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Randy DeCleene Headshot

Goodbye Greenback? Just Say 'No.'

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Grab your change purses, boys and girls, because a forced transition to the $1 coin may be upon us.

At present, Congress is considering legislation that would see the $1 bill replaced -- wiped out permanently -- by a coin. A heavy, clunky, painfully old-fashioned coin that, if adopted, will soon be overburdening the pockets and purses of annoyed Americans everywhere. What's more, it will cost them dearly.

The legislation was sponsored in the Senate by John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) as part of the Currency Optimization, Innovation and National Savings (or "COINS") Act. The Act would see the dollar bill eliminated within four years, and at an annual cost of millions to American taxpayers and small businesses.

The fact is this: The COINS Act offers nothing in the way of actual savings for Americans. Moreover, it would erase generations of entrenched civic tradition as represented by the dollar bill, one of our greatest national symbols.

Americans don't need a dollar coin. They don't want a dollar coin. And they can't afford a dollar coin.

The COINS Act is premised on a belief that eliminating the one-dollar note and replacing it with a coin will save the country $4.4 billion over the next 30 years. This figure comes courtesy of a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) -- the audit arm of the U.S. Congress and an organization whose accounting methodology has certainly been controversial.

According to both the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Treasury, the GAO's savings estimate does not satisfactorily consider the net costs to either the American taxpayer or the federal government of such a switch. Both organizations have objected to the GAO's approach, citing the need for broader economic analysis before eliminating the dollar bill altogether.

Indeed, while the GAO maintains that the COINS Act would save some cash over time, it fails to consider the myriad of factors which serve to directly invalidate that claim. For instance, the significant transitional costs that such a move would undoubtedly incur -- costs like production, transference, distribution, storage and management of the new currency. The GAO has failed to adequately assess all of these, instead relying -- by its own admission -- on an accounting method which only recognizes federal gains and losses, altogether ignoring the impacts on the private sector.

According to a 2011 economic study conducted by the independent research firm John Dunham & Associates, the actual cost to businesses would be more than $200 million annually. The same study concluded that approximately 4,300 jobs would be lost in the process. In truth, it would be at least 10 years before the dollar coin breaks even. But even then -- and here the GAO itself is quoted -- "The cost of producing coins for a full replacement is never fully recovered during the [complete] 30-year analysis."

Economic considerations aside, Americans have made it clear that they do not want a $1 coin. It is no secret that past attempts to popularize the denomination have been utterly unsuccessful.

When in 2005 the Presidential $1 Coin Act was passed -- in accordance with which the U.S. Mint began issuing $1 coins bearing various presidential likenesses -- the public seemed to utter a collective 'thanks, but no thanks.' As of December 2011, more than 40 percent of the coins had been returned to the Federal Reserve Bank, resulting in a stockpile of $1.4 billion. On December 13th, 2011 President Obama ordered a halt to the coins' production, citing a need to cut government waste.

Anti-coin sentiment was no less confirmed when a recent poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, an independent public opinion research firm, found that a staggering 76 percent of voters oppose elimination of the dollar bill. The poll also found agreement among Democrats and Republicans, 77 percent of whom opposed the switch. All told, only 10 percent of American voters expressed the belief that discontinuing the dollar bill would have a positive impact on the economy.

At best, the proposed COINS Act could be seen as a mistake -- a misguided but noble effort aimed at deficit reduction. In truth, however, it is something closer to an insult -- a nonsensical affront to America's economic interests and civic traditions. It serves no public or national goal, eschewing the common good in service of apparent election-year posturing.

I ask: If "change" is good, why does the COINS Act feel so wrong?