And what do people do with pennies? They leave them on the cafeteria counter for the next customer or toss them into jars to be redeemed … someday. Pennies are a significant added expense for retailers, costing a couple of cents per purchase in added transaction time — including the seconds customers spend hunting for the penny in their pocket so they can avoid getting more pennies in change. The one-cent coin, let’s face it, is little more than a nostalgia item, a copper-clad anachronism whose absence few outside the zinc industry would notice. Since the 1980s, the U.S. military has done without the penny on its bases, rounding out transactions to the nearest nickel with no noticeable harm.
And that nickel? An even bigger loser, costing up to 9 cents each to produce. As President Obama sensibly suggested in 2010, this could be solved by making the nickel out of cheaper materials than the current copper-nickel alloy. The worth of today’s coins has nothing to do with their mineral content; they are merely tokens of value, like the dollar bill that we could do without, thereby saving many more dollars.