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January 2, 2014

(My followers need at least some offbeat relief from my economic discussions this new year – so here.)

Most every American knows that George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, except that he wasn’t. We nevertheless celebrate his birthday on or around that date, depending upon what current politicians have conjured as an excuse to close the banks and post offices. Lately we have been combining Washington’s birthday with that of Lincoln (who really was born on February 12, 1809) into a holiday we call President’s Day. Apparently we have decided that all the other presidents’ birthdays should go uncelebrated since the banks and post offices must open for business at least most of the time. After all, big banks have Chinese officials to bribe and credit derivatives and Greek bonds to buy, sell and trade. Business is business!

Washington celebrated his birthday on February 22 but he didn’t for 20 years until his birthday was  changed from February 11, 1732, to February 22, 1732, by order of the king. Our colonial British masters decided that his birthday would be 11 days later. Here’s how that happened: The British adopted for itself and imposed a calendar change on its colonies (and in 1752 we were still 31 years away from independence) based on the so-called Gregorian Calendar, which I will discuss later in this piece. Washington was not the only one who had an eleven day adjustment to his birthday. Everyone in America and under the British flag in 1752 had the same adjustment to their respective birthdates.

(Washington did not lose 11 days of his calendar life with British adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, and here, after some historical background, is why.) The History: Julius Caesar authorized the so-called Julian Calendar as a measure of time in 46 BC. It was observed by Western nations until 1582. The Julian Calendar called for a year of 365 and ¼ days which started in January and with every fourth year a leap year of 366 days which totaled up the fractional years to begin anew in Januarys following.

That formula lasted well over 16 centuries but should have ended much earlier with the findings of an Anglo-Saxon monk, St. Bede, who announced in 730 AD that the Julian year was ll minutes, 14 seconds too long, which amounted to a cumulative error of about a day every 128 years. Unfortunately, his findings were ignored by both church and state for centuries, but finally, in 1582, when the discrepancy was estimated to be about 10 days, Pope Gregory decreed that the day following October 4, 1582, should be called October 15, thus validating the findings of St Bede centuries earlier by dropping ten days from the Julian measure and initiating the Gregorian Calendar, which we still use today.

The Gregorian Calendar’s adoption was post-Martin Luther, so religion became mixed up with calendar adoption. Catholic countries quickly adopted the papal directive. Protestant countries took their time, but finally all Western countries (as well as most of the world as of this writing) have adopted the Gregorian Calendar (exceptions: the Russian Orthodox Church and a few Christian sects). By 1752, when we in America adopted the Gregorian Calendar, enough time had elapsed from Pope Gregory’s edict of 10 days to add another day to Washington’s (Julian) birth date, hence the 11 day “loss” we record. Washington actually lost nothing; he lived as long as he lived. He only “lost” that portion of the eleven days in calendar time the years of his life bore to the elapsed time from adoption of the Julian “Day” adjustment. Algebra informs me that by that measure George lost 12 odd-hours on the calendar. Now back to economics – GERALD  E


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