# Should We Make Cents?

Morley Safer On The Bizarre Economics Of Producing Money

At work, Gore does research in biophysics. But away from the lab, he's a fearless crusader against the penny, arguing that if time is money, the cent is senseless. "I read somewhere that two or two and a half seconds are wasted per cash transaction as a result of the use of pennies. And I started thinking, you know, that doesn't sound like very much, but you know, maybe it starts adding up if you do the calculation," he says.

Gore has devised an Einsteinian equation of productivity to determine how much time America wastes dealing with pennies, counting them out in stores, giving them back in change, fishing them out of the couch and putting them in penny jars.

"You come out to a wasted time of 2.4 hours per year per person which actually is quite a lot," Gore explains.

And with wages in the country averaging \$17 an hour, that means pennies are costing each of us \$41 a year. "And you multiply that by 250 million adults in this country, you come out to ten billion per year, which is quite a lot of money," Gore says.

Of course, if you put a price tag on lost time, that's nothing compared to the time America wastes in traffic, on the Internet, and having to listen to imperfect strangers talking on their cell phones. Still, the debate over the penny is one into which everybody puts their two cents worth. Or call it four cents worth.

"I mean, if you ask Americans, 'Do you want to keep or abolish the penny?' most people say they want to keep it. Now, I would argue that those same people would have said they want to keep the rotary telephone. They wanted to keep, you know, carbon paper. They wanted to keep the buggy whip. But you know what? We've done all right without all those. And I think that if the penny were no longer around people would be okay," Dubner argues.

"Americans may differ on what the utility of the penny is. I know when I go home, I have a penny jar just like everybody else. And, but at the end, I still turn those pennies in because they're worth real money," Moy says.

"You as an amateur coin collector, I suspect you're in favor of keeping the penny in your heart of hearts. Yes?" Safer asks.

"Well, as a public official I have no private opinions. But I do know that a lot of people are attached to the penny," Moy replies. "And as long as they continue to being in demand, the mint has an obligation to continue making them."

In fact, the mint is in the process of redesigning the back of the penny to mark two milestones next year: the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth and the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny itself. Get rid of it? Not likely.

Produced By David Browning
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