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The penny has served the American public faithfully for over 230 years. Do we really want to destroy this time-honored legacy in an attempt to lessen problems that will always plague our society? Besides its cultural value after being used by millions of people daily for hundreds of years, the penny also serves commemorative and economic purposes that cannot be easily replaced. I say we shouldn’t abolish the penny — it does more for us than we give it credit for.
Firstly, the established monetary system is difficult to conceptualize without the penny. It would simply be unnatural for most Americans, consumers and businesses alike, to follow U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe’s plan of rounding every transaction up or down to the nearest nickel. (Source A) The so-called menu costs of changing prices on every good currently listed for $0.99, $1.99, $2.99… would be enormous — and unnecessary. Our consumer culture is based on age-old tricks like enticing buyers through to illusion of $1.99 being a much cheaper price than $2.00. Abolishing the penny is not only unnatural, but also removes room for nuance in items’ prices — fundamentally violating the spirit of free markets in a capitalist society like the U.S.
While proponents of abolishing the penny claim it no longer serves a standalone purpose — as William Safire of the New York Times writes, “you can’t buy anything with a penny any more,” citing the “penny candy” and “penny ante poker” of bygone days — inflation should have no bearing on whether certain monetary denominations should be kept or banned. (Source C) If we establish a dangerous historical precedent by removing coins deemed no longer useful at will, what will happen in fifty years? Will the nickel be banned, and then the dime? What about the dollar? The American economy has grown steadily at an inflation rate of around 3% per year, meaning that by penny-abolishers’ logic, we would have to rid ourselves of other coins soon, too. Abolishing the penny would only be a misguided step towards a never-ending and unnecessary cycle of confusion.
In a similar vein, some naysayers state that pennies merely end up dropping out of circulation — in the New York Times article, Safire cites John Tierney as saying that pennies end up behind “chair cushions or at the back of sock drawers.” (Source C) But pennies should not be singularly blamed for the common faults of all coinage. Regardless of how Safire would have you believe that pennies are the root of loose change evil, “tear[ing] holes in pockets and set[ting] off alarms at every frisking-place, the unique importance of pennies to our history and economy should not go unnoticed.”
As a White House press release noted in 2005, according to Michael Bishop, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, “the penny is perhaps the most visible and tangible reminder of Lincoln’s presence in American history.” (source F) The coin itself was the first currency authorized by the United States (source B). Where some see “outdated”ness (source C), I see a rich cultural and historical symbol that reminds Americans of the great legacy of our founding fathers on an accessible and frequently used tool of trade.
That’s not all of the contribution the penny has made to the American economy. It has also allowed our Tennessean zinc mines to flourish. (Source A) While greedy lawmakers such as Kolbe attempt to gain more market share for copper based coins, which largely source copper from his home state of Arizona, we should remember that pennies literally fuel economies in the South and should not be banned or discouraged just so wealth can be concentrated in a few greedy states: it is diversity and diversification, of our coinage and our funded minerals, that make this country great.
America is first and foremost a country by the people, for the people. We take great pride in our rich history and in commemorating our heroes of the past, including Abraham Lincoln. We take pride in our free markets and our consumerism. So when the people showed their majority opinion against abolishing the penny in a Harris poll (source E), I think we should listen to them. The penny’s huge cultural significance as a symbol of the American spirit cannot go ignored just to appease the select few who use the faulty arguments of inflation or lack of circulation to oppose the coin. After all, with the weight of our forefathers on our shoulders, we cannot afford to cave to greed. The penny should live to see another day, whether in cash registers or tip jars, pants pockets or sock drawers. We owe at least that much to our celebration of America.
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