No matter where public opinion
lies on this issue, the fate of the penny
will most likely rest with economic
considerations. To generate the amount of public support
required to remove the coin from circulation
would be difficult, unless pennies began killing people
. On the other hand, the economic impact of such a change, in regards to the business and consumer costs of implementing its removal would be difficult to quantify, and likely wouldn't provide a clear platform for either position.
There is one number, however, that the U.S. Mint does understand, as sockpuppet mentioned above. As long as it costs less than a penny to produce a penny, they have no reason to stop. The Mint sells its coins to us, and they make quite a healthy profit in the process. According to their 1999 annual report, they raked in over $1 billion in profit that year.
If you think about it, they're in a pretty comfortable spot. As a department, they have one basic job to do, and no competition. They are not, however, limited to this role, and in 1994, Director Philip Diehl took over and began reinventing the Mint as a profit-driven enterprise. In fact, his tenure at the Mint has left it looking more like a government sanctioned monopoly than a public service agency. The Sacagawea dollar alone earns the Mint a cool 88 cents per unit, the Mint has long been in the collecible coin business. In doing research for this writeup, I came across a Fast Company article about the agency that even mentions the Mint Police (what do you call them?) being turned into a federal rent-a-cop service.
So, is the solution to make it unprofitable to mint a penny? Before you run out and begin blowing up copper and zinc mines, there are two things to consider. First of all, the Mint makes enough money off useful coins to be able to absorb substantial losses. In the case of a sudden and violent increase in the price of raw materials (what with all them mines getting exploded), their profit margins might get trimmed a bit, while the pennies keep on coming. Based on 2001 production figures (a banner year for minting pennies), you'd have to drive the cost up over 11 cents per penny to get their financials in the red.
Not that it would ever come to that. Keep in mind that the composition of the penny could be unendingly altered to keep it cheap. You'll see a plastic penny before you see no penny at all.
So I suggest a compromise. Personally, I'm no friend of the penny. In fact, I've got my suspicions about nickels and dimes, too. However, it doesn't look like this Kato Kaelin of coinage is going away any time soon, but if it's going to stick around, why not make it a dual use tender?
Make them edible!
It's the best of both worlds, really. If you're an exact change nazi, you get to keep your pennies, but for the rest of us, we can eliminate that pesky coin in a tasty and efficient manner. We have the technology. Let's begin.
- "Mint Condition", Anna Muoio, http://www.fastcompany.com/online/30/usmint.html
- Random useless fact center, my brain