You'll Have to Pry This Dollar Bill From My Cold, Dead Hands

Josh Barro is the lead writer for the Ticker, Bloomberg View's blog on economics, finance and politics. His primary areas of interest include tax and fiscal policy, state and local government, and planning and land use.
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As seems to happen every few years, there's another report out from a federal agency urging the U.S. to withdraw $1 bills from circulation and replace them with coins. The arguments are always the same: Coins last longer! We'd save a bunch of money! Everyone else is doing it!

Switching to dollar coins is a dumb idea, and I'm glad to see that a member of Congress has finally, succinctly explained why. The AP reports:

"Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., said men don't like carrying a bunch of coins around in their pocket or in their suits."

This. This. A thousand times this.

The Government Accountability Office estimates that switching to dollar coins would save the U.S. government $4.4 billion over 30 years. That's about $150 million a year, or 50 cents per year per American.

What you get in exchange for that 50 cents a year is that you never really need to think about change. You stick it in your pockets when a cashier hands it to you, you collect it in a jar on your desk, and every few months, you take that jar to a Coinstar machine. If you take your Coinstar voucher in the form of a gift card, you don't even have to pay a counting fee.

But when you go to Canada or Europe, suddenly change becomes real money. The largest coin is worth $2.60 in the euro-zone, $3.20 in the U.K. and a whopping $5.40 in Switzerland. At the end of the day, not only are your pockets full of large, bulky coins, but those coins are also probably worth enough to buy a sandwich and a beer.

That's annoying. I don't want to have to get money from both my wallet and my pockets. I don't want to expend any mental energy thinking about change. I just want to dump it in a jar.

Getting the freedom to do that for just 50 cents a year is the steal of the century. It's one of a handful of things (along with movies, bathroom fixtures and hotel mattresses) that America does much better than Europe.

If Congress wants to fiddle with our change-production practices, it should abolish the penny, which actually costs the government more than one cent to make. The dollar bill is one of the things that makes America great.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)


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