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A penny
for your thoughts

It doubtlessly won’t be featured in brochures trying — often, in vain — to recruit people to small towns. But we’d still like to offer our two cents’ worth on yet another reason to move to rural communities.

Our highly unscientific research reveals that one of the most ubiquitous scourges of modern society simply isn’t as present here.

We’re not talking about drugs. Or poverty. Or alcohol abuse. Or domestic violence. Or guns waved by criminals and bullies. Or even feelings of futility and any of the other terrible things that unfortunately seem just as present as — if not more present than — they are in urban areas.

We’re talking about something with dastardly impact on nearly every household and workplace — a challenge lying in plain sight along our streets, lurking stealthily in office and dresser drawers, hiding ominously between sofa cushions: the lowly penny.

Nationwide, 150 billion of them regularly change hands, wearing out pants pockets and in some cases spreading disease. Another 135 billion are sleeper agents, infiltrating our lives while hiding in sacks and jars, being tossed into fountains (but, please, not in Central Park), or rubbing holes in socks inside penny loafers.

Imagine the good that could be accomplished if $1.35 billion — which cost $2.7 billion to make — could be brought back into our economy. We might even be able to afford filling our cars with gas every once in a while. Not often, of course. Just every once in a while.

In urban areas, penny infestations are commonplace. Chain stores and automaton clerks spew them from Rube Goldberg contraptions rather than counting them out by hand, giving the lowly one-cent piece the beachfront it needs to invade lives.

In rural areas, honest-to-goodness human beings, with whom we might even chat while paying our bills, have enough respect for our time and theirs to round purchases up or down and protect us against a copper-clad army now made of 95% zinc.

Pennies and nickels both cost more to make than they are worth, which is why it’s illegal to melt them — and only them — as scrap metal.

Such rules seem to have flummoxed customers of uncaring chain stores. But in communities like ours, we’ve been able to address the issue. As a result, instead of getting an average of a full roll of pennies in change every month or two, as happened in Illinois, moving to Kansas has meant collecting less than a single full roll after more than two years of making purchases.

Time was, pennies and nickels were the most common coins needing to be wrapped and removed from our coin sorter. Since moving back to Kansas, it’s become quarters and dimes.

In Illinois, a favorite delight was to toss a handful of pennies into an automated toll booth in the Chicago area. Illinois, whose favorite son appears on the vexing coin, is one of only two states allowing this open invitation to a symphony for horns followed by an exchange of middle-finger salutes.

Kansas offers no similar pastime to alleviate the tedium of having to collect senseless cents, but that’s probably a good thing.

Instead, our state is one of just 10 that forbids businesses from charging more to accept credit or debit cards, even though doing so means the business must lose up to 5% of the purchase price back to some bank, which already is gouging its customers by charging for monthly statements showing the amounts of our money it is making money off of, all the while paying us less interest than it takes from us in fees.

Oddly enough, the only places in Kansas allowed to charge for using charge cards are government offices. It’s yet another of the laws in which government treats itself more fairly than it treats private enterprise.

It might be labeled a two-bit idea, but we’ve often wondered what would happen if taxpayers chose to show their appreciation for government spending by paying their tax bills entirely with stacks of pennies.

Then again, workers probably would use them instead of gravel on county roads.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified May 11, 2022

 

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