Currency: The penny
The penny has endured a more sordid history than a fame-seeking reality TV personality. It’s been redesigned, recomposed, traded in rolls for the more buoyant dollar, tossed into fountains, tossed into trash cans, jammed unyieldingly into parking meters and vending machines, cited as divine precipitation in a Bing Crosby song, dulled from gleaming copper to bedraggled brown, and orphaned carelessly in sad heaps on convenience-store counters, like unwanted kittens, yearning for the worn, warm insides of an old leather wallet.
And now the fate of the penny dangles perilously close to extinction, as opponents argue that the rising prices of the metal and labor necessary for producing pennies exceed the value of the coin itself. Freakonomics scribe Stephen J. Dubner admits to trashing his Lincolns; a vocal anti-cent group called Citizens for Retiring the Penny calls them a “waste of money,” and economist François R. Velde says its value should climb to five cents. Bills promoting the demise of the penny have been introduced to Congress, though none have been approved.
But toss this idea into your great piggy bank of thoughts: every day, you buy something at a price punctuated by pennies. A coffee for $1.87 (double that if it’s Starbucks), a sandwich for $5.19, a DVD for $25.37. What if all of those things, each minor purchase over the course of a whole year, increased to an even amount: $1.90 for a coffee, $5.20 for a sandwich, $25.40 for a DVD? It seems negligible, but over the course of a year, or several years, those added cents equal fewer dollars in the old bank account. Many charities raise money by collecting a 100 million or so pennies. How many do you have on you right now?
— Caitlin E. Curran