too long the business of assigning values to weights and measures has been the preserve of a scientific autocracy. We are all well aware of how political dictatorships stifle innovation and economic growth and how by contrast, the application of free market principles makes everyone rich, (well almost everyone). Anyway never mind, the point is that weights and measures once flourished free and unfettered. Item: "The yard is the distance from the King's nose to the end of his forefinger". Do we know which King? Of course not, the beauty of that definition was that the yard had the freedom to get longer or shorter according to the stature of the incumbent Monarch.

Take the measurement of time for instance; recently unearthed documents at the Most Venerable Institution of Master Coopers in London have revealed that the time interval of one second was originally defined as: "... the time that woyne of hif moft grayciouse majefteys' yeoman shall spend in the quaffing of a halfe pinte of browne ale after jousting for woyne heure with hif comrades in arms in full armoure on a bloodye hot daye in the month of Auguft...". Now there is verve, panache, aplomb and - flexibility! There was originally a similarly colourful and imaginative definition of the unit of mass, this one came from some more recently discovered documents in Carthage, the ancient seat of civilization. It now appears that Carthage was plagued by strange and ferocious beasts of a species known as "Gramasaurus Wrecks Rex" (king of the wreckers); a relic of the dinosaur era and now mercifully extinct. (This should not of course be confused with "Britannosaurus Rex" which was the prehistoric British monarchy and as we all now know, an evolutionary success story). The standard method of dispatching these unwelcome visitors was by means of a mechanical catapult known as the "Super Carthaginian Unguided Destroyer". Needless to say, this was the crude forerunner of the SCUD missile which survives to the present day. The original unit of mass was defined as the amount of lead which it took to kill a Gramasaurus and was known at that time as a "Kill-a-Gram". You, dear reader, will make the connection I am sure between that unit and our present metric marvel.

The first crack in the scientific autocracy and its obsession with absolute precision came in the 1920's with the enunciation by the celebrated physicist Werner von Heisenburg of something called the "Uncertainty Principle", a fact of life which financial markets and indeed all person-kind had been living with since dirt was invented. More recently the scientific autocracy has discovered and embraced something which they call "fuzzy mathematics", another ostentatious and clumsy attempt to blind us with science as they are finally forced to accept the elastic mathematics of the real world as practiced for centuries by merchants, accountants and tax collectors.

It is now time in my humble opinion to introduce free market principles to the values accorded to weights and measures. I am aware that any such proposal will be welcomed by the scientific autocracy with all the enthusiasm that the Soviet communist party and Western Defence Contractors showed for Peristroika, Glasnost and the ending of the Cold War.

Nevertheless I would argue that if something as fundamental as national currency values can be allowed to fluctuate on a daily basis without the end of civilization as we know it, then so can the values of weights and measures. In fact the establishment of market-driven convertible values would create tremendous business opportunities and employ thousands of people, thereby creating wealth and fostering economic growth.

Canada could be first in the field with its very own unit of mass - theMaplegram. It would of course have to be tied to the US pound for a while until it had achieved recognition on world scales, but after that its value would be determined solely by market forces. There would be a differential for example between the value used to compute the weights of goods imported and those exported, in the same way that there is a buying and selling price for any foreign currency.

Canada could also achieve a coup and at the same time acquire a much needed psychological boost from its current national malaise by discarding the "second" as the unit of time and adopting as its new unit the "first", thereby being one step ahead of all other countries, which would then be identified as "second" class nations. Imagine the euphoric effect of an Olympic Games result which was announced as: "... Canada's top contestant for the 100 metres freestyle swimming event made it in 55.6 firsts; all other competitors times were seconds .....". Obviously we won the thing umpteen times over.

How should the new unit of time be defined? Well, in keeping with free market forces and with flexibility in mind, I suggest that it be set as: "one tenth of the average time between a parking meter expiring and a ticket being written." This would be updated weekly and would create thousands of jobs for meter-monitors, thereby helping to end the recession. In keeping with the current concept of more provincial autonomy there would of course be ten different provincial values and a federal value. All clocks and watches would need adjustable scaling factors implemented by built-in microchips. The design and development of these would create much needed Research & Development jobs in Canada (at least one hopes it would). The hour would be replaced at the provincial level by the "slice", with the federal unit being called the "pie", and defined as the sum of the ten slices.

The unit of length must also be freed and defined in terms of something monetary, and what better unit than the plum, the height of the pile formed by the salary of the Governor of the Bank of Canada, stacked in loonies. The plum would thus be approximately the same as the kilometer to begin with, but based on past experience would increase annually at considerably more than the rate of inflation.

An intriguing consequence of this would be the setting of speed limits. Instead of being km per hour and never changing, they would now be different in every province and ten times slower in areas under federal jurisdiction (one pie = ten slices remember). Federal speed limits would therefore now be measured in plums-per-pie.

Speed limits would of course rise at a rate greater than the rate of inflation because of the way the plum was defined (salary increases for high officials invariably exceed the rate of inflation), and as carnage on the roads increased this might tempt the legislators to do something to alleviate the problem, but that would of course require that the value of the plum remain at a constant level, which would be a negation and a betrayal of the whole principle of free market reform of weights and measures.

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