2/25 column graphic pennies

On Feb. 25, 1862, the U.S. government started using paper bills with the passing of the Legal Tender Act. This legislation ended the exclusive use of gold and silver in transactions.

By June of 1862, silver had completely vanished from commerce due to the increasing cost of metal. As a result, the cent became the only federal coin that had not yet vanished from commerce.

Then, in 1864, Congress passed the Coinage Act, authorizing the cent to be made of a bronze alloy. All of this boring gab just to give a small back story on the penny we use today.

In the rare case you have never heard of or used a penny, it is the one cent coin in U.S. Currently, the cost to make a penny is around 1.82 cents. You don’t have to be a mathematician or an economist to conclude that it costs nearly two pennies to make one penny.

In 2013, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the Treasury Department Aaron Klein estimated the U.S. could lose nearly $2 billion over the next 30 years by producing pennies.

Perhaps you aren’t concerned with financial matters. Maybe you care more about the environment. Well, as it turns out, the production of pennies also are pretty bad for the environment.

To create pennies, zinc and copper are needed. That requires mining, which leads to carbon dioxide emissions, pollutants and the use of lots of energy.

Why believe me? I am only a student writing this article out of the goodness of my own heart.

I think someone with their Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Virginia may be able to shine some light on the subject.

In 2016, Dr. Josh Bloom of the American Council on Science and Health estimated that 107 million pounds of carbon dioxide have been emitted due to pennies being delivered from the Mint to the banks. Look, I am not a “crunchy granola let’s ban cars” type, but maybe those emissions are not worth the one cent the coins are actually worth.

That brings me to another reason we should get rid of the penny. Who actually uses pennies? Grandmothers at bingo? The tooth fairy? But seriously — I would like to know who uses pennies. (Unironically, my roommate and I used pennies at Champs last week for $0.09 beers, but that is neither here nor there)

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw stated, “The purpose of the monetary system is to facilitate exchange. The penny no longer serves that purpose. When people start leaving a monetary unit at the cash register for the next customer, the unit is too small to be useful.”

Again, who actually cares to take pennies when you buy something from the store?

Former US Mint Director Philip Diehl said, “The value of a penny has shrunk to the point that, if you earn more than the minimum wage, you’re losing money stopping and picking up a penny on the sidewalk.”

That is quite literally the equivalent of a chef saying, “Hey, maybe don’t eat my food. It’s too expensive, and it isn’t worth the cost.”

Comedian John Oliver also commented on the use of the penny or lack thereof. “Two percent of Americans admitted to regularly throwing pennies in the garbage, which means the U.S. Mint is spending millions to make garbage.”

Two thirds of pennies are never seen in circulation again once they reach a consumer from the bank. Abe Lincoln would be ashamed.

And lastly, maybe you are pro-business and pro-capitalism. Well boy, do I have news for you. A study by Walgreen’s and the National Association of Convenience Stores found that pennies add 2 to 2.5 seconds to each cash transaction.

Per year, the average citizen wastes 12 minutes paying with pennies. That’s like half of an episode of The Office. Twelve minutes is also the length of the first human spacewalk by Soviet cosmonaut Alexey Arkhipovich in 1965.

Mankiw also estimated this 12 minutes of wasted time costs the U.S. economy approximately $1 billion every year.

In closing, do old Honest Abe a favor and get rid of the penny. He wouldn’t want his legacy tarnished. Get it? Because pennies? Never mind.

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