As a kid I remember collecting Susan B. Anthony dollar coins when they first came out in 1979. This attempt to resurrect dollar coinage in the United States was an unqualified failure — for a number of reasons. The most important being that it was something new and people are resistant to change (no pun intended). But it was also easy to confuse the Susan B with quarters, as they were the same color, and only slightly larger. So the total indifference by the public to this new coin was attributed by most to these factors. Fast forward twenty years, and take two: the Sacagawea dollar. It corrected the perceived issues with its predecessor, being larger and a different color, making it impossible to confuse it with a quarter. And it mattered not one whit. A decade later, the only place you can expect to find these coins in circulation is change from a Metrolink ticket machine.
Given this impressive track record, it should come as no surprise that Congress once again jumped into the fray and approached the problem with unassailable logic: if the Sacagawea dollar was good, then surely 44 more dollar coins (displaying the images of all of our former Presidents) would have to be that much better, right? So it is written and so it shall be. Here we are now, not even halfway into this new program that began in 2007, and we are learning just how pointless and wasteful this whole thing has become. NPR is reporting today that the US Mint has produced, and the Federal Reserve is storing, a billion of these coins which now sit languishing in vaults all over the country. The cost so far for producing these is over $300 million. But is anyone calling for an end to this madness? Hardly. In fact, since the program was created by an act of Congress, it would be against the law to stop. So we will continue minting coins that no one wants until every former president’s face appears on one. Total cost to taxpayers at that point will be something north of $700 million dollars, not counting the cost to store and guard all of that loot for almost a decade.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if Congress had the political will to eliminate the paper dollar bill and at least save a little money in the process (although the NPR story points that there is reason to believe that there wouldn’t be any savings at all in pursuing that), but no one is brave enough to kill the iconic symbol of our economy. The political will is there to go on producing worthless coins for years, however. Well, at least Ecuador (which uses US currency) is happy.