Perhaps even more than most people, I'm resistant to change. Both the kind that forces me out of my rut and the kind that burdens my pocket, causing me to list to port as I walk. But I'm finally willing to accept one type in order to reduce the other.
The latest figures I've seen show that every new one-cent coin minted in this country this year costs the government 2.41 cents to produce. How does this make sense? Right, it doesn't. It may only be pennies, but the total cost is a staggering $60+ million a year to produce the small, sentimental, but virtually worthless coin.
Why do we do it? No doubt tradition weighs on the side of continuing the waste, as do the attitudes of citizens like me, who resist change except for that little pseudo-copper piece of it. And then there's a huge reason: the supplier of penny-size zinc coin blanks for the U.S. Mint is Jarden Zinc Products, of Greeneville, Tennessee, and they are loath to see profits reduced. When the penny is threatened, Jarden apparently nudges Americans for Common Cents, located on Washington's K Street. (Remember K Street, headquarters of the dancing ex-Congressman from Sugarland, Texas? And other lobbyists?) Americans for Common Cents roars into action and convinces the right people in government that most all of us other people really love the penny and would probably riot if it were eliminated.
There is some logic to their position. Many citizens are concerned that some of the penny's production costs would be shifted to the increased production of larger coins, which is true, and that merchants would jack up prices to the next higher nickel, which is probably not true or at least not to any significant degree. Countries that have dropped the penny have not found either concern to be much of a problem.
As of now, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and others have eliminated the penny or its equivalent coin. Some have gone further and also junked the nickel. Reports are mostly positive. A Dutchman from the Netherlands explains that, in their system, if you pay cash, the price of an item is rounded up or down. If you pay electronically, by debit or credit card, etc., the exact price is charged. Fears that consumers would find this too confusing have evidently faded pretty rapidly.
Our neighbors in Canada are eliminating pennies this year. They already had eliminated the smallest denomination paper currency, replacing one-dollar and two-dollar bills with coins. While it would seem that this would add to the problem of excessive coin weight in the pockets (see "port, listing to" above), comments by individual Canadians and some of our fellow-citizens who have traveled there indicate that people have mostly adapted to it quite well.
Like Canada, Australia has also eliminated the one- and two-dollar notes, replacing them with coins. And the paper currency they retained is actually not paper, but a type of polymer that supposedly lasts much longer than our currency, is waterproof, more germ-resistant, and difficult to counterfeit.
We've tried dollar coins before. There was the Susan B. Anthony coin that felt and looked too much like a quarter. Then there was the Sacagawea coin, fake gold, that you could get if you asked for one at the bank but were unlikely ever to see in circulation. In both cases, we minted these coins, but then we left the paper money in circulation as well, leaving it up to individual choice. Like encouraging your six-year-old to eat healthy by letting him choose between a bowl of spinach and a bowl of M&Ms.
I realize none of this, if implemented, would provide enough savings to put a dent in the national debt. After all, the $60+ million that eliminating the penny would save is not much more than outside interests poured into one state in the just-completed election, in an effort to unseat a senator. Unsuccessfully.
Still, I wanted to suggest we consider this change. Having so recently voted, I'm energized to make my voice heard on civic issues. So I decided to put my two-cents' worth in.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."