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Hogarth judge

December 2017

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Hogarth judge

Why we should abolish the penny

A number of people associated with the world of business and finance, including Rich Lowry of the National Review, have proposed the abolition of the penny.

I wholeheartedly support them, but for entirely different reasons. His are purely economic (pennies are too costly to make, and tend to be collected rather than circulated.) Mine are aesthetic and theological.

Abolition of the penny would de-decimalize the U.S. currency, and reclaim a bit of our world from the loathsome scourge of decimalism. Decimalism is the abominable and loathsome practice of arranging a currency or measurement system so that each unit is a factor of 10 larger or smaller than the next. As such, it is an affront to human scale, which requires halves, thirds, and quarters. It is also an affront to almighty God, who decreed a seven-day week and set π equal to an even 3. Abolish the penny, and the U.S. dollar will have units beneath that divide it into halves, quarters, tenth, and twentieth parts.

I'd also propose that we hexadecimalize the larger denominations of currency: rather than fives, tens, twenties, fifties, and hundreds, we could have fours, eights, sixteens, thirty-twos, sixty-fours, and one hundred twenty-eights. Better even than this would be a system based on a sixty dollar bill, which makes thirds as handily as it makes quarters.

Comments

Pennies weren't popular outside of east coast cites until 1857, when the small, flying eagle cent was introduced into circulation. The 1,000 piece trial run of 1856 was so popular with congressmen and other administration officials that most of those that were shown around were not returned (and hence the 1856 FE cent commands an impressive numismatic premium today).

Conversely, the silver three cent piece was hated. Smaller than a dime (and mockingly called a "trime"), it was too easily dropped, misplaced, and lost. The thinking was that postage stamps were 3 cents and a 3 cent coin would be convenient. There was even a $3 gold piece minted starting that same year, 1854. The civil war put an effective end to the trime, with the 1862 run over 300,000, and the 1863 mintage at 21,460, and it just spiraled down from there. The 1873 run were proof only, and just 600 at that. The $3 gold lasted until 1889, the same year the $1 gold was discontinued.

Counting by threes didn't go over well. Counting by 8ths died when the New York Stock Exchange switched from fractions to decimal. Part of the motivation (and the blame) was computers work so much better with decimals than fractions. Part of it was the stock market was no longer an exclusive play ground and with more average Joe investors lining up to spend their money investing it, it made more sense to go with cents than eighths.

The other obvious example is the transition from Pounds/Shillings/Pence to a decimal Pound happened practically overnight, measuring in economist's years. Finally, as long as there are people counting on their fingers, decimal will have the edge over any other numerical basis.

But yes, it's more than time to ditch the penny.