The Conservative press are currently doing everything they can to pander to the irrational beliefs of the Brexiters. This week’s hilarious piece of rose-tinted nonsense is the possibility of bringing back Imperial weights and measures for consumer transactions. In spite of the fact that we no longer buy all of our food from local shops where they weigh it out in front of us, and that most people don’t even think about pack size in more detail than “big”, “small” or “serves 4”, the desire of the blue-rinse brigade is to take our shopping experience back to the 1950s. And who can forget those halcyon days when we had polio, an outside loo, and no telly?
Apparently there are also rumblings about restoring pre-decimal currency, and since we’ve already begun devaluing the pound by voting for economic hari-kiri, we might as well go one step further and properly screw things up by taking the economy back to the 1970s. My dad often claims that imperial weights & measures are simpler to use, and that “old money” is easier to understand. The argument goes along the lines of:
|“Well, when I was younger, that’d cost two-and-six. You can’t get that in new money, eh?”
“You can, it’s 30p.”
“Well, that’s devalued because there used to be 240d in a pound and now it’s only 100p.”
“The two systems use different base units and you also have to take account of inflation.”
“You’re talking a load of mumbo-jumbo there, it was all a con, old money was worth more, etc, etc.”
“But how can decimal measures be more accurate? I used to go to the butcher’s and ask for 2lb of lamb chops and now they sell me 908g, or 902, or 976 – what’s accurate about that?”
“Well, that’s more accurate….”
Anyone who’s grown up with the metric system, or works with it every day in their study or employment, will know that YOU LITERALLY JUST DIVIDE AND MULTIPLY EVERYTHING BY TEN; IT’S THAT SIMPLE. But apparently it’s easier to work in a combination of base 12, 14 and 16, than base 10 in which you add or remove zeroes. Well, obviously this isn’t true, but there’s a reason older folk are clinging to pounds, shillings pence, feet, yards, and furlongs.
Well, a few reasons. But look at how they see the problem. Up until 1971 (and for a good while after), they were using a familiar system that had “nice” round values, like “roughly 1lb of jam”, or “just over a quarter of humbugs”. And then they had to change to a system that turned their simple approximations into intimidating not-whole numbers. Even though the quantity was exactly the same, this new degree of precision came across as an unnecessary complication.
|And it was a change foisted upon them. I don’t know much of the popular public opinion in the early 1970s, because I wasn’t born then – so the fuss may not have been as great as legend makes it out to be. I know plenty of older people who are quite happy with the metric system and decimal currency, but there’s a sizeable amount of older people who aren’t. Articles like the one I linked to in the first paragraph serve to garner sentiment that the old ways were better, and so we end up with the situation we have now. It makes little sense to those of us who think the metric system is so wonderful, but it’s become an emotional argument out of a practical one. Initially, it was a change that took time getting used to, and was probably met with some resistance. But now its become a movement to restore things to the way they “should” be, tied up in rhetoric about the The Good Old Days that never really existed.
From a business and scientific perspective a return to Imperial weights & measures, and pre-decimal currency, would be an expensive mistake. But we know exactly what the British public think of experts (as evidenced by the outcome of the referendum, among other things), and so that argument carries little weight. While I disagree with their views, I do think it’s important to listen to the Blue Rinsers thoughts on this, and have conversations with them. Much of the EU referendum campaign was people from both sides yelling into the void and not engaging in discussions with their opponents. Changing people’s minds is really bloody hard, and ultimately you have to allow them to do it themselves. But our present tactics failed us, and we’re in a bit of a pickle now, aren’t we?