If Richard Henry had his way, we wouldn’t be celebrating the New Year quite yet. The Johns Hopkins University physics and astronomy professor along with his colleague Steve Hanke, an economics professor, have come up with a calendar they believe would simplify scheduling and accountancy once and for all.
More than four centuries ago Pope Gregory XIII designed the calendar we use today as a fix to the Julian calendar, which had miscalculated the number of days it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun. He wanted to keep Easter in the Spring, but also created a calendar riddled with idiosyncracies.
In the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, every date would fall on the same day of the week every year. The pair want their calendar adopted worldwide by January 1, 2017 — the next time that New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday. Their goal is to do away with scheduling problems and financial reporting errors that result from using a calendar system, where quarters and months are different lengths and dates jump to a different day every year.
In their proposed calendar, two 30-day months are followed by one 31-day month with an extra week called Xtr added on every five or six years to account for seasonal drift.
Avoiding ‘calendar confusion’
The pair say their calendar improves upon previous efforts because it preserves the 12 month, seven-day week idea, while eliminating what they call “calendar confusion.”
Because the days don’t jump around from year to year in their version, scheduling for things like holidays, sporting events and university start dates would only need to be planned once and then never changed. Christmas, for example, would always be on a Sunday.
Calculations would also be easier, they claim. Bond, mortgage and other interest rate calculations are often based on a 30-day month, which Hanke said leads to tricky sums and errors with months that have 28 or 31 days.
“Our calendar solves that problem” because it would do away with the need for day count conventions all together, Hanke said.
In addition, because each quarter in the Hanke-Henry calendar is 91 days, corporate quarter calculations would become easier. As an example they point to Apple’s 2012 fourth quarter earnings, which fell short of Wall Street expectations sinking the company’s share price. It turns out that analysts failed to account for the extra week that Apple had added to the fourth quarter in 2011 to account for leap days.
Because each quarter in the Hanke-Henry calendar is 91 days, corporate quarter calculations would become easier.
Henry first got the idea to revise the calendar when he started teaching an astronomy class to students at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Even though the content of his class never changed, he had to update the syllabus, lecture and exam schedule every year.
“The only reason that is necessary is because the world adopted the Gregorian calendar,” said Henry. “As a professional astronomer I knew there had to be a better way.”
The snag for solar calendar planners is that it takes 365.2422 days for the earth to orbit the sun, complicating any sort of neat division of days and months. For most of history religious concerns rather than business interests have shaped calendar planning.
Every month had 28 days with an extra month called Sol in the summer and a leap day added at the end of December.
Many countries today such as Bulgaria, China, Iran and Israel use other calendars in parallel to the Gregorian calendar to mark holidays and religious observances.
A matter of economics
This centuries-old calendar makes modern day scheduling and accounting a nightmare, but reformers have had little luck in convincing the world to move away from it.
In the early Twentieth Century “economic interests behind calendar reform came together,” said Vanessa Ogle, assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Global Transformation of Time. The rise of complex multinational firms, globalisation and cost accounting gave momentum to the movement to replace the Gregorian calendar with a more business friendly version.
Chambers of Commerce in the United States and Europe wanted to find a way to simplify revenue and cost comparisons difficult with the Gregorian calendar because months contain an uneven number of days. Many Western governments, just starting to measure economic activity more precisely, were also behind the idea of calendar reform, she said.
The United Nations even took up the cause in the 1950s, pushing for the adoption of a calendar with a fixed number of days in the quarter, but couldn’t get the US government on board.
Kodak’s 13-month experiment
The challenge became a personal passion for Eastman Kodak Company founder George Eastman. Within the Kodak offices he implemented a 13-month calendar called the International Fixed Calendar, designed by railway bookkeeper, Moses Cotsworth. Every month had 28 days with an extra month called Sol in the summer and a leap day added at the end of December.
Eastman believed that the calendar “kept things running efficiently and maintained good records,” said Kathy Connor, a curator for the George Eastman Museum. “Eastman spent a lot of money publishing and printing these calendars because he wanted to convince other businesses to use it internationally.” He even addressed the League of Nations on the importance of calendar reform.
Eastman believed that the calendar ‘kept things running efficiently and maintained good records.’
Robert Shanebrook remembers storerooms at the company’s offices were piled high with calendars that came in different sizes. Every conference room in the building had a poster sized calendar of the current and following years hanging on the walls and every employee had smaller calendars on their desks.
“I carried one in my wallet for years and I bet 90% of the men who worked there did too,” said Shanebrook, who held numerous jobs throughout his 35 years with the company including as a worldwide manager for film.
As Kodak started dealing more with outside vendors and bringing in external executives, it finally ditched the Fixed Calendar in 1989. Ogle says that other calendar-reform efforts largely died out over objections from religious groups worried that Sabbath wouldn’t be celebrated on the proper holy day.
Plus “some people associated [the 13-month calendar] with bad luck and fortune,” Ogle said.
Barriers to adoption?
Henry says that the biggest barrier to adopting the calendar has been psychological. For example, because birthdays would always be on the same day each year, he gets a lot of resistance to people whose birthdays would always be on a weekday.
“The real objection is that people say ‘my birthday would always be on a Wednesday,’” he said.
Another barrier is the cost and coordination associated with switching calendars globally. With today’s networked global economy, every country around the world would have to agree on the new calendar to coordinate business meetings and airplane schedules among a host of other events.
“It would be a lot of work for one year,” said Henry, as the world would need to reprint and adjust to new calendars and software makers would need to rewrite lines of code. “The one-time cost would be significant, but amortized over the next million years it would be zero.”
Still there is precedent for the shift. Ogle points out that the world didn't agree on common, uniform timezones until the middle of the Twentieth Century.
Whether the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar will get adopted globally by 2017 is still a good question. The pair say they get weekly emails from people who see their calendar as logical, but say they are having trouble getting it on the agenda of decision makers.
“We’re optimistic with social media,” said Hanke, who hopes that a grassroots effort could give the calendar momentum. Time will tell.
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