Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Penny Diatribe

To be quite honest, I never had any aspirations of Rutgers winning the Insight Bowl. After watching the team throughout college, I know their tendencies, and it’s well known that they’re sometimes the best team in college football for half a game. Tuesday night was no different, as they blew a 24-17 halftime lead and basically laid down for ASU in the second half.

Oh, and the Blue Jays got Troy Glaus. I’m sure I have something to say about that, but for now it’s, “damn, looks like the Red Sox are finishing third.” Gimme a day or so; I’m sure I’ll cook up something.

Today, though, I plunge into a non-sports topic. Today I talk about the most malignant of monetary units: the penny.

The penny, my friends, is the annoying kid in your group who is only around because he’s known one of you since childhood. The penny is the guy who makes asinine comments at movies. The penny is the guy who gets smashed and creeps out all the chicks at a party. The penny is the guy who doesn’t make it to the toilet before he hurls.

Some people may be thinking right now: hey Joe, why all the beef about the penny? Honestly, I’ve been working in retail in some form for five years or so, and have had to handle plenty of those grimy little buggers. And quite honestly, I feel bad about handing them out.

Seriously, what are you going to do with two cents? Nothing costs less than a nickel nowadays. I defy you to find me an item at a convenience store selling for under five cents. Nope. Nada.

Ah, but you can save pennies, and some day they will add up to a significant dollar amount. This, actually, is the only useful way to dispose of pennies. Put them all in a water cooler jug until it fills, then bring that jug down to your local Coin Star machine (because realistically, who’s going to wrap that many pennies – and don’t forget to put your account number on each roll). Sure, they’ll charge you eight cents on the dollar, but who knows, maybe one of those pennies will slip into a quarter slot. Free money, baby.

The most common use of the penny is to receive back an even amount of change at a store. And why do people do this? So they don’t get any more pennies back. Once again, no one wants pennies.

So if the only point of pennies is to save them up, then why even have them around? Why not completely cut them out of our monetary system? Would there be any harm in this? I see only upside.

Beyond saving an annoyance, cutting out the penny puts our change system in units of five, which simplifies matters. So now you’re paying $5.55 rather than $5.52, saving yourself the burden of carrying three pennies in your pocket until you empty them into your jug at home. Actually, you probably don’t have a jug; you probably just dump the change in your room and eventually suck it up with a vacuum cleaner. Or you’re like my friend Brian and immediately litters the parking lot with them.

In any case, every argument boils down to the simple fact that the penny is plain annoying. And while that may signify subjectivity, I think it’s pretty universal. I mean, you name me one person who would care enough to paste together an argument defending the penny.

Eliminating the penny also paves the way for Lincoln’s move to the quarter. And why not? Sure, George Washington was our first president, but does that mean he’s worth two monetary units? I think Mr. Washington would be perfectly satisfied with gracing the dollar bill, and would gladly move aside for Honest Abe in the event the penny should be squashed. Or at least that’s how folklore would have us believe he would act.

In accordance with my argument guidelines, I’ll make one concession, and that’s the calculation of sales tax. You see, this is a very precise science, taking six percent (depending on what state you’re in) of the total and adding it to the order. Lord knows it would take years to implement a new system for calculating sales tax absent the penny, but for the time being we could just round the penny to the nearest nickel (kinda like we round off odd numbers when calculating sales tax…).

I could go into other reasons, such as the amount of grime collected on dormant pennies, or the fact that I’ve been hit with a penny used as a projectile weapon many times, and damn well could have lost an eye, but I think it’s pretty much a slam dunk case. The penny is annoying and pointless, and I dare you to make a case otherwise. Until someone does, I’ll assume you all agree.

The only matter that remains is what to do with the remaining pennies. Surely some would be saved in museums and by hobbyists, but people like me and you just want to be rid of these forsaken things. And for us, there’s the lottery.

There always comes time in poker games when the least denominated chip becomes obsolete because the blinds are up. In the group I play with, everyone cashes in their excess ones for fives (usually the next denomination), and the remainder is thrown into a pool. We then play a mini card game to determine the winner of the lotto chips.

This would work perfect for pennies. The dump/recycling center in each town would be equipped with a large cone for depositing the pennies. You would simply go to the recycling center and dump your jug of pennies into the cone. A machine on the cone would then calculate your total, throw any odd pennies into the lotto pool, and print out a check for the even amount, and that would be that.

The government would then be free to use the copper however it pleases. I don’t know what you can make with a glut of copper, but I know it can at least be used for other coins and copper piping, so there’s two right there. Then again, that could lead to the government assembling an army of copper robots. I think I have a science fiction book to write now…

Unfortunately, issues like war are impeding such an important issue from coming to the forefront of the government’s attention. But there is something you can do. Next time you buy something, tell the clerk you don’t want the pennies. He may be a tight wad and give you a strange look, but pay no mind; he’s just the clerk. In fact, maybe you’ll find a chill clerk who understands where you’re coming from, and you two can go toss pennies into the river after work.

See, just another upside to eliminating the penny.