November 30, 1995 | Commentary on Political Thought
Let's talk money. No, this is not a solicitation. Nor is it another one of those stories about how Washington wastes your tax dollars. Rather it's about all those $1 bills in your wallet, and why we should replace them with a new dollar coin.
You're probably wondering what a conservative is doing resurrecting one of the many failures of the malaise-laden presidency of Jimmy Carter. "Didn't we try this dollar coin experiment in the late 1970s?" Well, yes. But like much of what the government did in the 1970s, it didn't do it right. So maybe it's time to try again.
Some 273 million Susan B. Anthony dollar coins (affectionately called "Carter's quarters") are still in circulation, according to the U.S. Mint and Federal Reserve. Mostly the coins are used by mass-transit systems in major U.S. cities, including Chicago, Dallas, Baltimore, and St. Louis. It is also popular with vending machine companies.
It wasn't the concept of a dollar coin that caused the public to reject the Anthony dollar. What ruined it for Susan was her flawed design, her rather quick introduction into the public's psyche, and the politicians' unwillingness to stand by her. The design had a number of flaws.
Because of its similar silver color, size and ridged edge, the Anthony dollar was too easily confused with the quarter. Another drawback: The Susan B. Anthony coin coexisted with the paper dollar, causing problems for many retailers who didn't want to deal with both dollar bills and dollar coins.
If we were to do it all over again, the politicians would need to support that decision as fully as the Canadian government did in 1987 when it switched from a paper dollar to a dollar coin.
Th are are good reasons for making the switch. For one, it would save taxpayers like you and me a ton of money.
For example, mass-transit systems across the country would save an estimated $124 million annually by processing dollar coins instead of dollar bills. According to a young colleague of mine who lives in Baltimore, every time he rides a city bus or the Baltimore "metro" system, he puts a dollar bill into a vending machine, which then gives him a Susan B. Anthony dollar to use as a token. My friend points out, correctly, that having a dollar coin in the first place would save time and money.
Studies show that the cost to Baltimore's taxpayers of going to the bank, stocking the Anthony dollars and processing the dollar bills exceeds $300,000 a year. This money could be saved if the public had dollar coins in the first place.
In Chicago, the money saved would be even greater. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) handles about 410,000 dollar bills a day. The cost of sorting these bills is about $22 per thousand. But coins can be counted for just $2. Switching to a dollar coin could save the CTA $2.4 million per year in bill-processing costs.
New York City has solved the problem of high paper-dollar processing costs: The bus system simply does not accept dollar bills. That's right. The greenback is no good on a bus in the Big Apple.
The bottom line is this: Coins are more convenient, and because they last much longer than dollar bills, they are less costly to produce over the long run.
The time has come for Washington to lay the paper dollar to rest in favor of a dollar coin.