Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Great Penny Debate Part I: Why Pennies Should Be Kept.


The penny coin. The cent coin. Whatever you call it, we're all undoubtedly acquainted with the coin that holds the lowest value in your currency, whether you're from America or Britain or pretty much anywhere else. Except Canada, and a number of other countries who have decided to abolish the penny from their currency. But why have they done it, and does it mean the penny holds no point in our modern economies?

In this first of a two-parter, we'll look at the reasons why pennies should be kept in our economies.

1) 'Rounding Tax'
Perhaps the most prominent argument of the pro-pennyists, much research suggests that removing the penny from the currency would cause a change in price; naturally, if the penny was to be abolished we would no longer be seeing any '.99' prices. Instead, we would see either '.95' or '.00' prices- and considering that businesses would have to lose .4 on any purchase should they round it down, rounding up would seem an attractive option. This would have rather insignificant effects on the consumer in the short term, but in the long term it has the potential to further weaken those closer to the bottom of the economic ladder.

Data from the Federal Reserve indicates that Americans earning under $10k and also those with less than 12 years of education, use cash for over half of their purchases. This is opposed to credit cards, particularly spending online. Credit card real world spending would also be affected by 'rounding tax', though as no online transactions are made in cash they would be unlikely to be affected. This would put online spenders at a very slight advantage, whereas for the more disadvantaged it could make a huge number of tiny differences to their spending. These may not directly cost them in the short term, but in the long term the cost can aggregate into something considerable.

Canada has implemented a system of 'rounding' that charges credit card users differently from cash users in the real world- for example, something costing $2.98 would be rounded up to $3 for cash users, while the price remains the same for credit card users. This is an example of the potential imbalances that could arise and, in the long term, harm those who use cash.

2) Charity
The 'Common Cents' campaign has seen considerable success,
like many other charities, thanks to the penny.
Abolishing the penny is a move that is likely to work against the interests of charity organisations. Many charities rely significantly on spare change for funding, and though it may seem small, the total power of the penny shouldn't be underestimated: in 2009, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of the USA celebrated raising $150 million- entirely in the form of 1.5 billion pennies. The organisation 'Common Cents' organises what it calls 'Penny Harvests', and was able to collect $756k in 2009 exclusively by collecting pennies.

The penny holds a special place in this respect because in a way respect is just what it lacks; it is one of the most common items given to charity, and arguably one of the most beneficial for all parties. No one has bankrupted themselves by giving a penny to charity- yet all the pennies put together have been shown to make rather significant differences. The 'Common Cents' guys call the penny "the philanthropic property of young people"- and it seems they do have a point, so abolishing the penny could indeed harm charitable organisations.

3) Appeal to Tradition
This is not so much a practical argument for keeping the penny, but rather a sentimental one. Many feel an attachment to the penny, for various reasons- whether it is its role in infant numeracy development (who doesn't remember playing with penny coins while learning numbers), its historical/cultural value (Lincoln holds a cherished place on the penny in the USA) or just the traditional side of everyone who dislikes change (or should I say likes change, see what I did there? No? Sorry.).
Even one of the staunchest of critics of the penny, Professor of Economics at Wake Forest University Robert Whaples, admits this, stating "The vast majority want to keep a penny... it's a sentimental attachment."
Mohammad Lone Editor