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January 4, 2012

Is it time to change the calendar?

No, this is not another new year's post. Yes, it is indeed time to change from 2011 to 2012. You're actually a few days late if you didn't. Have you been writing 2011 on your cheques still? Do you even write cheques any more?

That's neither here nor there, though. What I mean by my title question is whether it's time to change the calendar completely? Do you find leap years confusing? Do you find it hard to figure out what day it should be, or whether some plan you have later in the year actually falls on a weekend? What about your salary? When do you get paid? The 15th and end of the month, or every two weeks? Isn't that confusing?

A couple of researchers at Johns Hopkins University think so, and they've come up with a new calendar that they recommend the world switching to, that would eliminate all of this confusion. Is it hard to remember whether November 30 was on a Wednesday or Thursday last year? What about next year? This would eliminate that problem too.

Most important question: how would this affect
page-a-day calendars? (Thanks to Smartcal
"Richard Conn Henry, an astrophysicist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Steve H. Hanke, an applied economist in the Whiting School of Engineering, have created a new calendar in which each new 12-month period is identical to the one which came before, and remains that way from one year to the next in perpetuity."

That's right. The calendar will remain the same every year. Every month will be the same as it was last year. Christmas will always be on a Sunday.

They suggest that there are many reasons for switching to this new, more stable calendar, beyond just the societal ones. There are economic reasons as well.
"Our calendar would simplify financial calculations and eliminate what we call the 'rip off' factor," explains Hanke. "Determining how much interest accrues on mortgages, bonds, forward rate agreements, swaps and others, day counts are required. Our current calendar is full of anomalies that have led to the establishment of a wide range of conventions that attempt to simplify interest calculations. Our proposed permanent calendar has a predictable 91-day quarterly pattern of two months of 30 days and a third month of 31 days, which does away with the need for artificial day count conventions."
It's actually a really fascinating idea.

The need for "leap years" is fixed by adding an additional week at the end of December every five or six years. They say that the extra weeks would happen "every year in which the Gregorian calendar begins or ends on a Thursday," which I actually find really confusing, but may be easy to keep track of in practice.


I can't imagine how hard it would be to change the entire world's calendar system, though. I know that there are other calendars used by various societies, of course. The Hebrew calendar and the Moslem one are two that I'm familiar with. But universally, I believe the Gregorian calendar is used for things like international relations and economics. An overhaul of the system would be massive.

They do address that, though. Ok, not necessarily the "how will they implement it" idea, but more why they think this one would be more attractive to people while other attempts have failed:
"Attempts at reform have failed in the past because all of the major ones have involved breaking the seven-day cycle of the week, which is not acceptable to many people because it violates the Fourth Commandment about keeping the Sabbath Day," Henry explains. "Our version never breaks that cycle."
That is true. They keep the seven-day cycle that we all know and love, and most importantly, are familiar with. There will still be the normal weekends, the normal work days. They will all just be divided differently. Some months will still have 31 days, but because every year has the same date on the same day, that won't create as much confusion.

I think.

Actually, I'm not totally sure I understand it. Certainly I don't understand it well enough to either advocate for it or to criticise it. Take a look at the press release and see what you think. I just find the whole thing interesting, and will be looking forward to seeing if it ever catches on and gets a public discussion going.

Or maybe it will sit in the halls of academia, like so many other proposals that never really see the light of day.

You can take a look at the calendar itself here (Warning: that's a pdf file). Also, there's a great FAQ site that also has the goal for a universal adoption of the calendar being 2017. Ambitious!

Also mentioned in the press release, Henry and Hanke advocate getting rid of time zones, and instead having a "universal time", streamlining things for international businesses as well as for people trying to set up appointments (I really hate having to say "2:00 pm my time, 3:00 pm your time?" when trying to set up PS3 appointments with the guy I game with). Of course, it would be very hard to get used to "2:00 am" being in the middle of the day if you were in that part of the world.

But we can adjust, I guess.


  1. Well, that was clear as mud. I can't even begin to wrap my noggin around all the variables necessary for this suggestion to be successful on a global basis. But hey, the U.S. is the one country who dug their heels in on embracing metrics, so we might also opt out of this new calendar dealie if it ever happened. I don't see it being possible to succeed, honestly. It would take a massive effort globally and that, in turn, would take people agreeing and working together. *GASP!* Working together, you say?! Absolutely not! Let's keep killing one another instead. Calendar shifts are one of those things that pales in comparison to the rest of the woes of the world, I guess. The info you shared is fascinating, I'll say that much, and I learned several details I had been foggy on. Great post, Dave! :)

    - Dawnie

  2. LOL you understood it perfectly too, eh Dawnie? :)

    They seem to think they can get it up and running and globally accepted in 5 years. Quite ambitious.

    It seems to me that switching to the Gregorian calendar 400 years ago was probably a lot easier than switching to a new one now, given the global economy and everything.

    Still, an interesting idea!

  3. Yeay .. Its time to change the calender...

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