No Penny For Your Thoughts


            Well, it finally happened: President Obama said something I agree with.

            He wants to get rid of the penny.

            A penny for your thoughts, Mr. President? “The once-cent piece has Lincoln on it, and our Founding Fathers are no longer relevant.” I’m kidding; he didn’t really say that – sounds more like something Joe Biden would say. No, the POTUS has – brace yourself – a practical reason for doing away with the penny, as he said in an interview: “Anytime we’re spending money on something people don’t actually use, that’s an example of things we should probably change.”

            Well, there goes most of Congress.

            Of course, people do use pennies, if they use cash at all, because they have to. Part of that is psychological: pricing something at $4.99 makes people think they’re getting a bargain, while $5.00 seems like so much more. Without the penny, retailers might have to price their produce at – gasp! -- $4.95. Or, more likely, $5.45.

            The biggest argument for getting rid of our smallest coin (well, not physically smallest – what’s up with that?) is that while a penny is only worth one cent, it costs almost two and a half cents to produce.

            That’s right, sports fans (to coin a phrase): In 2012, it cost 2.41 cents to make every 1.0 cent piece. Instead of spending it, you’d make more money melting your penny down to sell the component metals. Which is why the government made it a crime to do so. It’s also a crime to take more than $5 in pennies or nickels out of the country, probably under the assumption that you’re planning to melt them down. After all, Japanese vending machines don’t take pennies.

            Actually, almost no vending machine takes pennies anymore, another good reason to get rid of them.

            Pennies used to be made of 95% copper and 5% zinc, but when copper prices started going up it was changed to only 2.5% copper and 97.5% zinc. Then zinc prices started going up, in part because China is using the metal more and more to manufacture stuff that they then sell to us, which makes cents to them.

            Despite the value of their metal, pennies have been outraced by inflation so much that “See a penny, pick it up,” is now a laugh-inducing phrase, which might be why America doesn’t seem to be having much luck these days. Instead of using a piggy bank, young people don’t think for a second about tossing them at each other, and don’t bother picking them up afterward. After all, what are they good for except for weighing down your pockets? What machine of any type takes pennies, these days?

            (I’m told there’s such a thing as “penny slots” in casinos. Come on! Go to the nickel machines, you penny pinchers.)

            Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have already stopped making pennies, under the theory that a penny saved by not making a penny is a penny earned. Which you wouldn’t earn in those countries, because they’re not making it.

            American Army and Air Force base stores have rounded their prices up or down to the nearest 5%, essentially nickel and diming the penny to death.

            On the other hand, the zinc lobby thinks getting rid of pennies would be a terrible idea. I wonder why? Yes, there are actually people fighting to keep the penny, and some of their arguments make a bit of sense – the main one being that retailers will round up, not down, leading to inflation. The group Americans for Common Cents (I know, but what can you do?) points out that the penny also has a cultural and historical significance.

            (Full disclosure: I collect what pennies, which were manufactured from 1909 to 1956, and I can only assume their value would increase if the government stopped producing new coins. As it is, most of my wheat pennies – just like the modern ones – are worth up to twice their face value.)

            NBC News, in one of those moronic clich├ęs that make my teeth grind, points out that the total cost of minting pennies was “only” $58 million last year – less than one-tenth of a percent of federal spending.

            Oh, is that all? For two cents, I’ll clobber the next person that makes such an idiotic statement, with a sock full of … dimes. If anything followed by “million” is “only”, then what harm would there be if the government gave me some? Yeah, that’s what I thought. A million dollars starts with a penny, and a million savings starts with “only”.

I like that, let me write that down.

            By saving the penny, we’re being penny wise and pound foolish. So there you go, I’m walking a mile is Barry Obama’s penny loafers. Just one thing puzzles me: I thought he liked change?

            That’s just my two cents worth.