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Jewish World Review
April 26, 2006
/ 28 Nissan, 5766
Cents and sensibility: A thought for your pennies
Now that budget talks in Congress are heating up, it's no surprise that the rest of the nation is starting to pay more attention to
fiscal matters as well. "I hate paying so much in #@&% taxes!" is just the kind of thoughtful insight into federal economic policy
you're likely to hear from the citizenry at this time of year.
And while I personally would never presume to impugn the work of the fine officials at the Internal Revenue Service particularly
those in charge of deciding which citizens' returns to audit I do feel strongly about one aspect of the nation's monetary policy: the
Like most Americans, for many years I did not give much thought to this, the least valuable piece of US coinage. As the little plastic
dishes on the convenience store counters so succinctly put it, with regard to the penny I could "take it or leave it." But my thinking
changed dramatically one morning last week when I discovered that my car had been broken into. Now let me assure you that the
object of the break-in was not to steal the car, which can only be charitably described as a rapidly rusting eyesore. No sane person
would ever want to steal this heap, except perhaps my neighbors, who probably can't look at the thing without mentally calculating
how much its presence drags down their property values.
The target, as it turned out, was all the loose change I'd spent years painstakingly collecting under the floor mats, between the
seats and in the deep recesses of the glove compartment. In total, the thief made off with about $10.00 in quarters, dimes and
nickels, while conspicuously leaving behind at least 75 cents' worth of pennies.
My first reaction was disappointment at the thief's lack of etiquette. I mean, there must be some sort of unwritten rule dictating that
if you're going to steal someone's change, you should have to take the pennies too. After firing off a letter on the subject to Miss
Manners, I began thinking about just how worthless the penny has become. For if pennies hold no value even to a desperate
criminal (and believe me, only a truly desperate individual would risk exposure to the disgusting fungal experiment going on beneath
my car's floor mats), why should the rest of us have to bother with them?
I recognize that the penny remains popular with a substantial segment of the populace, although I can't imagine why. The only
reason I can see for holding onto pennies is in case you're involved in some sort of financial dispute and need to send a
not-so-subtle message to a creditor via the payment method:
Dear Bloodsucking Credit Card Company,
Concerning the $38 fee you charged me for being one day late in paying last month's bill, please find the full sum in loose pennies
enclosed in this mailing, postage due, naturally.
But if we're going to expend federal resources to mint a coin that we use just for spite, why not take it a step further and produce a
coin worth 1/10 of a cent as well? What with rising oil prices, as an added benefit, this coin would also allow budget-conscious
consumers to finally pay exact change for a gallon of gas.
Some critics of the penny point to how much time would be collectively saved if cashiers could just round up or down to the nearest
five cents when making change. Just as important, without any pennies in circulation to spark their memories, curmudgeonly old
timers would be less likely to launch into those rambling stories about how cheap everything used to be. You know, the ones that
go something like, "Why, in my day, for a penny you could buy a loaf of bread, two jars of pickles, a rhubarb phosphate and a tin of
Dr. Hobson's Cathartic Ointment and still have enough left over for a grandstand ticket to watch Harry Houdini bareknuckle box a
In doing a little research on the issue, I discovered that in 2002 Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona introduced the Legal Tender
Modernization Act into Congress to stop production of the penny. Sadly, the bill never got out of committee, most likely blocked by
the extremely powerful coin collecting lobby acting in concert with the nation's gumball machine manufacturers.
Nevertheless, my new hero Representative Kolbe remains committed to the cause. And that's why we citizens need to show him
our support by engaging in some form of collective action to tell the federal government it's time to get rid of the penny once and for
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03/16/06: The day the Muzak died
02/23/06: Checkbook diplomacy begins at home
02/15/06: Today's toys: Where learning means earning
© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner
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