For the sixth time in 22 years, the General Accounting Office has released an analysis of the benefits of replacing the dollar bill with a coin. As it has in the past, the GAO reports that the government could save a lot of money by making the switch. The problem is that Americans hate the idea. Previous efforts to introduce a dollar coin–the Susan B. Anthony Dollar (1979), Sacagawea Dollar (2000), and current Presidential Dollars (2007)–have all been failures with the public.
Retailers who handle a lot of cash have a reason to dislike coins, which are bulky and heavy in large quantities, and therefore expensive to transport. But I can’t understand ordinary people’s loyalty to the dollar bill.
For one thing, paper money is filthy. In a society in which hand sanitizers are a nearly $200 million business, you’d think that people would appreciate a cleaner alternative. Paper money is also a bother to carry in small denominations. Men’s clothing, at least, has no good place for a wallet bulging with singles.
Defenders of the dollar bill sometimes point out that few vending machines accept dollar coins. But they don’t accept damaged bills either. And paper money is extremely fragile.
I admit to being peevish about this issue: I spent a good deal of time last night changing singles for quarters and feeding the quarters into machines at the laundromat. But I really can’t think of any argument for retaining the dollar bill that doesn’t boil down to the observation that people like it better for reasons that they can’t quite articulate. At The American Conservative, we consider reluctance to change to be a virtue. In this case, however, we’d better off if we could overcome that conservative disposition.