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Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2001 / 23 Elul, 5761

Bob Greene

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Coming soon: A
nickel for your thoughts? -- THIS is a great idea. It's not mine.

The reason for the disclaimer is that the idea was given to me earlier in the summer by a reader of the column, and I've been carrying it around during my travels, waiting for the right time to present it to you. The right time has come -- but the note is gone. I don't know the name of the person who should receive the credit.

So if he or she is reading this -- let me know. I'll give you the credit later on.

Anyway . . . this has to do with the continuing controversy over coins.

Few people have use for pennies these days. A penny buys virtually nothing; you can't even buy penny candy for a penny. You can't weigh yourself for a penny. (If you don't know what that refers to, then you're too young.)

At the same time, there is great emotional resistance to doing away with pennies. Americans might not utilize them anymore -- but we seem to feel that to get rid of the penny would be to get rid of something basic and solid about the nation itself.

As for the continuing effort to replace paper dollars with coins -- people just can't get used to it. A dollar coin -- any dollar coin -- looks weird. It doesn't feel like a dollar.

So . . . what to do?

The idea -- sent to me by the phantom idea man or phantom idea woman -- is brilliant.

Here we go:

Keep pennies -- but make them count for five cents.

That's right -- the lowest denomination of coin becomes a five-cent piece. But the government doesn't come up with some new coin for this -- it just uses the old copper penny.

And a nickel -- the nickel you have in your pocket right now -- becomes worth 10 cents.

The dime becomes worth 25 cents.

And the quarter -- this is the great part . . .

The quarter becomes worth a dollar.

See? Americans may resist a coin they've never seen that they are all of a sudden told is worth a dollar . . . but we're not going to resist a quarter. A quarter is an old pal. A quarter between our fingers feels familiar. We can reach into a pocket, pull out a quarter, and we know what it is before we even look at it.

And who is going to object to a quarter being worth more? It would be one thing if the government were to tell the citizens: A quarter is now worth 15 cents. There would be disruptions in the streets if that were to happen.

But psychologically, the government declaring that a quarter is now worth a dollar . . . who's going to be anything but pleased about what feels like found money? Reach in your pocket or your purse right now. Put the quarters in your palm. Look at them . . . and think of each of them as being worth a dollar.

See? It feels good.

Paper dollars would still count for a dollar . . . until they all wore out. From that point on, today's quarter would be the only U.S. dollar.

Helping out would be the coincidence that the same guy -- George Washington -- already has his face on the quarter, and on the paper dollar. Smooth transition.

Would it be difficult to get used to? Of course . . . for a while. Americans are resistant to change (no, not that kind of change). The phantom person who gave me the idea suggested that new names for the coins be allowed for a while -- the penny that is suddenly worth a nickel could, in the short term, be called the "pennickel (not to be confused with "pinochle").

Soon enough, we'd all be happy -- using the coins we're accustomed to, but having them count for more.

You may have noticed that something has been left out here. One coin is not included in the plan:

The 50-cent piece.

The 50-cent piece, once a valued, hefty part of America's coin arsenal, has faded away on its own. When was the last time you carried a 50-cent piece around? They're out there -- but they're seldom used. Under the new plan, they officially go away.

This could actually work -- it's better than anything else I've heard proposed. If you're the person who came up with the idea, let me know. I promise to tell the world who you are.

Especially if the reaction from readers is that this is a stupid idea. Hey -- I may like it, but it's not mine.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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