Business and Industry

Who Holds Back the Dollar Coin? We Do! We Do!

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Ever wonder why the federal government's multiple attempts to migrate to a more sensible dollar coin have seemed so half-assed? It's because they are. All four attempts have been sabotaged by paper dollar enthusiasts. At Slate , Christopher Bonanos details one example from the failed Sacagawea coin:

Pressure from bill partisans at the [Bureau of Engraving and Printing] even kneecapped the Sacagawea ad campaign. According to the GAO, "an informal Treasury restriction" prohibited the Mint from suggesting that a coin was superior to a bill—it could say only that a coin was also available. One TV spot showcasing a frustrating vending-machine moment…was scotched, after a combative meeting at the Treasury, on the grounds that it "negatively portrayed the dollar bill."

So who could possible have an interest in lobbying Treasury officials and members of Congress to undermine the government's own dollar coin campaigns? Follow the money! Or rather, just take a closer look at it.

They come, principally, from three groups: the folks at the BEP; Mississippi cotton farmers, whose fibers make up the 100-percent-rag currency paper; and Crane & Company, a Massachusetts paper mill known for excellent stationery and a century-old papermaking contract with the government. Around the time the Sacagawea was proposed, they formed a lobbying group called Save the Greenback, which, according to press accounts, had the ear of Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi and, back when he was in Congress, Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts.

And the Hatfields to these McCoys?

The group's archenemy is a pro-dollar-coin lobby called the Coin Coalition, backed by vending-machine and car-wash interests.

There's no more insidious a Washington pressure group than Big Car Wash!

I'm always amused–and a little disturbed–by all the niche interest groups in D.C. Take a walk through downtown Bethesda or Silver Spring, Maryland or Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and you'll see just what a parasite economy the Washington D.C. metropolitan area has become. I used to live near the national headquarters of the floral arrangers' lobby. And across the street used to be the air conditioning repair workers' lobby (I believe they have since moved). When you have a federal government that noses into nearly every facet of day-to-day life, I suppose it only makes sense that anyone with more than a lemonade stand at stake would feel the need to set up an office in Washington.

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  1. Given the penchant that local busybody coppers have for shutting down “unlicensed” kids’ lemonade stands (the same story seems to surface in a different town every few months, all faithfully and breathlessly reported by The Advocates), I think it’s high time we got together a lemonade stand lobby too, Radley.

  2. I never thought about there being a special interest group to save the paper dollar. But now that I know I think I’ll sign up. At any given moment I have at least six to ten $1 bills in my wallet. I can’t stand to have even the slight bit of change in my pockets that consists of many quarters. I hate the thought of all those dollar coins weighing me down and clinking all over the place. Besides, what about the strippers? Hasn’t anyone considered how much trouble that will be without singles? Those poor girls will get back trouble walking around with all that change. Won’t someone please think about the strippers?

  3. I knew it! Big Cotton, the same gang that got hemp out of the dollar and banned from farms!

  4. Besides, what about the strippers?

    When I support women in the arts at my favorite Women’s Interpretive Dance Theater, I make my donations with Honest Abe. Well, if the artists are ink-free, that is. The rest do get a George for every performance.

  5. I’m okay with you guys holding back the dollar coin, but could you pretty please reconsider that Steve Guttenberg thing?

  6. “Won’t someone please think about the strippers?”

    What, they don’t have their own lobby?

  7. Singles for strippers? I would be embarrassed, Tim.

  8. Freedom coins, that’s all they are. They’re way too Euro for honest Americans.

  9. What, they don’t have their own lobby?

    Because the femanazi-soccermom alliance won’t let them work in the lobby, they have to be on stage. Silly.

  10. Having long ago embraced my inner geek, I’m all down with dollar coins. Heck, bring on the larger denominations. For one thing, dragons can sleep on piles of coins without fear of incinerating their vast treasure.

    Why doesn’t anyone think of the dragons?

  11. For one thing, dragons can sleep on piles of coins without fear of incinerating their vast treasure.

    I thought they only traded in specie, not currency?

  12. As a coke dealer I fully support the paper money lobby. Oh, I also support the lemonade stand lobby.

    Anybody need a glass? Its only $20.

  13. I thought they only traded in specie*, not currency?

    *I meant the version we learned in college, NOT that Wiki version that includes what we refer to now as coins.

  14. For one thing, dragons can sleep on piles of coins without fear of incinerating their vast treasure.

    I thought they only traded in specie, not currency?

    That’s just it. We moved to paper currency to remove the hoarding incentive from dragons.

  15. Will the coins have transmitters in them?
    Inquiring paranoid minds want to know.

    ———

    Tim-
    If you hate coins, stay away from Australia; around about the second morning, I looked in my wallet and exclaimed, “Where did all my money go?” But then I discovered about seventy-five dollars in change clamping my pants to the chair.

  16. So how do you suggest we solve this influenence problem, Mr. Balko?

    Should we limit ourselves to keeping Missippi farmers and Crane & Company in line, or should we enact a broader reform?

    Cause, frankly, the libertarian approach (no reform, that is) seems to be not working here.

  17. I saw a show this weekend in which a couple bought an old, abandoned bank building “as is,” to renovate into a house. “As is” included anything found in the safe deposit boxes.

    They found a bunch of mint-condition money from the 1800s, including 50 cent bills.

    Point? No, not really.

  18. R C Dean | March 22, 2007, 10:52am | #
    Singles for strippers? I would be embarrassed, Tim.

    You obviously haven’t been to any strip clubs in Polk County, Florida. They’re lucky they don’t get asked for change when given a dollar!

  19. I think they each have their benefits. I personally cannot stand the mess of bills in my wallet, and all the time I waste flattening them out and arranging them in order… But I have to admit I can’t stand walking around with change in my pocket, either. I always dump it out at the earliest opportunity.

    Now when I lived in Germany, men’s wallets had a storage place for change. That seems like a good compromise to me but I think that’s considered “gay” here.

  20. Well, joe, assuming that the $0.50 bill you are refering to is from 1875, then the current value of said bill is just under $10.

    If, instead, the bill is from the ante-bellum period (let us say 1840), then said bill is worth just over $11.

    Both numbers are inflated using the CPI.
    http://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/uscompare/

  21. Now when I lived in Germany, men’s wallets had a storage place for change.

    I think John Edwards and Jeff Gordon are going to be coming out with a line of those in every color of the rainbow.

  22. GinSlinger,

    Wouldn’t they be worth more, as collector’s items?

    I don’t see how the CPI is relevant. Bills from 1980 are worth their face value despite inflation.

  23. I’ll accept the dollar coin when they stop minting pennies.

    My father always carried one of those plastic cases that open when you squeeze them (I often used them as puppets, making them “talk”). I never picked up the habit. I just dump my change into a coin sorter.

  24. Warren,

    You know how hard those things are to find now?

    I mean, try finding one without Hello Kitty on it.

  25. I’ve always thought that the Sacagawea dollar was the perfect currency for the welfare state. Rather than being made out of gold or some other matereial with an intrinsic value, it’s made of a base metal alloy with an ersatz gold-colored plating. The image on it celebrates someone whose major accomplishment was uh, well, being a minority female. And even at that, since there’s no record of what Sacagawea looked like, even the portrait on the face of it is a yanked-out-of-the-ass construction.

    The perfect coin of the welfare state! A worthless fraud of no value to anyone, except as the government mandates it.

  26. Why doesn’t anyone think of the dragons?

    There’s no dragon lobby.

    ObTopic: I’m rooting for Big Cotton over Big Metal here. I hate carrying around change.

    [standard libertarian rant on fiat money here]

    – Josh

  27. I think John Edwards and Jeff Gordon are going to be coming out with a line of those in every color of the rainbow.

    lol! guy montag thinks john edwards and jeff gordon are gay. damn, that’s funny!

  28. Lamar | March 22, 2007, 10:53am | #
    Freedom coins, that’s all they are. They’re way too Euro for honest Americans.
    ==============================================

    Back when Euros were worth about eighty-cents, I saw someone put one in a vending machine that accepted dollar coins. The machine accepted it and returned appropriate change, as if it were a dollar. These days, of course, that would put you on the losing side of the exchange. But is it possible that dollar coins are recognized by vending machines “over there” as Euros?

    If the machines say that the coins are identical, then I think that MUST be definitive. Mustn’t it?

    How is it, I wonder, that Euros ended up with the same “vending machine” characteristics (size, weight, etc.) as our dollar coins, which came out in the late 1970s?

  29. Mr. Steven Crane – didntcha know, “u r teh gay lolz” is perfectly acceptable discourse these days!

    am in ur perimeter fiating ur currency

  30. Rather than being made out of gold or some other matereial with an intrinsic value, it’s made of a base metal alloy with an ersatz gold-colored plating.

    Umm, wrong. It is not “plated”, unlike just about every other coin the US Mint produces. It is effectively a bronze coin (copper/base alloy) with the same electro-magnetic properties and dimensions as the previous dollar coin. I blame Big Vending for that.

  31. Oh, and props to VM for beating me to the reference.

  32. Kwix – 🙂

    Time zone advantage.

  33. If you walk through downtown Bethesda you’ll also see the headquarters of Marriot International and Chevy Chase Bank. And Silver Spring has Discovery Communications and plenty of small businesses that have nothing to do with the government. Clearly this wasn’t the point of the post, but lay off the DC suburbs. It’s not all about the federal government.

  34. I personally am all for coins replacing bills including 5s 10s and 20s.
    The wife wont let me hold folding money, only coins. Something about being able to hear how much money I have when i walk?

    can you say, “whipped?”

  35. My father always carried one of those plastic cases that open when you squeeze them.
    You know how hard those things are to find now?

    I started carrying one when I joined the Army. Saved me a bundle during calesthentics.

    Yellow Pages–>Advertising Specialties–>any company that sells giveaway items. BYO logo.

  36. I’ve always thought that the Sacagawea dollar was the perfect currency for the welfare state. Rather than being made out of gold or some other matereial with an intrinsic value, it’s made of a base metal alloy with an ersatz gold-colored plating.

    Yeah, it should be made of something naturally valuable, like cotton with green dye in it.

  37. NTD:

    that would work if
    1) the cotton were picked with immigrant labor paid a very low wage (to “prove” that “illegals” don’t “belong” “here”)
    2) unstable, heavy-metal dye should be used.

    We will then wrap the original tools and dyes in Styrofoam and set it on fire.

    To make an environmental statement.

    Finally, we’ll use Sacagawea’s maiden form in the Anniversary Edition of the Leather-Bound copy of “Heather Has Two Mommies” (where she is the visual depiction of the sweaty pillow fight scene on page 69).

    /passes out

  38. joe,
    GinSlinger’s point is the purchasing power of 50 cents back in the day was about equal to that of $10 today. That’s why they had fractional pennies back then, they were worth something. Today a penny is basically worthless.

  39. I’m with Mo. No more pennies.

    As to the new dollar, I am committing myself to use them if the mint makes enough to force retailers and vendors to take them. I’m not a fan of pocket change either but I think I primarily don’t carry much because it ain’t worth nothin’ unless you carry a lot. So I’m going to test the theory of intrinsic value – is the new dollar the 21st century’s quarter?

  40. “There’s no more insidious a Washington pressure group than Big Car Wash!”

    money quote!

    but Big Car Wash always has had a powerful lobby!

  41. Tbone,

    The dollar coin hasn’t failed becasue too few were made. It failed because the paper dollar was still being printed, and people are creatures of habit.

  42. Today a penny is basically worthless.

    Wrong! When I buy something that costs $4.26, that penny in my pocket is my ticket to an extra quarter. And when you don’t own a washer and dryer, quarters are valuable!

    Basically, pennies are valuable because you can use them to get quarters.

  43. And even at that, since there’s no record of what Sacagawea looked like, even the portrait on the face of it is a yanked-out-of-the-ass construction.

    I look at it as a generic Lady Liberty which was used on US coins before the dead president fetish beginning with Lincoln. I just think it’s funny now non-Native American she looks; she looks more Filipino than anything else. I digress.

    Vending companies are fulla shit. If they really wanted a dollar coin they’d give out the dollar coin in change machines that take bills of $5 and higher. The only ones that do give out $1 coins with any regularity are the post office.

    Retailers are also fulla shit. There’s plenty of space in a typical cash drawer for 2 types of $1 currency since most retailers are putting everything higher than a ten UNDER the drawer now.

  44. The dollar coin is an abobination because none of them have the Eye of Providence ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_Providence ). I am all for a dollar coin, but without the Eye of Providence on the coin, the magic spell will be broken, and our country will fall into ruin!

  45. I’d love a dollar coin with the Eye of Providence on the reverse and a profile of Roky Erickson on the obverse. It would kinda make a mockery of the “Liberty” enggraved on the coin, which is why I like the idea.

  46. Basically, pennies are valuable because you can use them to get quarters.

    Yes, but sometimes that’s a double-edged sword. I too crave quarters, and I thought I hit the jackpot the other day when my grocery bill came to $23.02. But no, the biotch pulled two cents from thin air and gave me, yes, a paper dollar in change.

  47. It failed because the paper dollar was still being printed, and people are creatures of habit.

    Oh, close but no cigar. It failed, because given the choice of witch they’d rather carry around 999 people out of a thousand will take the one that weighs 200x less.

  48. thoreau,
    In what podunk backwater do you live where the clothes washers don’t take plastic?

  49. Washing machines take plastic?
    O, what a brave new world it must be to have devices such as these!

  50. Having long ago embraced my inner geek

    Having embraced my inner geek, I want to get rid of all paper and coins and just walk around with e-cash loaded on my cell phone. Is there a lobby for that?

  51. Re: strippers and dollars

    One or two dollars is not a cheap tip if you’re only tipping for dancing at the pole for the crowd in general. Now, if you’re talking one-on-one, then yes, anything less than $5 is huff-worthy.

    More to the point, you can’t slide a dollar coin under a garter.

  52. In what podunk backwater do you live where the clothes washers don’t take plastic?

    Hey now!!

    Except for when I was in college (where you could load up a pre-paid laundry card and use that) most the laundromats in my neighborhood ( a nearby suburb of the Chicago metro area) don’t take plastic either.

  53. “I’d love a dollar coin with the Eye of Providence on the reverse and a profile of Roky Erickson on the obverse.”

    My idea for the Montana quarter, which went, unsurprisingly, nowhere: G A Custer lying in the weeds with arrows sticking out of him in all directions.

  54. For years currency analysts have promoted the idea of dropping the $1 bill in favor of a $1 coin, and promote use of $2 bills.

    Using $2 bills is good compromise for cheapskates at the Strip Club.

  55. I pretty much agree that the reason the dollar coin has failed is because people don’t want it, not because it hasn’t been promoted well enough or sabatoge from evil dollar lobbyists. The fact is, most folks, and it seems more prevelant in the young, don’t like carrying change. But the dollar is still a useful denomination. Let’s get rid of the penny first. Then in about 25 years we can revist this dollar issue. Until the quarter becomes the new nickle, the dollar coin seems a non-starter to me.

  56. Who the hell uses currency anymore? Don’t you people have credit cards? I can’t remember the last time I touched “real” money – it was more than a year ago, certainly…

  57. Who the hell uses currency anymore?

    People who spend less than $20? Many places have a minimum charge. Plus currency is still more convenient (i.e. faster) in most places.

  58. Here in Australia we replaced $1 and $2 notes with coins a while ago. It worked out well – the smaller denomination coins (5c, 10c, 20c, 50c) are silver colored and easily distinguished from gold colored $1 and $2 coins. And because $1/$2 coins are useful for a whole variety of small purchases, they tend to get spent before they have a chance to build up in your pocket or wallet.

    (You should check out the Australian 50c piece if you get the chance – its one of the biggest coins in common use in the world, and is polygonal rather than circular. Very distinctive.)

    Regarding strip club etiquette, I don’t frequent them myself, but I was under the impression it was a faux pas to give anything less than $10 (or maybe $20 in some places) to the girls. And asking for change would also be a faux pas (what are you supposed to do – remove smaller denomination notes from their garters/g-strings?)

  59. @Kwix

    Umm, wrong. It is not “plated”, unlike just about every other coin the US Mint produces. It is effectively a bronze coin (copper/base alloy) with the same electro-magnetic properties and dimensions as the previous dollar coin.

    You’re right, in fact I once had the benefit of having a metallurgist spend half an evening explaining what a wonderful job was done on the formulation of that alloy, and how the first few issues of the coin were subject to discoloration and corrosion due to a defect in the formulation. Laziness on my part. Mea Culpa.

    Still, my point is that it’s designed to have the appearance of gold, that is, something of value, rather than being presented honestly as being the worthless copper slug it actually is. Standard practice in the manufacture of coins these days, I know. I’m not really a gold bug or speciest, nor do I have any problem with fiat money in general.

    But there’s something about that coin that bugs me in particular. Everything about it is a misrepresentation – the appearance of the coin, the exaggerated importance of the person being celebrated on it (when do Lewis & Clark get their mugs on a dollar? Sacagawea rates her face on a dollar, but they don’t?), the fact that the portrait of the person being celebrated isn’t even a likeness of that person, etc. It may sound silly to be insulted by a coin, but sorry, that coin is an insult!

    @NotThatDavid

    Yeah, it should be made of something naturally valuable, like cotton with green dye in it.

    Point taken – but again, dollar bills aren’t manufactured with intent of appearing to be gold coins. You couldn’t mistake it for one a mile away.

  60. “…being the worthless copper slug it actually is.”

    Even copper is not exactly all that worthless these days.

  61. Even copper is not exactly all that worthless these days.

    Yes, there’s nearly a cent’s worth in each penny. That plus the minting makes it almost so it almost costs more to keep them in circulation than they’re worth. If fiber optics hadn’t reduced the demand for copper so much we’d see people hoarding pennies the way people started hoarding pre-65 quarters and dimes in the 60s.

    Maybe we’ll wake up one day and like the Australians stop using them except for bookkeeping entries.

    That and using mylar for notes like they do with the ‘strylyun fiver.

  62. Regarding strip club etiquette, I don’t frequent them myself, but I was under the impression it was a faux pas to give anything less than $10 (or maybe $20 in some places) to the girls. And asking for change would also be a faux pas (what are you supposed to do – remove smaller denomination notes from their garters/g-strings?)

    Etiquette varies a lot from club to club. I’ve been to a lot of clubs in the northeast U.S. As I said above, how much you should tip depends on the situation. If you’re tipping a dancer who’s not dancing for you in particular but is just up on stage doin’ her thing, then one or two bucks is the normal tip in all the places I’ve been to. It’s like applause. After all, in that context you don’t have to pay anything; you’re just sitting there watching the whole show, and if you see something you particularly appreciate, you give the dancer a dollar or two.

    But if you’re getting something personal — a table dance or a lap dance — then you’re expected to tip more, in addition to what you pay extra to get that service. $5 is a minimum. I often tip 100% for a table dance (a $20 tip for a $20 dance).

  63. Why not just shift from printing $1 bills to $2 bills? The cotton farmers, Crane, and the BEP wouldn’t lose much business. Isn’t that what the Canucks did when they started circulating the loonies?

  64. I’ve heard that bartenders are getting fed up with $1 tips. A buck just ain’t worth what it used to be.

    I think a likely scenario for the dollar coin being successful requires removing the dollar bill from circulation and reintroducing the $2 bill. Much like every other country does it… This half-ass introduction of the coin they try over and over is doomed to failure.

  65. Dang, JohnL beat me to it

  66. # Russ 2000 | March 22, 2007, 4:08pm | #
    Vending companies are fulla shit. If they really wanted a dollar coin they’d give out the dollar coin in change machines that take bills of $5 and higher.
    ===============================================

    That’s how the vending machines work at my place of business (in downtown Sunnyvale CA)! They must have heard you!

    ===============================================

    # Russ 2000 | March 22, 2007, 4:08pm | #
    The only ones that do give out $1 coins with any regularity are the post office.

    ===============================================

    Perhaps they won’t be the “only ones” for much longer, if my experience at work is any indication. However, I must say that the Post Office vending machines are even MORE remarkable for their ability to accept PENNIES and disgorge 1-cent stamps. Where else can you actually buy anything — much less anything useful — for a single penny? This has been true of post office vending machines for quite some time (a couple of decades at least), in big cities and small towns alike.

  67. # Isaac Bartram | March 23, 2007, 8:40am | #
    …there’s nearly a cent’s worth in each penny.

    Maybe we’ll wake up one day and like the Australians stop using them except for bookkeeping entries.

    ===============================================

    The Australians surrendered to inflation. Should we?

    There was a time, not too long ago, when most of life’s everyday, routine cash transactions could be negotiated within the range of .01 to $100: a nice, human scale. Then, inflation came along to erode the value of the dollar to the point that we are now talking about getting rid of pennies, and phasing out dollar bills in favor of more durable coins that will be less costly to produce and use in the long run.

    If we continue to follow the Australians’ lead, and inflation continues apace, it won’t be long before we get rid of the quarter and even the dollar as “insignificant” currency. Sooner or later, it’ll cost a million dollars to buy a 20 oz. soda. At that point of pathetic ridiculousness, or maybe even well before, perhaps we will switch to a new currency (the Amero, anyone?), or revalue the Dollar so that we can once again conduct business comfortably in the .01-units to 100-units range.

    I’d rather take the medicine sooner, instead of later, and let the bitter aftertaste of the adjustment effort remind us to redouble our efforts to quash inflation. Let’s seriously consider revaluing the dollar so that all of our currency is worth 10x its present amount: ten old pennies will be worth one new penny; ten old dollars will be worth one new dollar, etc.

    I want to keep the penny and, more importantly, I want it to be worth something. The dollar needs to be — I need the dollar to be — “real money.”

  68. Although I have a certain fondness for bills and coins, I wouldn’t mind using eCash or debit cards even more than I do now, so long as the key attribute of anonymity were retained in such transactions. An important part of real freedom the ability to disclose only that information about yourself, which others absolutely need to know in order to interact with you. In the present world of ecommerce, you is confronted, over and over again, with the demand to establish your “identity.” Indeed, “identity” has become such an essential and valuable commodity that it is now often “stolen.” But even when your “identity” has not been hijacked, the nature of eCommerce allows altogether too many people to learn who you are and what you do as you go about your day’s business. I think we need to use technology to enhance people’s privacy, not erode it. We also need to get rid of thousands of pages of law that micromanages society, so that there will be less temptation to violate people’s privacy in pursuit of “justice” or other alleged goals of government.

    It is pretty easy to convince people that their too-private neighbors are probably up to no good, and even that privacy in general is overrated and not all that necessary for anyone who “doesn’t have anything to hide.” In turn, such reasoning justifies laws that invade or eliminate privacy. But that’s going the wrong direction, for the wrong reasons. Real eCash could help turn us back in the right direction, but will the population be swayed and cowed by fear, into proceeding along the path of the cattle chute? I guess we’ll see.

  69. Cut-n-paste alzheimers strikes again. Here is what I intended to publish in the above comment:

    “An important part of real freedom IS the ability to disclose only that information about yourself, which others absolutely need to know in order to interact with you. In the present world of ecommerce, you ARE confronted, over and over again, with the demand to establish your ‘identity.'”

    What a boon it will be, when word processors not only check spelling, but also help you catch omitted words, or words that need to be modified for agreement, due to grammatical changes made elsewhere in the sentence. (I’m saying this only half-facetiously.)

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