by Conrad Weisert
April 3, 2013
© 2013 Information Disciplines, Inc.
Our moon's orbital period is roughly 27.3 days. Ancient civilizations found that period a convenient calendar unit, which they designated as a "month" in various languages. Certain recurring events could be conveniently scheduled every month.
Unfortunately the year, 365.25 days, can't be divided into an integer number of months, and the quotient is closer to the awkward 13 than to the elegant 12, so ancient calendars made do with various approximations. We're familiar with the Julian calendar, which contained our familiar twelve months, and with its later Gregorian correction. The silly rhyme "Thirty days hath September . . ." conveys the awkwardness of our common calendar.
Every month we receive bills, which we pay. Many of us receive our salary once or twice a month. Every month corporations close their books and report their financial status. Every month, banks compute interest and assess service charges.
Did corporations choose to do those things monthly because that was the most convenient or the most profitable interval? Not at all! They do it because some ancient astronomers contrived a calendar based inaccurately upon the orbital period of a rocky satellite.
Has anyone ever shown that monthly accounting cycles are optimal for anything? What would corporations, individuals, and society at large gain or lose if our common accounting cycle were 8 weeks, or if it were a quarter of a year, or some other frequency?
Many American corporations hope that we will pay our bills slightly late, right after the misnamed grace period for on-time payment. They can then assess massive "late fees" far in excess of legal interest rates. The time we're given to pay is extremely short, precluding a two-week vacation, and it's about to get even worse! The U.S. Postal Service, financially squeezed by ultraconservative politicians, has agreed to eliminate Saturday mail delivery. If that happens, the number of assessed "late fees" will surely increase.
The local chapters of professonal societies, such as these in Chicago, typically meet once a month. That worked out well when an organization was new or when its interest was focused on something novel, but as our profession matures it becomes harder to schedule a worthwhile presentation every month. We've seen recent meeting announcements urging us to come to an "open discussion" session with no agenda (count me out). And we know that the quality of many presentations has seriously declined, jeopardizing the continued existence of some organizations.
Some organizations have adapted by switching to quarterly or bi-monthly frequency, but others are stubbornly sticking to a schdeule dictated by the orbit of the moon. One solution is for two or three organizations with overlapping or complementary interests to cooperate by alternating on a fixed monthly schedule.
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Last modified April 29, 2013