April 1, 2004

Coin of the PC Realm

CHAD EVERETT @ Don't Back Down: Rustle or Jingle is asking about the fact that the dollar coin has not replaced the dollar bill.

The long term cost [of the Sacagawea Dollar coin] is lower, the hassle factor is lower, the speed is faster. Yet dollar bills are still far more prevalent in the US than dollar coins. Why is that, exactly?
He's gathered a few interesting responses in his comments and yet they don't quite get to the real reason: People just don't like them.

Case in point: While waiting in line at the Laguna Beach Post Office to speak to a clerk, a woman came in and rustled to the front to ask a question. She was clutching this bronze object that at first glance seemed to be a quarter, but was of course the dreaded dollar coin. She'd been purchasing stamps from the PO's vending machine with paper money and had been given several dollar coins in change from the machine.

She then decided that she needed a few more stamps and had tried to use the dollar coins. But of course the machine that gave them to her wasn't configured to accept them. This, needless to say, peeved her. But since today the US Post Office exists only to drive customers away and put itself out of business by 2010, the clerks only shrugged and went back to their SOP of imitating every slo-mo work film you've ever seen. The hapless woman interrupted them again and asked if she could please have some dollar bills for the coins so she could use the stamp machine. The clerk said, "We're not supposed to give bills for the coins, but we can give coins for the bills." There were about 12 people waiting in the snake line for the clerk and I think I saw each and every one slump down and despair at this perfect government employee epiphany. The woman just shook her head and made for the exit.

She was stuck with the dollar coins and, regardless of the coin's politically correct choice of an heroic pre-Native-American-Woman on the face, she went away mumbling and grumbling, not feeling chipper about the post office or Sacagawea. Alas, she'd not seen the last of the deadening effects of this stamp machine/post office bait and switch. She'd see more when she tried to spend the coins.

I've seen it and, if you have ever had the misfortune to get a few of these useless exercises in "efficient money," you've seen it too. You try to buy something with them and there's always this bit of hesitation from a clerk as you slip them three dollar coins for a $2.75 purchase.

They gaze in rapt wonder and then look up with a sidelong glance as if you are trying to pull a fast one. You offer that the coins are dollars and instruct them to read the coin carefully. (This is especially difficult if your choice with the clerk is to continue in English or in Spanish.) In time, there's a moment when the light dawns on them , but the suspicion is not really removed. Then, grudgingly, sure they'll have to make up the shortfall when they cash out, they accept them and give you a quarter in change.

The quarter is pretty much like the dollar except that it has a different color. The other difference is that everybody pretty much likes, or accepts without question, the quarter, but nobody is easy with the dollar. And nobody likes to get the dollar back from the clerk as change. I don't know about you but whenever it happens to me, I slide them back and ask for bills. They took them and now they are the store's problem.

Nevertheless, as Everett points out, the dollar is set to last for 30 years and the government has made a mountain of them. So look for the deadly ground loop of dumb government ideas to continue for at least that long. You'll get these dollars in change from Post Office stamp machines and you'll try to get rid of them as quickly as possible at the 7/11. The 7/11 will try to fob them off on other customers and be refused. In the end, I suppose almost all of them will be shipped back to the Federal Reserve. Once there, they'll be shipped out to .... what else? ... Post Office stamp machines.

It's a nice gesture to put Sacagawea on the dollar coin. There was a lot of crowing about it when it happened. Before that, the dollar coin had Susan B. Anthony on it. It also went down to sleep with the Post Office. Perhaps they'd have better luck next time if they put Ben Franklin's choice for the national bird on it -- the Turkey. A much more popular choice with a lot of room for jokes. Besides, collectors would gobble them up.

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Posted by Vanderleun at April 1, 2004 6:01 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

On the plus side, our local (San Antonio) small businessmen have configured their coin-op car washes to take the dollar coins. I keep my change from the Post Office in my ash tray (no butts in MY car), and I'm always ready for a quick wash. Now we know the candidate pool to pick the next Postmaster General from.

Posted by: slimedog at July 8, 2004 6:40 AM

Good write-up - but it seems as if the points you're making aren't so much that "people don't like them" for some intrinsic sake, but that "people don't like them" because of the inherent hassles in having/using them.

If the government would get off their duff, and instead of saying that they will introduce this option and expect people to lap it up, just stop printing dollar bills, I'd suspect that you would see the take-up rate rise dramatically.

It's apparent that machines can take the coin, they just don't always do so. Your post office story is classic. The government wants to get the coins into circulation, great - why don't they make it so people can actually use the coins at their facility?

It's also apparent that cashiers can learn new tricks. They've handled different bills in recent years - the $20 going under it's second revamp in just a few years. If the cashiers are trained properly, and more importantly, get the opportunity to see more of the coins actually being used, then I'd suspect they'd pick up on it quickly enough.

As to Sacagawea? I have no preference. I don't think that it makes me feel any better about the money I'm carrying that it has a certain representation on it.

The real question is: Why does the government go through the process of developing a new coin, spending a ton of money to promote it, and then drop it? That's where I have a problem with it. If they want to tout the advantages, then why on earth aren't they doing so in their actions, as well as their (expensive) words?

In any case, thanks for reading. :)

Posted by: jayseae at July 8, 2004 6:53 AM

We live in a world where the people who operate cash registers need pictures of the items they're selling on their register keys so that they can ring us up. We're just a few more graduating classes away from them having to have pictures of money so that they can make change. How could anyone expect them to be able to deal with not one, but TWO things that are worth $1?

Posted by: Wacky Hermit at July 8, 2004 11:14 AM

>If the government would get off their duff, and instead of saying that they will introduce this option and expect people to lap it up, just stop printing dollar bills... It's apparent that machines can take the coin, they just don't always do so... why don't they make it so people can actually use the coins at their facility?<

Because it costs money, to bring in a technician, to adapt the machine, to take the coin? How many machines, at how many post offices, at how much per hour?

What it would cost to do the same to all vending machines, coin-operated laundries, car washes, peep shows, coin-counting machines, etc.?

Who pays for it?

Posted by: pappy at July 8, 2004 11:38 AM

We the public do. As always. As the price of vended products have gone up, the vending machines have been taking dollar bills for a while. They didn't 20 years ago. Why did they do that? What was the cost? etc etc etc...I don't think that was mandated in anyway, so the "Its going to cost too much" argument is weak, at best.

And if everybody was really into saving money, you would see the mint stop print dollar bills. Of course, many would scream that it was an insult to G. Washington. (but like Lincoln, he's now on both a coin and a bill).

If it was up to me, I think I'd ditch both the $1 and the $5 bills and replace them with coins. I'd bring back $20 Gold pieces too.

Posted by: Eric Blair at July 8, 2004 12:03 PM

I recently spent some time in Canada and there are no one dollar bills there. Just one and two dollar coins. It actually seemed to be easier overall but you did end up with a lot of change at the end of the day. I was touristing so there was a lot of small transactions.

Posted by: sTEVE at July 8, 2004 12:15 PM

The Metrocard machines in the NYC subway give dollar coins as change.

I wanted to buy a 30-day pass this week. Cost? 70 bucks. Okay, I'll use my ATM card, I thought. Five different machines; not one took the card. Tried it the next day. Different machines, same result. But I really needed the new card. And all I had on me was twenties. Did I really want to get 10 dollar-coins back? No. Instead I stood on line and dealt with the token booth clerk.

I only learned about the dollar-coin in change from the machines, however, the first time I used one. There is no warning that the customer is about to get screwed with Sacs if he or she gets change.

Posted by: growler at July 8, 2004 12:59 PM

Wacky: after you get through tormenting cashiers with Sac bux, pay the rest of your tab with $2 bills from the race track!

Posted by: slimedog at July 8, 2004 1:46 PM

That's the only place I've ever seen those coins. They're postalbucks, or something. It's like those "55: It's a law we can live with" bumper stickers that festooned government cars in the 1980's. (Replaced by the execrable D.A.R.E. or Drug Abuse is Life Abuse bumper stickers on police cars.) In that way, the government is like a cult that drinks its own Kool-aid. They can't get the general public to do something, so they force it upon themselves.

Posted by: Stephen at July 8, 2004 6:05 PM

>We the public do. As always. <

Of course. Vending isn't a social service.

You're right - it wasn't a mandate. It was a consumer/business arrangement, driven by demand, convenience, and marketing. Both parties were willing to put up with the costs as a result.

Back to the Post Office: it doesn't cost them anything (except a bit of goodwill) to hand out dollar coins. It will cost them to refit all their vending machines to accept those coins.

Posted by: pappy at July 9, 2004 10:47 PM

If the government is serious about people using the $1 coin, they have to change a few things. First, print and circulate more $2 bills. People don't want to carry a lot of coins around, this gives a paper change option, and you need (about) half as many. At the same time, stop circulating $1 bills. Sorry, George, but we need your slot in the register. As the current $1s deteriorate and people save them for nostalgia, they'll disappear quickly.

Yes, vending machines will need to be upgraded to handle the dollar coins and the $2 bills, so that can happen at the same time. Vendors will do it if it's the only way to get paid. Since the new Sacs have many of the same properties as the old Susan Bs, there's really no excuse for machines that don't take the coins already.

Finally, our hard working strippers and lap dancers will get a much deserved and long delayed pay increase, as the easiest minimum payment doubles from $1 to $2. Tucking a coin into a thigh-mounted purse is just not the same as tucking a bill into a g-string. Remember that the next time you feed a bill into a snack machine. At least you can wash your $1 coins, if you want to.

Posted by: Mike-LoserBoy at October 6, 2004 8:27 AM

...I've taken to referring to the $1 coins as "Post Office Scrip".

It's the only place I know of where they are used instead of real money.

Posted by: leelu at October 9, 2004 9:21 PM

The Canadians have one-dollar coins they call "looneys" because there's a loon on the back.

The two-dollar coin, of course, is a "twoney." So much for Frostback humor.

The only way to get people to use dollar coins is to shred the bills. Given inflation, the coins make sense. If popular sovereignty reigns, of course, they'll melt down Sacajawea. Maybe an Iwo Jima dollar would do better.

And what happened to the 50-cent piece.

Posted by: El Gruñón at October 20, 2004 7:14 AM
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