What This Country Needs is an 18¢ Piece: Reimagining Currency in the Digital Age


In 2002, an article proposed the idea of introducing an 18¢ coin to the currency system of the United States. While this suggestion might seem unconventional, it raises important questions about the practicality and functionality of our current coinage. Although the context and specific discussion were focused on the US, the topic of currency reform is relevant globally. Let’s explore the insights and perspectives shared by various users on this proposal.

Rethinking Coinage: The Penny Predicament

The removal of one-cent coins, such as the penny, from circulation has been a subject of ongoing debate in various countries. Canada, for example, finally bid farewell to the penny in 2012, totaling over a billion minted pennies and production costs exceeding their face value. However, the resistance to eliminating smaller coins is not without its reasons. Concerns about potential price increases, inconvenience in making change, and fears of being ripped off in rounding processes all play into the resistance.

The Case for an 18¢ Piece

One user mentioned the significance of finding a balance in the denominations of coins. They noted that removing the penny and the nickel could create difficulties in making change with only 10- and 25-cent pieces. Another user proposed the idea of introducing a 10-cent and 50-cent piece instead, shifting the pricing structure to multiples of 0.10. Alternatively, they suggested solely relying on quarters as the only form of change, citing the inflation-adjusted value of a penny today.

Debating the Dime

While some users focused on the penny and its potential replacements, others turned their attention to the dime. One user straightforwardly stated, “The dime has got to go,” highlighting the need for more comprehensive currency reform.

Real-World Examples: The Penny’s Demise

The penny’s elimination in Canada serves as a notable case study. Its removal was met with a mixed response, with a pro-penny faction making noise against its discontinuation while a silent majority welcomed the change. The decision to remove the penny was not impulsive; it was the result of long-standing discussions and the practical need to address the excessive production costs that outweighed its value. However, it is worth noting that the removal of the penny did have unintended consequences, such as a decline in the wishing fountain industry and the need for alternative methods of delivering wishes.

The Lobbying Factor

In the United States, the existence of lobbying groups funded by companies that supply coin blanks to the Treasury has complicated the discussion on currency reform. These groups have a vested interest in maintaining the production of lower-value coins, making it challenging to initiate changes in the currency system.

The Complexity of Change-Making

As the conversation delved into the intricacies of change-making, users highlighted the challenges posed by introducing a new coin to reduce the number of coins given in change. The optimal solution is not always achieved, and the simplicity of a greedy algorithm for making change is lost. This can lead to confusion in transactions and non-optimal coin combinations. Some users pointed out that in practical scenarios, rounding to the nearest available coinage already occurs, making the introduction of new coins less necessary.

Looking Ahead: Currency in the Digital Age

As societies move increasingly towards digital transactions, the relevance and efficiency of physical coins come into question. New technologies and digital payment systems offer convenient alternatives to cash. With the future of currency being reshaped by technology, it is crucial to consider how physical currency can adapt and remain useful in the modern world.

While the proposal for an 18¢ piece might have been met with initial skepticism, it has sparked a broader conversation about the need for currency reform. As we navigate a rapidly evolving digital landscape, it is essential to critically examine our existing systems and explore innovative solutions that meet the needs of a changing society.

Source: https://cs.uwaterloo.ca/~shallit/Papers/change2.pdf

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