The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Change We Can Believe In: Canada Drops the Penny

Finding a penny for good luck will soon prove difficult in Canada: the Royal Mint officially stopped distributing the coin on Monday. All prices will now be rounded to the nearest nickel. The BBC reports:

The Canadian penny is being withdrawn from circulation because production costs have exceeded its monetary value. […]

The government has estimated that the coins, which bear the image of Queen Elizabeth II and two maple leaves, cost about C$11m each year to make.

Canada’s move to eliminate its smallest denomination coin follows similar moves by New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Finland, and Sweden.

The U.S. should be next on that list. At two cents per coin, the penny costs the U.S. mint about $45 million annually to produce. In the grand scale of the federal budget, it’s less than a drop, but for a country steeped in debt and desperately looking for ways to cut spending, it’s at least a start.

There are other plans on the table. President Obama’s 2013 budget proposals suggested using less expensive metals. Former Representative Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) went all the way, backing two bills in 2001 and 2006 that would have eliminated the penny altogether.

As ever, politics has blocked these moves. The U.S. zinc lobby (yes, there is a zinc lobby) and other interested industries have strongly opposed any changes. Other naysayers fear the rounding up of prices that this would necessitate, or the increased need for the nickel, which is even more expensive to produce than the penny.

But the millions of pennies that are discarded, abandoned on sidewalks, or forgotten in cupboards indicate that the coin is outliving its utility. It’s time for change we can all believe in.

Published on February 5, 2013 7:00 pm