[[(Editor's note: it's not my usual practice to post two blogs in quick succession, because god knows I'm not especially quick or consistent with writing them, so I tend to hold a couple back when I can. However, this one isn't especially long, and it's not like I made a revelatory point, so I'm throwing it out as a freebie.)]]
Every time I see someone pick up a penny, I try to gauge how long it takes them to find it, pick it up, and pocket it. Average is about two seconds. If you make eighteen dollars an hour, you earn 0.5 cents a second. If you make more than that, every time you pick up a penny, you're operating at a loss.
It costs 1.6 cents to make a penny. So the government is operating at a loss just to provide a currency medium that you can use to lose money. On average, there are ten billion pennies made each year. That means that if, instead of making pennies, the treasury got an intern to set 59,999,999 dollar bills on fire, they'd be up by one dollar, and down one intern, who, if aggressively prosecuted for defacing currency, would have to go to jail for approximately 360 million years.
The estimated value of the copper in a penny made before 1982 is two cents. Foreseeing the obvious situation this fact might create, it was made illegal to melt down pennies.
I frequent a number of bodegas where the unspoken agreement is that I won't give them pennies if they don't give me pennies. At Starbucks, if the change is four pennies, I wait for it, because I feel like I'm insulting them if I just take my coffee and let them toss it in the tip jar.
Carrying a one pound load up stairs burns 340 calories per hour, assuming you weigh about 150 pounds. Given the 2.5 gram weight of a modern penny and 453.6 grams to a pound, the health benefits of carrying pennies while going upstairs amount to 0.0005 calories per second per penny. Not an efficient way to combat obesity, although if you were allowed to melt them, you could get a five pound dumbbell for less than ten bucks.
I have no sympathy for giant service-oriented corporations who claim they lose millions because their workers have to deal with pennies. Last I worked for one of these corporations, the pennies were not the issue. Workers work X number of hours, Y people go to patronize the business, usually regardless of the line, and Z workers will be required to finish their extra work, unless they go over the maximum number of hours (Q) allotted them, in which case the work goes undone. So they would have to calculate this loss based on the number of customers who turned away from a line that got too long during the peak hours, and that is a thick, odorous line of bullshit. I'm not an economist and can't think of another way to calculate this loss, so please enlighten me if you can. I do sympathize with the employees who have to both count out change in pennies and receive pennies from people who took the penny saved is a penny earned advice too seriously and forgot to put it in a bank.
As far as I can tell, the penny exists to prevent $9.99! from becoming the much less inviting and digit ridden $10.00. This probably does help the economy. But unless it helps the economy to the tune of $59,999,999, I'm happy to sacrifice an intern. In fact, we can skip the intern, and I will simply take the money off the government's hands, once a year, on April 14th.