The Invisible Infrastructure

By The Metric Maven

A considerable amount of ink and computer bits have been dedicated to lamenting the crumbling and corroding infrastructure of the United States. Along the roads linking small town America, the decaying physical infrastructure of the US is on display for all to see. The crumbling concrete and corroding metals which make up the physical infrastructure of the US is obvious, yet many people choose to ignore it, or deny its existence—despite its ubiquitous presence. There is however, an invisible infrastructure that is as important to our economy as roads and bridges are for transportation, copper wires and optic fibers are for internet communication, and the electrical grid is for manufacturing.

The decay of this invisible infrastructure in healthcare is responsible for 98,000 American deaths each year. Our anachronistic invisible infrastructure needlessly costs every American $16.00 per day. Other countries saw the need for an upgrade of their invisible infrastructure long ago—and invested. This deterioration is obvious to those outside of the US, yet Americans viscerally deny there is even a problem. They embrace this eroded invisible infrastructure as if it is a shrine which should never be altered. Ninety five percent of the world’s population long ago saw it as a serious problem, and repaired it. Americans continue to resist. Australians repaired their invisible infrastructure by the late 1970s and have saved 15% on the construction costs of their housing ever since.

What is the invisible infrastructure of which I speak? It is our provincial uncoordinated farrago of weights and measures. All other countries in the world—195 of them, with the exception of Myanmar and Liberia, switched over to the metric system over thirty years ago. US measurement remained stagnant as Australians began to build houses with dimensions in whole numbers, without decimal points or fractions. How did they do this? By using millimeters and eschewing centimeters. Australian houses are constructed only using millimeters, and in some special cases meters and kilometers are allowed. It took Australia less than two years for their construction industry to become completely metric.  This logical simplification of housing construction is unimaginable for the US populace which has embraced decade’s old, stale attitudes about measurement.

Americans complain about the cost of retooling to metric, when in reality we are the only society on this planet that maintains two sets of tools, one “traditional” and the other metric. Switching to metric-only in the US could eliminate up to half of the tooling costs experienced by this nation, but we cling to vacuous ad hoc excuses in our desperation to resist change. The rest of the world see these excuses for what they are, transparently frivolous, and after over more than one hundred years of American procrastination—exasperating.

Ninety five percent of the world’s population has a clear understanding of a kilogram, but no understanding of a pound. If you think the value of a pound is a clear and articulated measurement, then provide an answer to this question: “which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?” As Americans we all certainly realize that a pound of feathers weights more than a pound of gold. After all feathers are measured using avoirdupois pounds and gold is in troy pounds. When expressed in ounces? Gold weights more than feathers—make sense? In metric, reality is preserved and they weigh the same.

The invisible infrastructure of America is incompatible with the rest of the world. A mandated change to the metric system, would stimulate the economy, provide more jobs, increase our competitiveness, and promote public health, yet we trade away all these advantages for nostalgia. But it is a false nostalgia, for a set of measurements which are no more American than is Peking Duck. Miles were introduced by the Romans. A mile consists of 5280 feet? This was a rationalization of other English distance measurements with the 5000 feet of the Roman mile. It’s time for business and government to become streamlined for the 21st Century by embracing solid mandatory legislation for converting the US to metric in less than two years.

Related Essay:

The Magic Infrastructure

If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page and contribute. Also purchase his books about the metric system:

The first book is titled: Our Crumbling Invisible Infrastructure. It is a succinct set of essays  that explain why the absence of the metric system in the US is detrimental to our personal heath and our economy. These essays are separately available for free on my website,  but the book has them all in one place in print. The book may be purchased from Amazon here.

The second book is titled The Dimensions of the Cosmos. It takes the metric prefixes from yotta to Yocto and uses each metric prefix to describe a metric world. The book has a considerable number of color images to compliment the prose. It has been receiving good reviews. I think would be a great reference for US science teachers. It has a considerable number of scientific factoids and anecdotes that I believe would be of considerable educational use. It is available from Amazon here.

The third book is not of direct importance to metric education. It is called Death By A Thousand Cuts, A Secret History of the Metric System in The United States. This monograph explains how we have been unable to legally deal with weights and measures in the United States from George Washington, to our current day. This book is also available on Amazon here.

2 thoughts on “The Invisible Infrastructure

  1. Very well written and to the point, hopefully some inch loving diehards will agree with you. Keep up the good work and thank you.

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