Abolish The Penny Essay Topics
We spend more money making pennies than pennies are worth. Right now making a penny costs 1.7 cents. Yet we continue to mint more pennies every year, costing the government millions of dollars. Both pennies and nickels cost more than their face value to produce. In 2014, the United States spent $132 million on manufacturing 8 billion pennies. That does not even take into account the added costs of using pennies, like the time it takes to find them in the bottom of your purse or pocket and for the cashier to count them. According to the organization “Citizens to Retire the Penny” the economic drain every year from the penny is almost $900 million dollars.
So why on earth are we still making pennies? The two main arguments for continuing to produce the penny are the impact that eliminating them would have on pricing and the penny’s role in charity fundraising. If there were no one-cent coins in circulation, businesses would likely round the prices of their goods up to the nearest nickel, raising costs for consumers. And charities that promote penny drives would suffer because there would no longer be coins that people don’t want and are therefore willing to give to charities. The third argument, which is more sentimental than practical, relates to President Lincoln–many simply don’t want to eliminate the coin because it commemorates him.
Throughout our history, the coining of money has had political ramifications that go far beyond whose face we put on our currency. Changes in the supply of money and who has access to it have the power to promote the interests of a particular class and stimulate sectors of the economy. Eliminating the penny may be efficient, but it could also have unforseen consequences for the economy.
The Penny Debate
The video below does a great job of being both an educational and entertaining introduction to the many practical, efficiency-based arguments in favor of eliminating the penny. Featured on Freakonomics.com by Stephen J. Dubner–who seems to be on an economic-moral crusade to denounce the penny–it not only shows the base numbers of how much money we are wasting by manufacturing pennies but also the added costs of keeping them around.
The numbers in favor of eliminating the penny are pretty clear. Firstly, pennies cost more to produce than they are worth, which right there should give those who are at least neutral on the penny some food for thought. Secondly, they aren’t even worth your time to bend over and pick them up, let alone the 120 million of hours of time per year that are spent counting pennies in cash transactions. In fact, when John Oliver delivered his own anti-penny rant he looked at news stories with people who actually would not bother to pick up free pennies. At first glance, one might think these people are wasteful and foolish to not pick up free money. But they are actually making a smart economic choice because the small amount of time it would take to pick up the penny is worth more to them than the penny itself.
Some people even throw pennies in the trash. Actually, a lot of people will throw pennies in the trash (2 percent actually admit to it, which makes me think that the number may actually be higher). Even for those who don’t literally throw pennies away, many will still not spend them. This means that pennies, once created, don’t circulate as much as other coins. It also means that we make more of them so that businesses can continue to have shiny new ones.
Proponents of the Penny
The penny does have its advocates. The group Americans For Common Cents advocates for the continued manufacturing of the penny. According to a 2006 Gallup survey, 55 percent of Americans said that pennies were useful, versus 43 percent who said they were not; 2 percent had no opinion (they could be the same 2 percent who end up throwing them in the trash). But Gallup broke this down even further by income per household. Lower-income groups are more likely to think the penny is useful. For example, households that make less than $30,000 a year have a 65 to 34 split in thinking pennies should be kept, while households that make $75,000 a year or more had a 45-53 split in favor of eliminating the penny. It isn’t until you reach that income strata that the anti-penny opinion takes the lead.
Americans For Common Cents cites the effect on consumers, particularly low-income Americans, as a reason for keeping the penny. Businesses would have to round to the nearest nickel if there were no pennies and therefore consumers would have to pay more. Some people might not notice, but to low-income Americans, that might actually make a difference. In its own research, Americans For Common Cents found that 73 percent of Americans were concerned that eliminating the penny would increase prices.
There is also a concern about the potential effect on charitable giving. Most of the arguments focus on gifts to charitable organizations, rather than giving to individuals, but panhandlers and homeless individuals receive loose change from people and might be adversely affected by pennies going out of circulation. Large charities like the Salvation Army also collect loose change and rely on people donating in pennies. The unpopularity of the penny may actually be a good thing for these charities, prompting people to donate them rather than throw them away or spend them. Other countries that have abandoned the penny, notably Canada, have not seen a drop in charity donations, but they may have other customs that don’t rely as heavily on penny donation to support charities.
Lincoln, Lobbying, and REAL Money
Keeping the penny has as much to do with preserving the great American tradition of specialized lobbying groups as it does with promoting the image of Abraham Lincoln. In this CBS Morning News segment, the reporters interview the head of Americans For Common Cents, which uses the mystique of Lincoln to promote the pro-penny position.
Americans For Common Cents gets a lot of its funding from Jarden Zinc, which manufacturers the zinc discs that become pennies. (fun fact: pennies are made of zinc and only covered in copper since copper is much too expensive). Jarden Zinc. has a very real financial interest in the United States continuing to produce pennies, so it spends money to promote this position. It spent $140,000 on lobbying efforts and was later awarded a contract by the federal government worth $48 million.
Lobbying efforts like this are found on nearly every issue in American politics, many of which involve much more money. When it comes to getting rid of the penny, Jarden Zinc is very passionate, while most of us have not considered the issue much at all. And if we have, we don’t feel that it is an issue of grave national importance and so no action is taken on it, allowing the status quo to continue.
There may be another compelling reason to keep pennies that Americans for Common Cents hasn’t touched on much in their advocacy efforts. Our monetary system was initially based on precious metals. Paper money (fun fact: paper money is actually made out of linen and cotton–not paper) became a stand-in for precious metals like gold and silver, but early on the money was still backed by gold and silver. Paper money was more convenient to use than carrying around bars of gold with you but the money had a bar of gold somewhere that gave it value. A dollar was actually worth something tangible.
Our currency is no longer backed by precious metals, except for pennies and nickels because those are actually made from semi-precious metals. But these are substances with value. It’s illegal to do it, but you could melt down a bunch of pennies and get zinc out of them (and a small amount of copper), which you could then sell. And because the zinc in the pennies is worth more than the pennies themselves that would be a great idea–if the government hadn’t made it illegal precisely because people started doing that.
Keeping pennies avoids the potential issues for charity donations and price increases but it also, according to Brian Domitrovic of Forbes, is a symbol of a monetary policy that we should encourage. One that responds to market signals and promotes a more healthful economy. In his view, keeping the penny, even if it is inefficient, is worth doing for that reason.
The penny has great sentimental value to many Americans. We have countless aphorisms about pennies. About picking them up, which we don’t do. About saving them, which we also don’t do. Even about giving them to people for their thoughts–which Stephen Dubner from Freakonomics considers to be an insult. But what we don’t have for pennies is a policy that deals in rational economic terms with the cost-benefit of producing and using them. Concerns about the impact on charities and on pricing are hurdles that our neighbors to the north and around the world have dealt with when abolishing their one-cent coins. We merely lack the political will to confront it as an issue because to most Americans pennies are unimportant, but to some, they are worth millions. It is literally a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.
United States Mint: 2015 Annual Report
History Matters: Cross of Gold Speech
Huffington Post: Get Rid Of The Penny
The Odyssey Online: Why Are Pennies Still A Thing?
The Wall Street Journal: Easy To Lose and Expensive To Produce: Is The Penny Worth It?
Fortune, Don’t Mess With the Penny Lobby
Retire The Penny
Americans For Common Cents
Gallup: Penny Worth Saving Say Americans
Forbes: Don’t You Dare Eliminate The Penny
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to make the cost of producing a penny clear.
Mary Kate Leahy
Mary Kate Leahy (@marykate_leahy) has a J.D. from William and Mary and a Bachelor’s in Political Science from Manhattanville College. She is also a proud graduate of Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart. She enjoys spending her time with her kuvasz, Finn, and tackling a never-ending list of projects. Contact Mary Kate at staff@LawStreetMedia.com
William Safire writes a fine argumentative piece on why America no longer has any need for a bothersome coin of copper that “costs more in employee-hours,” than it is actually worth. Safire uses compelling evidence and real life scenarios to convince his audience that we need to rid our lives of this, “outdated, almost worthless, bothersome and wasteful penny.” If the reader is able to read between the
lines and use some analytical processes, they will come to find there is a hidden metaphor in Safire’s argument. He is not just furiously venting on an insignificant cent. William Safire’s positional essay is extremely influential at instilling passion in Americans and helping to open their eyes to his main claim. He accomplishes this through his strategically dialectic yet coarse humor, structure and rather odd way of getting his reader to join his crusade against this revolting “specious specie” of money.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Safire is a refined and established writer with credentials that make him worthy to write for one of the most famous newspapers in our country, which has a broad audience that reaches millions of readers. Not just any writer is given the privilege of writing for the New York Times which has one of the highest reading comprehension levels of any newspaper. Safire has even won the Pulitzer Prize; and has such aptitude that he has written speeches for President Nixon. Safire clearly states, “It’s time to re-establish my contrarian credentials,” and “Infuriate the vast majority.” These quotes let the audience know what he is accepted for as author will not be what he is writing about. The audience knows that William Safire has credentials and this creates credibility with the audience. We can only be left with the question of why and how he wants to deviate.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">As I go through and count, one by one, the nine rhetorical questions, I realize that Safire never gives the reader a chance to think for themselves. He asks, “What is nickel made of? No. not the metallic element nickel.” “Where is most of Americas copper mined? Arizona.” Here he fires questions and immediately answers, then question, in a pattern of answer, question and finally another answer. Safire does a superb job of asking a question and giving the reader the answer he wants them to hear. This works well because it doesn’t give the reader’s time to think for them self. Safire purposely gives an answer to his question before the reader can think of what a counterpoint would be. The well-constructed rhetorical questions direct the listener’s thoughts to a question they hadn’t considered. Leaving the reader with only one sensible answer, being the one the William Safire wants them to have.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">With no space for the reader to answer the question, the audience is directed more by the final statement that Safire makes than the actual question. The reader is left with Safire’s answer in their mind before they can develop their own. One of the effective approaches that Safire uses to cast out any doubts that the penny would be worth keeping, is by giving the counter argument to his proposal. He asserts, “Merchants would round down to $9.95, saving the consumer billions of paper dollars.” He gives the counter point to the nostalgic few still holding on to the penny, but lets the reader know that they will gain financially from this coin reform. What reader or person in general does not want to save money? This strategy of introducing the opposing argument and giving the outcome of what would happen if we abolished the penny, leaves the reader to rest easy that Safire’s solution would make their life better.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Even though Safire has a valid argument and counterargument, he still goes out of his way to use humor towards those that used to get “barbershop shaves,” or even know what being “Pound-foolish” is. At one point, Safire calls his opposing readers, “penny-pinching traditionalist” and “penny-pinching hordes.” He gets the reader to think that these are the people keeping us 30 years in the past behind, “the Brits and the French—even the French!” By using humor as a rhetoric strategy, he makes you choose: are you one of those nostalgic traditionalists that still knows what a “five-and-dime” is, or are you going to join his crusade and start a revolution? Like peer pressure, Safire uses humor to pressure the reader into joining his bandwagon.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">As a leader in American reform, William Safire does an incredible job of relating to the common man’s emotions. The list he unravels is very specific: “Penny-candy?” or “Penny-ante poker?” He then asks a rhetorical question, “Any vending machine? Put a penny in and it will sound an alarm.” Then he follows with a joke, “I can’t even find a cent symbol on my keyboard anymore.” He gives multiple accounts of how we no longer use this coin. He even paints a clear picture of how people literally give this coin away with the good old “penny cup” near a merchant’s register. Safire makes the reader think back to their own personal experience and realize that in their day-to-day life the penny has zero worth to them. The reader is given the opportunity to think back to their own real life experiences that lead them to realize that they really don’t use this penny any more.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Readers begin this essay thinking it is about a small red cent but come to realize that Safire has camouflaged his true claim through his structure. In paragraph four, Safire is talking about how “it takes nearly a dime today to buy what a penny bought back in 1950.” By paragraph eleven, he states that, “If Senator John McCain would get off President Bush’s back long enough to serve the economic interests of his Arizona constituents, we would get some long-overdue coin reform.” If Safire would have come out in the beginning of the essay with this big political message, it would have shocked the reader. Instead Safire does a commendable job of concealing this metaphor by slowly building up to it with each paragraph. The way that Safire decides to reveal his main purpose allows the audience to warm up and not be overwhelmed by his true argument.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">William Safire’s call to arms is not merely over some trivial penny, but something much larger. It leaves the reader asking, “What’s really behind America’s clinging to the pesky penny?” The subtleness of this message is what makes it so effective. The reader thinks that if we as a country cannot agree on something so obvious, then how will we ever get anything done. This stealth message, if comprehended, leaves the reader with a feeling of truth and awareness whether they believe we should keep some outdated penny around or not.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Comprehensively, this rhetorical solution by William Safire leaves the reader with no other option but to agree. He uses a broad range of rhetorical strategies that convince almost all of his readers. He really gets his message across by giving real life examples that abolishing the<br /> penny makes nothing but sense. Even if the reader still has doubts as to what would happen if we did abolish the penny, Safire gives us his life-improving solution. Finally, the reader is on his side about the penny or is left to be ridiculed. Through his main claim, evidence, support, structure and strategies the reader can either sit in the past behind the French or help “close the controversy gap and fill the vitriol void.” To do so we must, “Get out those bumper stickers: Abolish the penny!” Personally, I tip my hat to William Safire and his strategic victory over the reader on the battlefield of persuasiveness.</p>