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Debate: The U.S. Penny… Obsolete?

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Many of us when breaking a dollar end up discarding our spare change into a jar at home and forgetting about it, or generously plunking it into the many charity drop-boxes including that iconic red Salvation Army kettle.  But out of all of the coins that have been circulating for centuries, is Benjamin Franklin’s penny actually ready for retirement?

The arguments for it’s abolishment are quite convincing.  At the top of the list is the fact that it actually costs a fraction over two cents to make a single penny (yes, you read that right) so we actually spend twice as much as it’s worth to make it? hmmm…

Next up is the commonly held opinion that many of us barely use the penny anymore and would rather toss it into the fountain at Sangertown Square then hang on to it, and who picks up a penny when they see one laying on the street? By comparison would you pick up a quarter if it caught your eye? Another interesting thought is that vending machines take every other denomination of coin, but not the penny.  Thruway tolls don’t require them either, so the evidence appears to be stacking up against it.  Why not just round everything up to the nearest nickel and go from there?

Well, in the defense of the penny let’s do some more basic math. If we did away with the penny and rounded up prices to the nearest nickel like say a cup of coffee in the morning costs $2.97 and we’ll call it an even $3, that extra three cents adds up over time. Three cents a day becomes almost $11 a year and then $430+ extra over the course of a 40 year working career hypothetically, and that’s just one item per person per day, imagine everything being rounded up to the nearest cent and how much more that will add to inflation!

Another factor is that pennies are made mostly of zinc and the zinc industry would stand to suffer greatly and many jobs would be lost if the penny quota was suddenly eliminated.  There is also the fact that the penny is an American legacy with Abraham Lincoln on the front of it and carries significant sentimental value for people, collectors and average joes alike. Also, what is to become of our penny inspired sayings like, “a penny saved is a penny earned, “pennies from heaven” or “a penny for your thoughts”?

When the penny was invented it was made entirely of copper, a very cheap metal compared to zinc so it was much more cost effective to manufacture, now it seems to defy business logic to keep making something that costs twice as much as it’s worth.  As far as sentimental value and American heritage goes, it can still represent both in a museum or your private collection and need not be in circulation for it’s contribution to our history to be valid.  And in a much broader outlook, cash and coins may eventually go the way of the dinosaur given the information age and credit cards and electronic funds becoming the norm more and more.  To me, this argument isn’t just about the penny, it’s about the new replacing the old or finding ways that the old and new can compliment each other and co-exist and that debate has been going on since humans have occupied the earth and will continue until the end of time. What do you think?

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