Our View: It’s time to ditch the penny

DKS Editors

During a Google+ Hangout on Feb. 14, when asked why the U.S. hasn’t gotten rid of the penny yet, President Barack Obama admitted that the only reason he can think of why the penny is still around is nostalgia.

“It’s one of those things where I think people get attached emotionally to the way things have been,” Obama said. “We all remember … our piggy banks and counting up all our pennies and then taking them in and getting a dollar bill or a couple dollars from them, and maybe that’s the reason why people haven’t gotten around to it.”

Hasn’t the penny outlived its usefulness? Not only that, but the penny is downright wasteful spending. According to the 2012 Annual U.S. Mint Report, the cost to make and distribute the one-cent coin is a little more than two cents. Let’s repeat that: To mint a penny, it costs the U.S. government more than double the worth of a penny. It may seem like sweating the small stuff, but when you consider that the government spent more than $116 million to create those coins, suddenly the penny stops making sense.

Americans for Common Cents, pro-penny lobbyists, have several arguments for keeping the penny. One is that rounding up prices to accommodate for the absence of pennies (for example, something that is $3.97 would be rounded up to $4.00) will hurt the economy, although a look at countries like Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, all of whom have ditched their equivalent to pennies, would prove otherwise. Studies by Robert Whaples, Wake Forest University economics professor and penny enemy, have shown that not only would eliminating pennies have no effect on prices, but also would actually save consumers and tellers money by way of opportunity costs. In other words, the time it takes you to fumble for pennies costs you time you could spend making money.

In the big scheme of wasteful government spending, killing the penny isn’t that big of a deal. The idea behind currency is to simplify the exchange of goods and services, and pennies are so frightfully inefficient at this. The places we typically use coins — vending machines, toll booths and parking meters — no longer take pennies, and they’ve become essentially worthless. Five pennies even weigh more than one nickel, so carrying pennies is inefficient as well. In what world are pennies ever going to become useful as currency?

Canada has already begun phasing out its pennies; when will the U.S. drop the nostalgia and follow suit?

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.