If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may know that I am devoutly anti-penny. This includes a rant on 60 Minutes in which I argue that the penny should be killed off, as inflation has rendered it worse than worthless.
The U.S. government remains unpersuaded, but our good neighbors to the north are about to take the leap (following the lead, it should be said, of several other countries).
Guys, I had a thought today as I was walking to work in the sweltering D.C. morning heat: As the U.S. has increasingly become a cashless society with the rise of debit- and credit-card use, has there been a decrease in panhandling, busking, and homelessness? Obviously, fewer people carrying cash or change means panhandlers, buskers, and the homeless will have fewer and fewer people giving them money on the street. Would busking and panhandling become extinct if we do eventually become a completely cashless society? Is that already happening?
Great questions, John!
I don’t know the answers, but I might now seek them out. If we do ever get truly cashless, presumably you could transfer money from your digital wallet to a panhandler’s digital wallet. Might it be hard for a panhandler in possession of a digital wallet to appear needy? Probably not: if they are ubiquitous, the cost of a digital wallet itself would likely be near (or even below?) zero.
John’s questions raise two other thoughts:
+ I wonder if the appeal of going cashless might wane in light of so much high-profile financial hacking going on.
+ If/as we do get more cashless, what are the other unseen ramifications? Personally, I’d be happy to do away with the stuff. It’s dirty, inefficient, and produces a lot of troublesome by-products.
I’ve already used up too much of your bandwidth complaining about the uselessness of pennies, but allow me to share with you a wonderful vlog rant by John Green on the many, many reasons why the penny (and the nickel, too) should be abolished.
A young economist I know, Patrick DeJarnette, believes a much more radical change in currency is warranted. Here is what Patrick writes:
Late one night I was curious how efficient the “penny, nickel, dime, quarter” system was, so I wrote a little script to compare all possible 4-coin systems, with the following stipulations:
Fight spam by donating to your favorite charity. That’s how researchers at Yahoo are hoping to convince people to put a virtual one-cent stamp on their outgoing e-mails. Sending a penny-stamped e-mail through Yahoo’s (not yet released) CentMail program would automatically mark it as “real mail” and get it past any spam filters.
I never set out to be anti-penny, but somehow it happened, and I have gone on the record more than a few times arguing that the penny should be eliminated.
While I stand by my belief that the penny is lousy as currency, someone has finally come up with a use for pennies that has made me reconsider my extinction argument: make a floor out of them!
Readers of this blog may recall Dubner’s crusade against the penny due to opportunity cost as well as the high actual cost of producing pennies. Now Slate takes a look at another currency question: is cash or credit more environmentally friendly? The article doesn’t manage to answer the question, but it does point out the heavy environmental toll of producing . . .
I have nothing against Abraham Lincoln — quite admire him, in fact — but I do think the penny has long, long, long outlived its usefulness.
I have said this time and again and, having been woefully ineffective in bringing about its end, vowed to shut up about it.
Photo: Odalaigh Whenever I travel in other wealthy countries, I am a bit embarrassed about the dollar bill’s insignificance compared to other countries’ smallest bills: a 5-pound note is worth $9; a 5-euro note is worth $7; a 1,000-yen note is worth $9. At the same time, no rich country has a coin as worthless as the U.S. penny. Imagine . . .
In Argentina, buying a pack of gum can throw you into a standoff with the cashier, who, due to the country’s coin shortage, often lacks the correct change. Facing similar problems, nearby Paraguay has adopted a socially acceptable solution for vendors: when you don’t have change or need to round up, candy is acceptable currency. If Americans place as much . . .
Producing a penny costs about 1.7 cents, and the Treasury’s annual penny deficit is about $50 million, according to a New Yorker article by David Owen. Yet folks — and some companies — still want the penny around, in part because they fear merchants rounding up prices and increased reliance on the even more expensive nickel (which costs almost ten . . .
Treasury Secretary in favor of axing the penny. (Earlier) Free books online: the debate continues. (Earlier) Are lawsuits the next phase in the fight against global warming? (Earlier) Reducing class sizes isn’t enough to fight achievement gap.
As of this writing, the CBS News program 60 Minutes is scheduled to run a segment on Sun., Feb. 10 (7 p.m. EST), on the fate of the penny: should it be abolished or not? I was interviewed on the subject, so if the piece isn’t preempted and if I don’t end up on the cutting room floor, you can . . .
The Great Penny Debate continues to limp along. One hundred million pennies, collected by schoolchildren, were put on display at Rockefeller Center. Meanwhile, lots of people continue to argue for elimination of the penny. I am firmly on the abolitionists’ side, as stated previously here and here. The only reasons I can think of for keeping the penny are inertia . . .
Whenever I get change for a dollar, I ask the cashier to keep the pennies. They aren’t worth my time, or hers, or yours. Sometimes the cashier refuses for bookkeeping purposes, in which case I politely accept the pennies and then throw them in the nearest trash can. (Is this illegal? Maybe so, but then so is throwing pennies into . . .