The penny -- at least a few of those little copper-colored portraits of Abe Lincoln are probably sitting in your pocket right now.
If not in your pocket, then certainly there are some in the cushions of your couch or the drink holder or ash tray of your car. Chances are that if you started looking around hard enough you could find one just lying on the ground. (And if it's on heads, you'll probably pick it up and make a wish or hope for good luck.)
They're in the tray at the gas station, sucked up in the vacuum cleaner or lying forgotten at the bottoms of desk drawers. I have a cup full of them (marked Petty Cash) on my desk at work.
At tourist traps you put them in those little machines to print out I-love-you messages or See Rock City (surely there's one of those somewhere in the south, right?) At the laser show at Stone Mountain, you put them on the train tracks and wait for the train to smoosh them into oblong razors.
High school boys flick them at their buddies -- and occasionally some kid gets one stuck up his nose. Long ago, people put them in loafers and bought candy with them. And everyone has found that strange green one that looks like it's encased in kryptonite.
They're everywhere and they have a million uses. But did you know what a waste of money they are?
In his latest "Wastebook 2012," Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn points out that it now costs 2.4 cents to produce one penny.
(The Wastebook is fascinating reading, by the way, and a great way to make yourself steaming mad at the government nonsense programs, among them the millions spent on giving people free cellphones and $325,000 to build a robotic squirrel to find out why rattlesnakes bite them.)
One cent costs 2.4 cents to produce. According to the Wastebook, "The total cost of producing over 5 billion pennies this year will run at least $120 million. After selling the pennies at face value to the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department will lose over an estimated $70 million."
Seventy million dollars lost, to make something that there must be billions of in circulation already.
And that's not all. Nickels now cost a whopping 11 cents each to manufacture. Eleven cents to make something worth five. And if you account for inflation, it's probably not worth that.
These coins cost more than double their face value to produce, yet the government keeps making them. And as for pennies, who really wants them anyway? If you don't have any in your pocket you take one from the tray. When you get a lot back you throw them in the tray. Sometimes you do the math in your head and try to pay in denominations where you only get silver-colored coins back. But rarely do you find anyone seeking out extra pennies.
According to the Wastebook, "France, Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom eliminated their lowest denomination coins in the 1970s" and Canada is following suit this year.
We don't have to eliminate the penny from our monetary system. We can use the ones we have, and if we just have to keep making them, let's change to a cheaper metal. But it's beyond foolish to continue manufacturing something that sells at a loss. In the real world, you'd be out of business in a flash.
In the government world, you just "make" more money.
Email Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.