Calendar reform

Well, this is an interesting idea.

Feb. 29ths, like the one tacked to the end of [last] month, exist because Earth’s orbit and human calendars are slightly out of sync. The planet completes its 584-million-mile loop around the sun in 365 days — plus 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. Leap days are designed to compensate for the excess time.

But, if two Johns Hopkins University professors had their way, this leap year would be the last of its kind.

They would replace the calendar with a new version. Theirs, the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, is 364 days long. It is consistent: The year always begins on a Monday. Your birthday always falls on the same day of the week.

“The calendar will be exactly the same, every year,” said Richard Conn Henry, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University and one of the calendar’s designers.

February would always have 30 days, as would January, April, May, July, August, October and November. The other four months would have 31 days. There would be no February leap days. Instead, “every five or six years,” Henry said, “we’ll have an extra week at the end when you can party.”


“The Gregorian calendar was set up by astronomers, people who knew what they were doing, and it is very accurate,” Henry said. “That’s the problem. We don’t need a terribly accurate calendar. What we need is a calendar that is suitable for human beings to order their lives by.”

Henry enlisted his colleague at Johns Hopkins, economist Steve H. Hanke, to help. “Dick brought this up and basically gave me an assignment: ‘Hanke, find out the economic implications of this thing,’ ” Hanke said.

Hanke estimates the upfront costs would be less than the Year 2000 adjustment, which, in the United States, was about $100 billion.

“The benefits, from just not having to reproduce calendars every year, physical calendars, would pay for the thing right away,” he said.

Having the date fall on the same day of the week every year eliminates inefficiencies with planning and scheduling that the “herky-jerky” Gregorian calendar has, Henry said.

Every so often, in the Gregorian calendar, companies add a week to their fiscal quarters. Apple did so in the first quarter of 2012, and reported “very good, strong earnings,” Hanke said. “Of course, they had an extra week of revenues coming in.”

A year later, Apple’s first quarter of 2013 appeared comparatively weak — because it lacked the benefit of an extra week, Hanke said — and the company’s stock dropped.

“Our calendar fixes that problem,” Hanke said, because business would consistently operate on 91-day quarters.

Holidays and your birthday would fall on the same day of the week every year, which if nothing else simplifies things. The story doesn’t delve into the mechanics of that “bonus week”, which would seemingly be every six years. Would it actually be a national week off, or just another work week? What would we call it? And if you think being a Leap Day baby is weird, imagine being a kid born during Bonus Week.

Hanke and Henry think their calendar could be implemented via presidential executive order. I have a hard time imagining that would actually happen. The rest of the world would adjust if the US did something as eccentric as this – they would have to, in the same way everyone adjusts to Daylight Savings Time, which occurs at different times around the globe – but I doubt they would follow suit, and having to deal with two different business calendars might just eat into the cost savings these guys envision. It’s an interesting idea, and if we were designing a new global system from scratch I’d like it, but as things stand I’m fine with the status quo.

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One Response to Calendar reform

  1. ken roberts says:

    I instinctively hated this and, upon thinking about it further, hate it more.

    I’d be very surprised if the up-front cost of this were less upfront costs would be less than the Year 2000 adjustment. A lot of it would be fairly simple due to the way computers store time. Windows keeps track of the number of 100ns ticks since Jan 1, 1600. Updating the functions for displaying the date based on that 100ns granularity time should be easy. Likewise, any programs using the Windows, Linux, etc. helper functions should be fairly easy.

    However, there is a lot of code out there that does it’s own things with dates that would need to be updating. Having to do a special handling for an intercalary week is much more difficult than what was done for a leap day. Ignoring intercalary week is much more significant than just a day.

    Meanwhile, this would make statistics using time significantly more cumbersome. There error from ignoring a leap day is 1/365 or 0.27%. For a leap week, it’s 1/52, which is 1.92%. It’s worse if you’re trying to compare a quarter with 13 weeks vs. one with an intercalary 14 weeks.

    Then there’s the matter of how to handle this week for things that are based on months like rent, subscriptions, etc.

    It has some advantages like not needing to figure out what to do with a Wednesday, July 4 (though it has it on a Thursday, which makes July 5, awkward). Australia and New Zealand would have to deal with ANZAC Day on a Wednesday each year. Once they figure it out for one year, that just becomes the way it’s always done.

    Dealing with history would be more obnoxious than the Old Style/New Style difference switch from the Julian to Gregorian. I’m not sure if people would bother with a Proleptic Hanke–Henry Permanent Calendar or not (meaning extending it backwards in time). IOW, July 4, 1776 was a Thursday as it would be on the HHPC. Bastille Day was Tue, July 14, 1789. On the Proleptic HHPC, it would still have to be a Tuesday, but on July 9 or 16. Armistice Day, which arguably has to be 11/11 (at 11 a.m.) would move to the 6th or 13th.

    Anyway, it’s an interesting thought experiment about what would happen. Given that we couldn’t get Americans to adopt the Metric System, I don’t seem them accepting this.

    p.s. They might finally be forced to fix that song from “Rent” as no year would have 525,600 minutes (365 days). The song already doesn’t accommodate leap years.

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