Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reagan Not Transformational? The Case of Metrics

Via the NYTimes comes an article reminding us that Ronald Reagan was not a transformational figure.  It seems that ever since Reagan's campaign for the US to adopt metrics some Arizona interstates have been using kilometers on their signs and to determine the numbering of the exits. Now they're converting back to miles and some business owners don't like it.

Don't remember Reagan's campaign?  You just proved my point.  Actually, going by memory without sparing the trouble to look it up, I think it was his Commerce Secretary who probably pushed it.  May have been Malcolm Baldridge, who pushed for American industry to rationalize and improve their management in order to catch up with the Japanese in quality.

A certain breed of liberals, one with which I have a lot of sympathy, and a certain breed of businessperson have some things in common: most notably a faith in reason to improve human affairs.  The business people tend to favor big business, often with a little cooperation thrown in (otherwise known as "trusts", "cartels" "restraint of trade", etc.)  They were, in my youth, the country club Republicans who thought Barry Goldwater was too extreme and much preferred the Nelson Rockefeller, Bill Scranton brand of Republicanism.  The liberals take the same faith in human reason and the ability of people to run big organizations and put it to work in government.


George Buddy said...

As I remember, Jimmy Carter started it off but the metrics got thrown out along with the president. I guess the effort in the Reagan presidency went from metrics to the notorious ISO standards that were the stalking hors3 for globalization. Is that sinister enough?

Bill Harshaw said...

As it turns out, I shouldn't assume my memory is any good. According to wikipedia you're basically right--metrics were pushed under Carter and downplayed under Reagan. There was a renewed effort in 1988 which I remember playing into our IT projects: great concern over whether we'd need to convert acres to hectares and bushels per acre into whatever per hectare. Next time I'll do some research before dissing the greatest President (at least of the ninth decade of the 20th century). :-)