Commentary: U.S. should lose the penny menace

The Rock Hill HeraldApril 30, 2012 

A penny for my thoughts? Keep the penny, you can have them for free: Even a country with a coin called a “loonie” is smarter about its legal tender than the U.S.

Oh, Canada, how I envy your common-sense approach to coinage. Last month, Canada annouced that it would be eliminating its one-cent coins.

Our neighbors to the north will halt distribution of its version of the penny in the fall, while allowing those that still dwell in Canadian seat cushions, sit in sock drawers, lie dormant in jars, bowls and bottles, hide in purses, reside under floor mats of cars, rest regally in coin collections, weigh down pockets or lie forlornly on the ground waiting to be picked up will remain legal currency until they disappear from circulation.

And then? Good riddance, say the Canadians.

They aren’t the only ones. New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Sweden and others have forsaken this useless token.

And guess what? They remain sovereign nations with healthy economies!

Their currency hasn’t collapsed. Their citizens have not gone bankrupt because merchants rounded prices for everything up to the nearest nickel – or whatever their equivalent for the nickel might be.

But here in the United States, instead of following Canada’s example and letting the penny peacefully expire, we’re looking for ways to keep it on life support.

Most people know pennies no longer are made of copper. If they were, people would be selling them for scrap metal, like copper wire and stolen air conditioner parts.

Pennies now are made mostly of zinc. But even so, it is estimated that the cost for the U.S. Mint to make and distribute each penny is 2.41 cents.

The Mint now is looking at other materials to see if pennies can be produced more economically. Maybe in a few years, we’ll have plastic pennies.

The only people who like pennies are zinc miners and those addled enough to believe they still are worth something. Face it, they don’t even sell candy for a penny anymore. Name anything that costs less than a nickel.

Pennies are nothing but a nuisance, even for merchants, who have to count them. Everybody at some point has had a transaction where we had to break a dollar to come up with two more cents to pay a bill – for which we received three more pennies as part of the change.

We then went home and put those three pennies in a change holder on the dresser where they sat the next time we needed pennies to pay a bill.

So, why not carry pennies around with you? That might be OK if you’re a woman who carries a purse that already contains everything one would need on an African safari.

But men just have pockets, and they are bogged down with keys, a wallet, a cell phone and maybe a comb or some breath mints. There’s no room for pennies.

My dad used to bend down to pick up pennies.

“Why do you bother?” I’d ask him.

He’d shrug and say, “It’s money, lying there on the ground.”

Well, it might have been money during the Great Depression. Now it’s a piddling piece of zinc.

Bending to pick up a penny could result in a back sprain, which could result in weeks of pain or perhaps even surgery at a potential cost of thousands of dollars. And they call them “lucky” pennies.

I have been railing about pennies for years. But now that Canada has shown us the way by getting rid of its one-cent piece, hanging on to the U.S. penny is even more galling.

Clearly, we are the ones who are loony.

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