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A Nickel For Your Thoughts About The Penny
by Mad Dog
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Mad Dog column has been published by Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, NY Daily News, S.F. Chronicle, Boston Phoenix and other fine newspapers.

They say money burns a hole in your pocket but, funny thing, they don’t say where it goes when it falls through. That’s because they don’t have a clue. This is borne out by a recent survey conducted by Visa (motto: “It’s everywhere you want to spend money you don’t have”) which found that the average adult in Britain spends $61 every week without having the foggiest notion what it bought. That’s right, $61 a week. Okay, so the truth is most Brits have never laid their hands on a dollar bill and the amount they spend mindlessly is actually 33 pounds, but wasted money is an international language. You know, like love, music, and Esperanto.

That’s a lot of vanishing money. To put it into perspective, the average Brit fritters away enough money to cover their power and water bills for a year, buy groceries for nine months, or treat every math-challenged American to a calculator that automatically converts pounds to dollars, kilograms to pounds, meters to feet, and Queens to Secretaries of State. I know I could sure use one.

It’s not like the money’s actually lost, it’s just unaccounted for. You know, like when you look up and ask, “Hey, didn’t I have another twenty in my wallet?” or “What does it mean when there’s a minus sign in front of my bank balance again?” It happens so easily. We go shopping or out on the town and spend money like water. Or more likely we spend it on water, which is just as bad when you figure bottled water can run $1.00 for a 20-oz. bottle, which means you’re paying over $6 per gallon. And you think gas is expensive. Hah! Just try to rehydrate using 87 octane gas the next time you’re sweating like crazy trying to figure out just when it was that drinking became hydrating, going over to a friend’s house after school became a play date, and running became something you did voluntarily for exercise rather than to save your butt.

So what can you do about this? Well, you could pay more attention when you open your wallet, keep a strict budget you won’t follow, write down every expenditure in a notebook, and make new friends at the Obsessive Compulsives Anonymous meetings you’ll start going to, but what fun is that? That’s why the better answer is to make more money so it doesn’t matter. Do you think Bill Gates wonders where his money goes? Heck, it could leak out of his mattress and get vacuumed up by the cleaning robot and he wouldn’t miss it one bit. Remember, making more money when you’re running out is the American Way. Even the government does it, and if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me. Besides, when they make money, they really makes money. As in turning a tidy profit. Is it any wonder I keep thinking about seceding from the Union?

They manage that trick because of seigniorage, a word that comes from the Old French word for a feudal lord, seignior. You know, as in “Oh lord, now that’s a scam — I mean, profit center — I wish I’d thought of.” Seigniorage is the difference between the face value of a coin or note and what it costs to produce it. For example, it costs the U.S. Mint (motto: “It’s the only flavor we come in.”) less than five cents to make a quarter. So many people have bought and stashed away the “50 State” quarters at 25 cents apiece that the U.S. Treasury figures it’s earned about $5 billion from them so far. Not a bad haul for a bunch of coins that look like you bought them in a roadside attraction gift shop.

Thus the government makes money any time someone collects coins, loses them, hordes them, or just tosses them into a big jar by the door and uses it for a doorstop. Of course they return that profit to us in the form of tax breaks. Yeah, right. The problem is that thanks to rising metal prices, right now some coins cost more to make than they’re worth. Like the penny. It’s made mostly of zinc with a thin copper coating because, as any aging Hollywood star can tell you, appearance is everything and beauty’s only skin deep. Thanks to the price of zinc tripling in the past few years, it now costs 1.4 cents to make a penny. In the first six months of this year, the U.S. Mint cranked out about 4.8 billion pennies. At this rate they stand to lose about $38.4 million dollars making pennies this year. Who does the government think it is, United Airlines?

Actually, this is what’s known as a loss leader. You know, come in and buy our pennies at a loss so you’ll get suckered into buying “50 State” quarters where the real profit is. Hey, no one ever said the government was stupid. Corrupt, maybe, but not stupid.

This losing penny proposition has helped fuel a new movement to get rid of the coin. Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona recently introduced a bill in Congress that would force all cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. The Currency Overhaul for an Industrious Nation (COIN) Act would not only mean the end of the penny, but is a shoo-in to win the Biggest Stretch to Create an Acronym award (BSCA) for 2006.

What would it be like without pennies? Imagine wearing nickel loafers, having someone offer you a nickel for your thoughts, hearing your children ask what you’re talking about when you sing “Pennies from Heaven,” and not walking around with a pocket loaded down with copper coins. It won’t make it any easier to track of where your money went, but at least you wouldn’t have to account for every penny.

# # # # #

©2006 Barry H. Gottlieb All Rights Reserved.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: His compilation of humorous travel columns, “If It’s Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?” is available from Xlibris Corporation.

Published: Sep 7,2008 18:33
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