The Legality of Paying using only Pennies

The matter of paying for something using pennies alone is not really one of legality. This writer thinks it rather criminal to waste the manual and material resources to produce something worth less than that value spent. And, in this day and age, when we know a whole lot more about the energy and environmental costs of production, especially mass production, the “carbon footprint” alone more than obliterates the monetary value of the penny, either as collected, or as a medium of exchange – a form of currency. 

Still, a penny is a legitimate means of said exchange – it is legal tender.  It’s as legal and legitimate as a dollar, or a twenty dollar bill, or your credit card. One could argue, however, that it is rather discourteous, and not only a huge inconvenience for the recipient of your payment, but frankly, a rather impractical nuisance for you the purchaser, no?

I think – I hope, anyway – that we are on our way to seeing the penny disappear from circulation – at least as legal tender is concerned. At the very least, I can foresee a day in my lifetime when it is just plain silly to keep producing them, when it will cost more to mint these coins than they are actually worth in circulation. It would be a waste of taxpayer money.

Where the *material* worth of physical money is rather insignificant beyond the raw metal and/or material used to manufacture it, and in some circumstances, the collective value of certain coinage or currency due to its rarity or historical value, the representational and functional value is very real. Money allows us to buy big and expensive and many things that we do not have the space to carry around merely as wealth to use for barter. However, at least in analogical terms, the penny is itself a metaphor for the very cumbersomeness that money was meant to replace.

What is even more compelling is the ever-accelerating prevalence of “non-currency” commerce. By this, I am referring to the digital rather than coin and paper bill representation of the promise to give equal value for a good or service acquired indeed, exchanged. We are well acquainted with non-currency’s ancestral beginnings (barter and trade are excluded as they *preceded* money) in the credit card. What is happening in the twenty-first century is a digital and economic and commercial *evolution*. Just as the credit card provided a convenient way to promise to give equal value for some good or service consumed, the digital transfer of identifying and unique information allows us to extract said promise via the access to secure information that is unique to each consumer, and is his property inasmuch as he so promises via these assigned accounts and their numerical “markers”. Only now, this can be done not only in the absence of physical money, it can be done in the absence of a little plastic card, and as a matter of fact in the absence of any physical contact between buyer and seller whatsoever! Indeed, this surely is the high-tech version of the concept of exchange media.

I understand how and why it may still be necessary to express cost and value in terms of the single cent. But surely in our 21st century, global, plugged in, tuned-in, turned-on, and on-line economy, we can add and subtract and engage commerce using these units and expressing them on our balance sheets. We surely don’t need to go to war or shut down a business over the lack of a physical cent or three.

No – I think the cent is rather quaint as a medium of exchange these days. The coin itself is as aesthetically pleasing and historically significant as any numismatic artifact, and has a place in the museums and display cases and back pockets and socks and sock drawers as legitimate and as sentimental as ever.

But, it really doesn’t belong in a vault or cash register anymore. As a unit of currency, it no longer makes much……cents.