by Thomas L. Hogan
The American Institute for Economic Research
In 1897, the Indiana state legislature proposed a bill to assign a specific value to the mathematical constant pi. The Greek letter p, or “pi,” is often used to represent the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. According to historical accounts, the legislature debated proposals to set the legal definition of pi equal to 3.2 or a similar constant.
Pi is an irrational number that starts with 3.14159… with decimals that go on forever. It is often approximated as 3.14 for simple calculations, but more decimal places are used in fields such as physics, engineering, and architecture when more careful, complex calculations are required. One can only imagine the consequences of simplifying the value of pi to 3.2: bridges would collapse from buckled arches, engines would fail without perfectly rounded pistons, and artificial heart valves would be impossible to produce.