The story of the penny starts in the first
US Mint founded in 1792 which produced these
one-cent pieces along with other coins including
the Quarter, Dime, Half Dime and a mystery
coin that we'll get back to later.
These pennies of the new republic were born
of 100% pure copper.
But, two forces conspired to ensure this wouldn't
remain the case for long. The value of copper
went up and, because of inflation, the buying
power of the penny went down.
This caused The Mint to reduce the amount
of copper in pennies, first from 100% to 95%,
and then to only 5% copper and 95% zinc.
Despite this debasement, in 2006 the value
of the metal in older pennies rose over 1
cent and suddenly they were worth more dead
than alive so people melted them to sell the
raw copper for profit.
In a rational, efficient world, the story
of the penny would have ended here with the
Government realizing that they weren't worth
Minting and happy that its citizens were removing
them from circulation.
But, instead the Government made melting U.
S. coins illegal and continues to manufacture
4 million pennies each year.
Which is idiotic as it costs the US Mint about
1.8 cents to make a each 1 cent penny.
But, even if pennies were minted from something
more representative of their true value -- like
plastic or lint -- it wouldn't fix the fundamental
problem that pennies are bad for people and
The purpose of physical, cash money is to
make it easy to transact the everyday business
of buying stuff.
A shopkeeper has stuff and you want that stuff.
Rather than bartering like savages for it,
you use cash as a medium of exchange.
To get the price just right the cash must
be divisible into pieces so that you don't
But it isn't divided forever, because at some
point the value it represents is too small
to buy anything or bother with. Which brings
us back to the penny.
In the olden days, pennies could actually
buy stuff, no more. Now, if you want to spend
pennies, you're going to have to put in some
For example, try to pay for 20 bucks worth
of groceries with 2,000 pennies weighing 11
pounds and see how that works out.
So you have to get rid of them by using exact
But, because the United States doesn't include
sales tax in prices -- unlike more civilized
countries -- and you can't multiply by 8.875%
in your head, you can't get your change ready
before you reach the register like a good
The pennies you inevitably fiddle with after
discovering the true cost of your goods add
two seconds to each cash transaction on average
which is less than the value of your time,
and the time of everyone behind you, which
is why most normal people don't bother messing
with change and the usual penny-counting culprits
are those with nothing better to occupy their
If you want to spend pennies without being
an inconsiderate jerk who wastes other peoples'
time perhaps you can find a machine that will
Good luck with that. Vending machines won't
take pennies, neither laundry machines or
toll booths or parking meters or anything
else -- because pennies aren't worth the time
and effort to count, store and transport them.
In fact there is only one machine that takes
pennies: Coinstar -- a leach on the economy
that eats 10% of your money while providing
nothing in return except the ability to spend
cash that was already yours.
The difficulty of spending pennies is why
they end up in jars, dead to the economy after
a short, useless life where they failed at
their only job, to facilitate exchange and
instead did the exact opposite by being a
literal dead weight on every cash transaction.
They must be eliminated.
But, you might think, won't prices rise and
charities lose money without the penny?
New Zealand got rid of their 1 cent coin,
as did Oz. Finland and the Netherlands ditched
the 1 euro cent coin as well. Though that
might have been because of how absurdly small
and frustrating 1 euro cent is.
These countries round to the nearest 5 cents
for cash transactions and none of them saw
prices rise or charitable donations drop.
And anyway, the United States has already
gone through this process before without trouble.
Remember the mystery coin from the beginning?
That was the half-cent. Seen one lately? Of
course you haven't. It was discontinued in
1857 for being worth too little.
But when the half-cent met its fate, it had
more buying power than today's dime so perhaps
the list of modern coins to kill could even
There is one last, irrational problem with
getting rid of the penny.
Everybody loves Lincoln -- well almost everyone.
After booting off Lady Liberty and the Chief,
the US sure has Lincoln-ified the penny within
an inch of its life.
But ditching the penny won't erase him from
Lincoln, and his monument, are still on the
5 dollar bill which isn't going away.
And, even if you think it's unpatriotic or
disrespectful to retire Presidential coinage,
allow me to direct you to a little organization
known as the United States Military.
Where, in overseas bases, they've already
abolished the penny by automatically rounding
to the nearest five cents.
Sooner or later even the most ardent Lincoln
lovers will have to give up the penny: they
cost more to make than they're worth, they
waste peoples' time, they don't work as money,
and because of inflation they're less valuable
every year making all the other problems worse.
Sorry Abe, but it's time to kill the penny.