Menus Subscribe Search

Time for a More Sensible, Permanent Calendar?

• December 28, 2011 • 11:48 AM

An astronomer and an economist suggest the world would be a more sensible place if it dropped floating days of the week and leap years by switching to their Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar.

This year, the federal government has created a public holiday for New Year’s Day on, oddly, January 2. The scheduling quirk is a byproduct of our roaming Gregorian calendar. Every year, New Year’s Day — or any other notable fixed date, from your birthday to Christmas to the Fourth of July — moves forward in the week one day (and two in leap years). Last year, New Year’s Day fell on a Saturday. This year, it’s a Sunday. And no Sunday holiday can come between the American people and a three-day weekend.

There is a kind of democratic virtue in this calendar tic: no one gets a monopoly on annual Friday birthdays. But the ever-changing calendar, with its periodic leap years and mouthful of monthly mnemonic devices, has irked timekeepers almost since the system was introduced in the 1500s.

“It’s a very accurate calendar,” says Richard Conn Henry, a professor of astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. “I must say it does amaze me that it did such a brilliant job of being a truly accurate calendar. It was really wonderful.”

That said, he wants to get rid of the thing. He and Johns Hopkins economist Steve Hanke are now lobbying to replace it with their invention, the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar. In the long traditional of calendar reformers, they believe they’ve settled on the elusive solution to the Gregorian calendar’s floating days of the week: one calendar that remains constant every year, where New Year’s Day falls without fail on, say, Sunday every single time.

The big advantage to such a system is that nobody – businesses, the NFL, universities, beleaguered governments — would have to go through the exercise every year of rewriting holiday schedules, course calendars or sports seasons. The Super Bowl would be on the same day every year, as would the start of the academic calendar, Election Day, and the presidential inauguration. Thanksgiving would fall on both a Thursday and a constant date. Christmas could keep December 25 but would get a permanent day of the week as well. (Although holidays based on other calendars, like say Easter, Yom Kippur, Diwali, or Eid ul-Fitr would still bounce around.)

Such a system would also help the economic harmonization of global affairs in an era when business, banking, tourism, and education are all transnational — and would all benefit from a bit more stability in each other’s scheduling quirks. A permanent calendar would also simplify interest payments and other financial calculations. (While they’re at it, Henke and Henry would like to harmonize things even more by abolishing time zones.)

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar

CLICK TO ENLARGE
Here's a look at the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, which gets rid of floating days of the week and leap years while adding an extra week onto the end of December
every five or six years.

[/class]

The idea actually got some serious traction in the 1950s, when a proposal for a perpetual “World Calendar” came before the United Nations.

“It was a real shame because the whole machinery was in motion, it had the support of a major government body, the U.N. looking at it favorably,” Henry said. “It was just the wrong calendar that was proposed. It was a missed opportunity.”

The length of an actual Earth year is about 365¼ days. In our current calendar, we accommodate for those accumulating fractions of a day with a leap year every four years. The World Calendar proposed instead to insert a kind of off-calendar holiday that, like a pause in time, would be assigned no actual day of the week. The proposal collapsed under the objection of religious groups who hold sacred the seven-day week and Sabbath Day.

Henry’s innovation was the creation of a perpetual calendar that would offend no one’s religious sensibilities.

“It didn’t take me long to realize what the correct answer was,” he said. He inserts, instead, an entire extra week onto the end of December every five or six years. “Knowing my fellow human beings, I expect it would be a party week.”

The rest of the calendar would remain constant with four equal quarters of 91 days each, with two months of 30 days and a third month of 31. Henry first figured this out seven years ago. But the lonely website he created at the time failed to get the word out. And so, more recently, he has brought on board Hanke — also a prolific Cato Institute scholar — to help make the economist’s case for the idea internationally, most recently in the Jakarta-based magazine Globe Asia.

“I’m an astronomer,” Henry said. “I understand galaxies and stars, and the interior of stars and black holes. But I don’t understand fellow human creatures and politics, all of this kind of stuff.”

He’s not quite sure how to turn such a fundamentally jarring idea into worldwide reality.

“That is a deeply interesting question beyond even this silly little calendar thing,” he said. “How does in fact serious change occur?”

It’s happened before, he points out. Peking renamed itself Beijing overnight. During the oil embargo in the 1970s, American highways universally lowered their speed limits on command. (But let’s not recall the United States’ push for the metric system …) And people got used to that. There is even some recent precedent for radical time adjustment. Russian president Dmitri Medvedev abolished two of the country’s 11 time zones last year.

Whatever happens with the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, we’ll know the idea is catching on when we start to hear pushback from the calendar lobby, AKA Big Date. If we used the new system, there would be no need to buy a new and slightly altered calendar every Jan. 1.

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 24 • 5:00 AM

In Praise of Our Short Attention Spans

Maybe there’s a good reason why it seems like there’s been a decline in our our ability to concentrate for a prolonged period of time.


July 24 • 4:00 AM

How Stereotypes Take Shape

New research from Scotland finds they’re an unfortunate product of the way we process and share information.


July 23 • 4:00 PM

Who Doesn’t Like Atheists?

The Pew Research Center asked Americans of varying religious affiliations how they felt about each other.


July 23 • 2:00 PM

We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm and Medical Mistakes Now

Top patient-safety experts call on Congress to step in and, among other steps, give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wider responsibility for measuring medical mistakes.


July 23 • 12:19 PM

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.


July 23 • 12:00 PM

Why Do We Love the ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ Game?

It’s easy enough to turn yourself into a virtual celebrity, complete with fame and mansions—but it will likely cost you.


July 23 • 11:49 AM

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.


July 23 • 10:00 AM

Outing the Death-Drug Distributors

Calling all hackers: It’s time to go Assange on capital punishment.


July 23 • 8:00 AM

The Surprising Appeal of Products That Require Effort to Use

New research finds they enable consumers to re-establish a feeling that they’re in control of their lives.



July 23 • 6:00 AM

How the Other Half Lifts: What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class

Why can’t triathletes and weightlifters get along?


July 23 • 5:02 AM

Battle of the Public Intellectuals: Edward Glaeser vs. Richard Florida

On gentrification and housing costs.


July 23 • 4:00 AM

Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 22 • 4:00 PM

Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?

Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.



July 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


July 22 • 9:32 AM

This Time, Scalia Was Right

President Obama’s recess appointments were wrong and, worse, dangerous.


July 22 • 8:00 AM

On Vegas Strip, Blackjack Rule Change Is Sleight of Hand

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. Is this a sign that Vegas is on its way back from the recession, or that the Strip’s biggest players are trying to squeeze some more cash out of visitors before the well runs dry?


July 22 • 6:00 AM

Label Me Confused

How the words on a bag of food create more questions than answers.


July 22 • 5:07 AM

Doubly Victimized: The Shocking Prevalence of Violence Against Homeless Women

An especially vulnerable population is surveyed by researchers.


July 22 • 4:00 AM

New Evidence That Blacks Are Aging Faster Than Whites

A large study finds American blacks are, biologically, three years older than their white chronological counterparts.



Follow us


Subscribe Now

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.