Sep 5, 2009

Unlucky Pennies

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I moved from Australia to America about 8 years ago now, and while many things are similar, many small things (and some big) are different. One thing I had to get used to was the difference in currencies.

At a purely aesthetic level the differences are obvious, Australian notes are colorful, polymer bills, whereas the US notes are more uniform, less vibrant, linen ones. The coins are also dissimilar (Australian, American), with one interesting aspect being the differences in denomination (Australia has a 20c piece, not a quarter, which I was told many years ago in primary school was the best value in combination with the other coins, to make any given amount of currency with the fewest number of physical coins).

One surprising thing to me though, was the presence of the penny. Australia had one cent and two cent pieces when I grew up, but discontinued them in 1991 when their declining value made them an encumbrance. America, on the other hand, will merrily mint more than 1.6 TRILLION PENNIES this year.

And how much are those pennies worth to you? If you saw one on the ground, would you even think about picking it up? Do you always dump them in the tray at the store because they clutter up your purse or pocket? Yes, they cost more to make than their face value, which at first glance seems stupid, but that's not a huge issue due to multiple use. The biggest issue is that they are made, distributed, lost, thrown away, and used an enormous number of times, and they are worth NOTHING to anyone. You can't buy ANYTHING for a penny (yes I'm sure someone can quibble me in the comments on this). They are pure encumbrance.

So why are they still around? Well, I can only put it down to inertia. Fear of change (ha) is a big thing for us humans. Oh, and lobbying. "Penny lobbying?" I hear you say. Well yes, apparently there are lobby groups out there supporting pennies staying in the market, such as Americans for Comment Cents (ha + ha, but check out the Myths and Facts page, apparently there's little to say in the penny's favor). Who would care enough about pennies to lobby to keep them? Funny you should ask, it's those who make money from this redundant metal disc, apparently distributors and the zinc industry. And that's the real story here, that's politics in America; lobbying and apathy keep the status quo, usually with a smattering of freedom and patriotism sprinkled on top to make it look justified, and some fear and loathing to make sure those heels really dig in. You see it with health care, well it's the same with the penny, and for that matter the dollar too.

So is there any hope? Well apparently this issue has crossed the President's mind, and I saw this guy on Colbert a while back, but I wouldn't get too delirious just yet. The Prez has plenty else to deal with right now, and I don't see anyone in Congress taking point. And you know what, if it helps health care reform get passed, I'll  keep the change, for a little longer anyway.

Splitting Posts

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Just a quick note, if you're looking for a couple of tech posts that are missing, they have been moved to The Feature Mill, my technology and futurism blog, so Skrivener will remain more focused on skeptical issues.

Aug 20, 2009

A Reasoned Look at Deception Surrounding the Health Reform Debate

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If you're at all interested in the health care debate, and it seems at least most everyone in the US is from one perspective or another, then you should check this out.

It debunks some of the more misleading claims being thrown around about the issue, and will put you on good footing to inform others should these topics come up around the cooler.