This week's potential shutdown of the U.S. government gave opinion writers another opportunity to air their pet peeves, and since Dick Johnson isn't here to point this one out, I'll do it for him. An article in the Chicago Sun Times laments the continued production of the U.S. cent.
It costs 2 cents for the United States Mint to manufacture a Lincoln cent. In 2021, the government struck 7.1 billion of them. Two-thirds never circulate. They clutter up banks. Yet we keep minting them.
Whenever the nation's
greatness is bandied about, by those who imagine greatness is a quality that can be self-assigned, a little voice says,
Yeah, we can't even get rid of the penny.
Australia managed. In 1990. Canada, too — a decade ago. Also Brazil, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Israel — quite a list. Are they
greater than we are? Certainly pennywise.
When Barack Obama came into office, he said he was interested in learning what pressure groups keep us from eliminating the penny. No big secret. There's congressional pressure from a company that makes zinc blanks — despite appearances, a cent is 98% zinc.
Plus CoinStar, which makes the machines that count coins in supermarkets. You'd think that the zinc blank and coin counting machine industries would not have the lobbying might to dictate national policy in a vibrant democracy. But you'd be wrong. The shock isn't how corrupt our leaders are, but how little they sell us out for.
Obama was able to pass a system of national health insurance. Getting rid of the penny was beyond his abilities.
The article continues with a decent numismatic lesson, something the popular press usually messes up.
We in Illinois are supposed to be especially attached to the Lincoln penny, being the land of Lincoln. But we are also supposed to be even more attached to the idea of liberty and not being in the thrall of despots. When the Lincoln penny was introduced, to mark the centennial of his birth in 1909, a tradition of 122 years was broken.
Ever since the first U.S. coin had been struck in 1787 — a penny, of course — no president was depicted on a coin, because that reeked of kings aggrandizing themselves, and we were supposed to be a free people.
Thus, coins carried images of Liberty, in the form of a lady — a reminder that veneration is not respect. A nation of men carrying coins honoring women nevertheless denied them the right to vote. Women could embody freedom, they just couldn't enjoy it.
Take a closer look at that first penny. It's called the
Fugio cent because one side displays a sundial and the Latin word
I fly, which is what time does. The next 45 days will certainly speed by until we go through this all again.
Flip the coin over, and there are 13 rings, interlocked together, for the 13 joined colonies.
United States it reads,
WE ARE ONE. Yes, that was never true. The abolitionists of Massachusetts were never one with the slave drivers of South Carolina.
But it's really, really not true now. A time when most of us go weeks and never touch currency, never mind coins. I'm afraid that decades from now, when you walk in a store, grab products and unseen cameras scan your retinas and deduct your account, mountains of pennies will still be struck, transferred to banks to sit until they're returned, melted down and struck again.
To read the complete article, see:
A penny for your thoughts
Wayne Homren, Editor
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