Goodbye Lincoln: Scrapping the one-cent piece

Alan Duff

The blank and 99 cents gimmick may be the most annoying advertising trick in the world. I know that some money-crunching marketer must have run some tests years ago that said people are more likely to buy the burger that is $4.99 instead of $5.00, but all it does it make me grind my teeth every time cashiers look for change for my crisp dollar bills.

Fortunately I’ve got a solution to this problem that would save cashiers’ time, eliminate noisy pockets, save the United States millions of dollars every year and keep my teeth intact. Let’s get rid of the penny.

The United States spends 1.7 times the amount that pennies are worth to produce them, according to the United States Mint Director. This is primarily due to the prices of zinc and copper and inflation. It’s gotten to the point where pennies can now be melted down for a profit. This ends up costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year that could be spent on education or highway funds.

That was in 2008, and four years later inflation has only made the situation worse. The penny isn’t used in anyone’s day-to-day shopping; it’s merely a by-product of a transaction, change in the pocket that is never used. When a monetary unit ceases to be used as a means for circulating currency, it becomes obsolete and useless.

At its current value, the penny is nearly useless. The only reason that some cite in favor of the United States keeping the penny is purely sentimental.

The penny is still around because it has Abraham Lincoln on it — no one wants to commit the political suicide of ending the penny. Looking at the passage of bills in Congress, this trend becomes apparent.

Since 2002, three separate proposed bills would modernize America’s monetary system, including assessing and possibly eliminating the outdated and costly penny.

None of those bills passed, and not because the opposition had any good reason. Congress’s hesitation to address the penny issue makes no sense. Other countries like the United Kingdom and Australia have eliminated their one-cent pieces with no real expense. Inflation didn’t suddenly spiral out of control.

In these countries, the results of the elimination of pennies were that money was saved, a few coin collectors snatched up a few of the one-cent pieces and, of course, those pesky $12.99 signs and commercials disappeared. The United States can easily follow suit.

There are two ways we can easily end the circulation of pennies and save money. First, the mints can stop making the penny and allow them to slowly disappear over the next ten years as banks and the treasury slowly collect them and phase the penny out of the system.

The other way would be to collect pennies in mass for a year while the penny is removed from the United States monetary system. Both ways stop the mints from producing the pennies and save money; one is a just a little faster and ultimately would be something that probably better left for the policy makers to decide.

I’m hoping this year brings about the kind of legislation that eliminates the penny and saves us all some money in this tough economy. And cheer up, Lincoln: Your complexion is still on our five.