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The $500 million coin


Gotta make money to save money:

The Government Accountability Office estimates that the government could save more than $500 million a year by using the dollar coin exclusively, since it's more durable than the dollar bill and offers the Mint a big profit on every one it makes.

Photo credit: AP Photo, The Huntsville Times, Eric Schultz.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 11, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
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Based on past practice, it would seem they'd have to put a man's face on it to make it popular.

Maybe this is the place for the Right's desire for a Ronald Reagan coin.

Posted by: Mimikatz | August 11, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

My observation is that people (especially younger people) having a growing dislike for handling coins, and generally regard them as a necessary nuisance. Removing the dollar bill, and forcing an increase in the number, size, and weight of the coins that people deal with every day would likely be a highly unpopular move.

Fifty cent pieces and dollar coins have been around, but the public has never warmed to using coins worth more than a quarter.

Posted by: Patrick_M | August 11, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

They have dollar coins with men's faces. They're doing all the presidents in gold $1 coins. Plus, there are still those old Eisenhower silver dollars running around.

The only time I see dollar coins is from change machines train/subway ticket machines. I lived in Canada with the loonie/toonie. At first, not used to how/when to use them, I ended up with VERY heavy pockets all the time. I also found I waste a lot of money always thinking that I wasn't spending much because I was just spending coins (esp. out at bars). Although, getting beer in exchange for coins is kinda fun...reminds me of the wild west or something.

I've also seen the machine that pulls out and shreds used up $1 bills as well as the presses that make the new ones (Fed does the first, BEP the latter). We really do waste a lot of time, energy, and money by using paper $1's.

Those old Sacagawea $1 coins were famous for losing their shine really quickly and turning into things like giant dirty pennies once handled a lot. I think they fixed that though.

Posted by: nylund | August 11, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

"Maybe this is the place for the Right's desire for a Ronald Reagan coin."



Seriously, I'd lean away from using images of Presidents and other specific historical figures altogether...too "cult of personality" for the USA if you ask me.

I'd prefer Lady Liberty, the American eagle, or any of the various imaginative motifs that once graced coins like the "buffalo nickel," the "Mercury dime," and the "Indian head cent."

But I think a dollar coin will get major pushback, no matter what images are used.

Posted by: Patrick_M | August 11, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Eliminate the penny and add the $1 coin. That way retailers don't have to get new cash registers.

Posted by: RZ100 | August 11, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Stripper don't take change.

Posted by: obrier2 | August 11, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I agree with RZ - get rid of the penny, put Abe on the dollar.

I don't know why it's hard to stop people using $1 notes. Just stop making them, within 5 years they'll all be destroyed, deposited or framed and then only dollar coins will be around.

To minimize change (the metal kind) we could print more $2 bills.

Posted by: ChicagoIndependant | August 11, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Snark, people, snark.

Posted by: Mimikatz | August 11, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

@Mimikatz: "Maybe this is the place for the Right's desire for a Ronald Reagan coin."

Exactly. Give me the Reagan Dollar, and I'd ask for it by name when I was getting my change. Also, I'm all for a Lady Liberty dollar.

Still, I don't think people are going to surrender their paper dollars anytime soon. So many vending machines are calibrated to the paper dollar, it'd be a tough, tough sell.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 11, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Just stop making the $1 bill already.

Government officials should just keep repeating over and over - "Save the tax payers money."

Posted by: charley42 | August 11, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

@Mimikatz: "Snark, people, snark."

Maybe so, but I'm 100% behind the Reagan Dollar. That, or the Clint Eastwood dollar.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 11, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Cash is going the way of the dodo anyway...

Posted by: sold2u | August 11, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

"I'd prefer Lady Liberty..."

Works for me but the biggest problem the Treasury's had which you can see in both these attempts at popularity is that they're putting out some pretty ugly pieces of coinage.

It really seems to me like they've lost the art of engraving. I think the only solution might be to dig up a design from the past -- back when they were producing money that looked like it was actually worth something (artistically speaking) -- and go with that.

Posted by: leoklein | August 11, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

"Cash is going the way of the dodo anyway..."

Not yet if the number of people in line at the ATM is any indication.

Posted by: tuber | August 11, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Dude, if we're dumping the dollar bill then we're putting Washington on the dollar coin. 'nough said.

Otherwise, yes, do this now. Save half a billion a year and also push people to faster forms of exchange, like debit cards. I hardly carry any cash as it is.

Posted by: MosBen | August 11, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

"Otherwise, yes, do this now. Save half a billion a year and also push people to faster forms of exchange, like debit cards. I hardly carry any cash as it is."

We don't often disagree, but we do on this one.

I think that the amount of unhappiness that would be caused to 308 million people by forcing the use of additional coins is worth the extra 500 million dollars it saves.

And lots of people (myself included) still have some affection for cash over debit cards. Cash is less abstract, and so people tend to spend it more carefully, and in a world where increasingly every transaction and communication leaves an electronic "footprint" on the trail of one's life, it feels good not to have every mundane daily purchase a matter of someone else's record, to be "mined" and analyzed for marketing purposes.

Leave the dang money alone.

Posted by: Patrick_M | August 11, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I think US government vending machines and the post office are the only places that use the Sasquatch.

Posted by: sold2u | August 11, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

I'd love an ubiquitous dollar coin with any image, though my personal preference would be Jed Bartlett.

Any coin would be better than trying to feed my last crumpled dollar into a machine that won't accept it.

Posted by: paxsarah | August 11, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Wangpeng(ROC):

Posted by: happywwwppp | August 12, 2010 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Interesting lessons here:

The savings figure seemed too high to me. So I did some checking:

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) site says 2.6 billion one dollar bills were printed in 2009, and During FY 2009 the BEP delivered 6.2 billion notes at an average cost of 7.5 cents per note.

The one dollar bill should be cheaper than the average to print because it has, and needs, a lot less high tech security, so 7.5 cents is a high estimate, but even at that cost you only get, 2.6 billion x 0.075 = $195 million, but then there are transportation and handling costs, and perhaps other costs, so $500 million looks like it's at least in the ballpark.

Now to the interesting lessons:

In a big country, not only do dreams stay with you like a lover's voice fires the mountainside, but things really add up. It's not that hard to get to millions and billions.

But at the same time, big costs can actually be really small per person. There are about 250 million Americans over age 15, so that $500 million per year is just $2 per person per year.

I don't know about everyone else, but I'd gladly pay $2 per year to not have the inconvenience of carrying around bulky one dollar coins in my pocket all the time (and I'd pay another $2 per year to offset costs to the environment).

This shows that Republicans can blow up something as really big and costly, but it may be small and well worth it in tax cost per person for what you get in return, unless you think all taxes and government spending are always bad no matter what; see:


Posted by: RichardHSerlin | August 12, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

We should definitely eliminate the $1 note and replace it with the $1 coin. In 2000, the General Accounting Office estimated that replacing all $1 notes with $1 coins would save the U.S. government $522 million annually. This is because $1 coins last 30 years while $1 notes last only 21 months. These savings are likely to be much higher today. At a time of record deficits, our government should be doing everything to reduce spending. Coins have many other benefits as well - they are harder to counterfeit and are easier for the blind to distinguish. The $1 coin also saves $$ for businesses and transit agencies as they are cheaper to count and process. Vending machines accept them and estimate that $1 coins could save their industry over $1 billion per year as they lose sales from rumpled $1 notes that jam their machines. And coins are 100% recyclable vs. $1 notes that are shredded and put in landfills after they are worn out. As for germs, coins are made from copper which is naturally antimicrobial. Scientific testing found that over 99.9% of dangerous bacteria coming in contact with copper coins die within two hours, while $1 bills harbor these bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae) for hours and even days. Finally, cash registers already have a slot for $1 coins as they have 5-6 coin slots. There is no reason to continue to make $1's fiscally irresponsible.

Posted by: djsh33 | August 12, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

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