On January 15, 2013 an Op-Ed article I wrote was published in the Wall Street Journal. NPR, the national public radio network, picked up that article. Scott Simon’s January 18th segment of Simon Says was based on that article.
Simon introduced a bit of levity in his commentary by saying that Larry, Curly and Moe’s portraits are not on our coins. Instead the coins feature past presidents and Congress would find a difficult time replacing them on any future coins. (In my plan to revamp our coinage system I would promote those same presidents to a higher denomination coin, but, of course, Simon was unaware of that.)
Thirty-eight listeners responded to his commentary before this Report was written, recorded on NPR’s website. If this brief response was indicative or typical of radio listeners it provides insight into the medium’s audience.
Analyzing those comments is quite interesting. They range from intelligent and insightful to near gibberish. The largest percentage had comments about the design appearing on coins – and in particular whose portraits appear – irrespective of what denominations. People are vocal about what appears on all coins.
The second most common group were evenly divided among those who made comments on economics, and the purchasing power of coins and those who commented on their experiences with coins in other countries, particular the Euro.
The remainder were scattered among accepting new coins, rounding up or down – insisting a loss in most transactions of those few pennies – and a couple that were anti-government, no mater what.
One suggested the same concept offered by Chicago Federal Reserve Bank senior economist Francçoise Velde, to revalue lower denomination to the next higher. Too late for that for the American penny however.
One was critical of both this author and Simon on his broadcast, claiming we were not considerate of the homeless who exist on donations of lower value coins. And one was a poem by someone who must have had a lot of time on his hand.
Here are some selected extracts from those comments:
- Willius M: Great idea! Let’s do it.
- Oscar Myer: This isn’t a problem with the coins themselves. It’s a problem with government policies.
- Travis Petengill: Do it already, U.S. Mint, stop gabbing about it.
- Peter Barrett: I think I see the situation more clearly than I ever had! I have been in denial as to why the 1979 dollar coin never caught on
- Matthew Fry: For electronic transactions you can pay down to the [exact] penny as always.
- Katthy Applebaum: Why not just fix our manufacturing process? Smaller coins, cheaper metals, more efficient techniques can go a long way.
The voice of the listening public is naive perhaps and without the full knowledge of the overall problem, nor of possible solutions. They are quick to sound off. Their comments indicate an expression, a need of a far more reasoned study and intelligent thought of the problem and all possible solutions.
Here is Scott Simon’s full text on his January 18th broadcast from NPR’s website:
A Thought That’s Worth More Than A Penny (Or A Nickel)
by Scott Simon
January 18, 2013 2:27 PM
It costs more than a penny to make a penny, and more than a dime to make a nickel. Would it make better business sense to simply round up?
You might want to look at the profiles of presidents — current, past and aspiring — attending President Obama’s inauguration on Monday and imagine how they’d look one day on a coin.
But a few voices are beginning to propose that in these times, when newspapers cost a dollar and more, and people pull out credit cards to buy a cup of coffee, small coins may soon be relics.
A penny costs more than a cent to mint and circulate. The nickel costs more than 10 cents. This is not a good business plan for a nation that is kazillions of dollars in debt.
This week, D. Wayne Johnson, historian of the Medallic Art Company, proposed in The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. government get rid of the penny, nickel and quarter. You can’t buy a pack of gum with a quarter these days. Pennies and nickels are often just cast into bowls, drawers and jars, useless and unspent.
So Mr. Johnson suggests we round off prices to the nearest 10, and start minting just 10 cent, 50 cent and $1 coins. The dollar coin would replace the bill, which gets worn, wrinkly, and then won’t work in vending machines.
It’s one of those ideas that sounds sensible every way but politically. And politics is what truly counts.
That’s not Larry, Curly and Moe on the penny, nickel and quarter; it’s Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington — two founding fathers and the president who saved the Union. Can you imagine any Congress taking those profiles off of coins?
But even if you put those old presidents on new dimes, half-dollars and dollars, you’d have to scrap Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Sacagawea. Half-dollars and dollars aren’t used much right now, except by casinos and the Tooth Fairy. But imagine the outcry if Congress proposed removing from our money the president who won World War II, the president who personified youthful vigor, and a woman who helped open the West?
Can you see why when the European Union started minting money, they chose stylized architectural details instead of people?
Reducing the number of coins in America would bring down the number of pedestals on which to put national heroes. But imagine the debates if Congress had to decide whom to put on just three small coins. Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez? Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs? Jackie Robinson or Jim Thorpe? Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony or Sandra Day O’Connor? FDR, not Lincoln? Or vice versa? At least after this week, Lance Armstrong wouldn’t be in the running.
In a sense, it helps us appreciate that the United States has grown so rich in history, diversity and depth that no three, four, five — or a hundred profiles can express it.
What about Marx — Groucho, Chico and Harpo?