Monday, November 20, 2006

It Won't Work This Time, Either

The U.S. Mint is so very excited to announce that they will be releasing yet another set of gold-colored dollar coins into circulation. This time, the coins will depict every U.S. president from Washington to whomever happens to be in office about 2018 or so, when this program should finally come to an end. They are confident that, after the public failed to embrace both the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea coins, these dollars will finally be the ones that the we latch onto.

I guess they have to say that. What would be the point of issuing these coins along with a statement that acknowledges that they will fail just as spectacularly as their predecessors? Even if that is exactly what's going to happen.

What exactly are they thinking here? Do they really believe that the public rejected the last two attempts at a dollar coin because women were depicted on them? Do they figure that, now that they have relented and put dead white guys on these coins, we will finally meet them halfway and give up our paper dollars?

It's not the artwork that makes us hate these dollar coins. It's the size, stupid!

That's right! These new "Presidential" dollar coins will be -- wait for it -- precisely the same size and weight as the failed Susan B. and the Sacagawea dollars. What a great idea!

Both of the previous coins failed because, despite different edges and different colors, they more or less look and feel exactly the same as quarters. I was in Los Angeles recently, and found myself at a subway ticket machine with nothing but $20 bills in my wallet. The fare was all of $1.95, and so I was presented with 18 Sacagawea dollars in my change. The gold color had faded a bit from when these coins were new, and my first reaction was that the machine had flooded me with -- you guessed it -- quarters. I thought that I had been short-changed! It wasn't until I really bent my head down and looked at the coins that I realized (several minutes later) that I had been given dollar coins.

My reaction? I went straight to the front desk at my hotel and asked to be given paper bills in exchange. The guy at the desk told me that they get that kind of request all the time.

You know, it can't be fair to blame the folks at the Mint for this bone-headed move. Sure, they picked the artwork. But something this stupid has to have a Congressional mandate somewhere at the heart of it all. I do know that the vending machine lobby -- yes, there is one -- has pushed hard to keep the size and weight of all dollar coins the same, so that they won't have to go back and retro-fit all of the existing machines out there.

So instead, we will spend all this time, effort, and money to make coins that nobody will ever use. It would be far cheaper to scrap the whole idea of a dollar coin, rather than circulate ones that nobody wants to carry around.

I have lived in countries where the primary denomination -- the pound and the Australian dollar -- is only available in coin form. It worked fine, because these coins were much thicker and heavier than the other coins of lesser value. They were also a dark golden color which seemed to get even darker as the coins circulated, but it wasn't about the color. It was the size and the weight that made them work.

But we can't do that here. Changing the size and weight of the dollar coin to something that would actually work would go against the vending machine lobby. Not producing dollar coins at all would go against the metal and mining lobbies. Producing only dollar coins, without printing any paper ones, would run afoul of the Crane Paper Company's lapdog, Sen. Ted Kennedy (and probably the ink lobby as well). No doubt the U.S. Mint is simply doing what it has been required to do by a Congress that is completely beholden to these (and other) interest groups.

Pity that there isn't a common-sense lobby out there to represent the interests of the rest of us.

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