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John Oliver On Getting Rid Of The Penny

800px-U.S_pennies

On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver hit on an issue that I’ve talked about before, getting rid of the penny:

Why is the penny still a thing?

As John Oliver pointed out on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday, it costs 1.7 cents to make each penny, so they lose money the moment they’re created.

“That really makes the phrase you have to spend money to make money ring painfully true,” Oliver said.

Pennies are so worthless that people won’t stop to pick them up, and 2 percent of Americans admit to throwing them in the garbage. And if you think tossing them in the trash is bad, Oliver found a reddit thread titled, “I put a penny in my butt and now I can’t get it out.”

Turns out the person did it because, “I wanted to know what it would feel like to put a cold penny up my butt. (I put it in the fridge for like… 2-3 hours)”

Oliver even found a case of a dog that ate 111 pennies.

(…)

Oliver said other countries have gotten rid of worthless coins, including the United States, which did away with the half cent in 1857 — so maybe the time is right to finally get rid of the full cent, too.

“There are certain things we know are impossible to get rid of: terrorism, herpes and Guy Fieri,” Oliver said. “But the penny is a nuisance we can actually do something about. So let’s do it, America. Let’s get the penny out of our pockets… out of our dogs… out of our fridges… and out of our asses. We can do this!”

Here’s the video:

Oliver is absolutely right, of course, and I’ve detailed the reasons we should get rid of the penny several times on the past — see here, here, here, here, and here. As I’ve said before, though, despite the fact that it’s a move that makes complete sense and would actually end up saving the Federal Government money in the end, it probably won’t happen any time soon.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Bill Lefrak says:

    What’s sort of funny about this subject is that when the sober adult demographics say we should get rid of the EPA, the Dept. of Labor, the NEA and other dopey federal agencies, thereby to save a hell of a lot of taxpayer money and to cut out red tape, waste, fraud and corruption, too, the same punditocracy demographics who like to ruminate about the margins and decimal points all of a sudden find ways reflexively to oppose much if not all of those measures. Get rid of the penny and save some proverbial pennies? Yeah, sure. Get rid of the alphabet soup of left-wing federal agencies and save tens of billions annually, whoa, hold on there, buddy, let’s not be so precipitous. The politics of small minds, inexperience and cloudy thinking.

    Not too many people would miss the penny. But then again talk to the employees, store owners, landlords, vendors, lenders, and other counterparties of the likes of 99 cent stores, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, etc., and you might get a different opinion. All policy decisions have ripple effects, not all of which necessarily are positive.

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  2. Franklin says:

    Should probably go ahead and drop the nickel, too. Make all prices a multiple of 10 cents rather than 5. Also, from the Intertubes: “To be precise, it cost 2.4 cents to make one penny in 2011 and about 11.2 cents for each nickel.” (Only about 3 cents for a dime and 9 cents for a quarter, in case you’re curious.)

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  3. Ron Beasley says:

    And get rid of the dollar bill as well. I haven’t actually used cash for years.

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  4. Ron Beasley says:

    And get rid of the dollar bill as well. I haven’t actually used cash for years.

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  5. grumpy realist says:

    @Bill Lefrak: Hope you like getting plutonium in your drinking water and lead in your paint, dude. If you think environmental protection is so awful, I suggest you move to China.

    There’s many reasons why we have agencies like the EPA.

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  6. James Pearce says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I haven’t actually used cash for years.

    Me, either. I use a straw.

    (Boom boom peesh.)

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  7. DrDaveT says:

    it’s a move that makes complete sense and would actually end up saving the Federal Government money in the end

    Hey, come on — we’re talking about a Congress that can’t even bring themselves to fully fund tax collection at the IRS. That would pay something like 10 to 1 on the investment…

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  8. DrDaveT says:

    @Bill Lefrak:

    sober adult demographics say we should get rid of the EPA, the Dept. of Labor, the NEA and other dopey federal agencies

    Wanting everyone to live in 1910 does not make you a “sober adult” — it makes you ignorant, sadistic, or both.

    We know what a world without federal regulation of employers, polluters, etc. looks like. If you’re interested in actually fixing EPA, DoL, etc. — making them better able to do their missions efficiently and effectively — I’d be glad to help. If your idea of Utopia features Pinkertons at Love Canal, not so much.

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  9. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:
    His perfect afternoon apparently involves typing nonsense from his mother’s basement that he thinks will annoy rational people enough for them to fruitlessly respond.
    I do understand how the power of SIWOTI can overcome DFTIWOMIS* though.

    *Don’t Feed the Troll It Will Only Make It Stronger
    I’m working on a better acronym, or something that is actually pronouncable as an acronym. Diftywomis is a mouthful.

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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Actually, sober adult demographics say a child such as yourself should not be allowed anywhere near the internet.

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  11. Tyrell says:

    I happened to find a 1918 penny in a pocket of change a few years ago. It’s worth about 15 cents. I do have jars of pennies in the closet. I am going to go through them some day. I will keep all of them and pass them on.
    The most valuable pennies are said to be some steel pennies that were accidentally thrown into circulation decades ago.

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  12. Joe says:

    “Franklin“: Like the mint? Is that how you know that stuff?

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  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Tyrell:

    The most valuable pennies are said to be some steel pennies that were accidentally thrown into circulation decades ago.

    It wasn’t an accident — in 1943 the US minted only steel pennies, because copper was too important for the war effort to be wasted on coinage.

    That said, the most valuable penny is the 1909 San Francisco mint “VDB” penny, that featured the artists initials on the obverse. Fewer than 500,000 were issued.

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