This week’s headlines included a downer from the animal kingdom. The world’s last male northern white rhino passed away, leaving just two females to live out their days before the species goes extinct. How sad is that? Especially since the northern white’s demise is the result of the poaching of its horns – questionable behavior from we humans.
Speaking of questionable behavior, did you know the U.S. penny and nickel are also on the verge of obsolescence? It’s true, if you believe the arguments of those who say the one-cent and five-cent pieces have outlived their utility. Consider: 1) both coins cost more to mint than they’re worth; 2) a nickel today buys less than 20% of its worth in 1970 (a penny – less than 10%); 3) merchants routinely adjust pricing to avoid their use; and 4) the metals involved – zinc, copper, and nickel – have perfectly good uses elsewhere.
The prosecutions rests and the defense now takes the stand. Pennies and nickels should not go the way of the northern white. Consider: 1) Demand for the little guys is soaring; double what it was a decade ago; 2) The U.S. Mint “makes money” on its production of coins – fully 45 cents for every dollar’s worth (in 2017: a $400 million profit); 3) If zinc becomes too expensive (97.5% of the makeup of today’s pennies), a cheaper metal can be used for filler, and 4) eliminating pennies and nickels could threaten confidence in the U.S. dollar with a forced dependence on higher denominations.
I’ll get behind any of these arguments – pro or con – I just think they’re boring. Defending our little Mr. Lincoln’s and little Mr. Jefferson’s can be so much more creative. Take away pennies and nickels; then consider the following:
1) Penny loafers. No longer the classic men’s slip-on shoes with the cool name, including the cross strap and small opening at the center; the perfect size and shape for a penny. Add those Lincolns and you gave new meaning to the term “shoe shine”. You also had a built-in conversation starter, when the girl asked why you put coins in your shoes. You told her you were retro – back in the day a phone call cost a penny, and loafers were a convenient way to carry around the cost.
2) 99 Cent Only Stores. Fifty years of U.S. retail, with over 400 locations and thousands of products priced at “ninety-nine cents or less”, goes belly-up without the penny. How would a cashier make change on the dollar? They’d have to give you a nickel instead, and… oops, the nickel’s gone too. New math: buy something for $0.99, pay a dollar, and get a dime in change. Huh?
3) Girls named Penelope. They could no longer be “Penny” for short (or “Nickel”) because no one would understand what made the nickname so cute. You say you don’t know anyone named Penelope? Wait a few years. In 2008, Penelope was #2,222 on the list of girl’s names. This year it’s #573.
4) Your thoughts. They used to be “a penny for…”. Now you’ll have to pay at least ten times that much. Keep them to yourself.
5) Beatles hits. “Penny Lane” drops out of the Fab Four’s impressive list of #1’s. The quaint little street no longer exists in Liverpool, England. The barber never shows another photograph (of every customer he’s had the pleasure to have known). There’s no fireman with an hourglass (nor in his pocket a portrait of the Queen). You’re no longer there, beneath the blue, suburban skies.
6) Copper (+ zinc) floors. Okay, I didn’t even realize this was a “thing” until recently. Who ever said you had to spend a penny to give it value?
7) Your parent’s sayings. Out the window goes “If I had a nickel for every time I heard that…”, or “we didn’t have two pennies to rub together”, or “that costs a pretty penny”, or “penny-wise, pound-foolish”, and so on. Nobody would ever “nickel-and-dime” you again.
8) Derailed trains. Okay, a derailed train was just a childhood power trip, to heighten the suspense of flattening pennies on the tracks. The train rumbled on. The pennies sometimes got lost. Would a train flatten a dime or a quarter? Never tried it; wouldn’t expect a kid to sacrifice that much pocket change for cheap thrills.
These arguments are solid; not a bad penny in the bunch. We can’t let a subspecies like the U.S. penny or the U.S. nickel go extinct. Think twice the next time a cashier takes a penny out of the counter cup just so she can give you change in dimes or quarters. Think twice the next time you’re humming along with Billie Holiday:
Oh every time it rains
It rains pennies from heaven
Don’t you know each cloud contains
Pennies from heaven
You’ll find your fortune
Fallin’ all over town
Be sure that your umbrella is upside down
Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “”Should the U.S. Retire the Penny and Nickel?”