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Diane Phillips: When Will The Penny Drop? It’S Just Not Worth It

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Diane Phillips

By DIANE PHILLIPS

Usually a sucker for the underdog, a protector of whatever species is facing undeserved or premature extinction, the penny is one lesser specimen of which I am not a fan. Quite the opposite, I stare at it with wonderment, like why in the world is it still around?

Minting and maintaining the lowest currency denomination makes no economic sense and serves little cultural or social purpose, other than the fact the Bahamas penny is a pretty object with the starfish on one side and the crest on the other.

The reality is it costs more than a penny to make a penny, at least in the US and other places where we can Google production costs. It has been more than a decade since the penny was a break-even investment. In 2014, the cost was up to 1.7 cents. Last year, 2018, it cost 2.06 to make one cent, more than twice its face value. With inflation driving up the cost of materials – mostly zinc with a bit of copper – one estimate puts the loss to US taxpayers to nearly $90 million this year who will spend $132 million to mint eight billion pennies with a face value of just over $50 million.

And that’s just production. Add rolling, bulk transporting from Federal Reserves to banks, counting at banks and at thousands of point of sale outlets daily at end of shift and the use of the penny is anything but cheap.

The penny has devolved into an anachronism that teeters on the edge of a cliff. Except at a cash register, it’s a seriously useless piece of hardware in most places where other forms of currency are devoured. You can’t use it in a vending machine, a toll booth or parking meter. It won’t get you past a turnstile or let you do a load of wash in a public washhouse. Yet it lingers, cluttering registers, pockets and piggy banks in both in the US and The Bahamas while countries across the globe have abandoned the historic fixture long ago. Australia, Canada, Belgium, New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico all discontinued production of the penny or the equivalent of their lowest denomination currency. Canada minted its final penny on May 4, 2012 and discontinued its circulation the following year.

There have been several attempts to put a merciful end to the ever shrinking life of the penny, including a bill introduced in the US Senate by the late war hero and Trump nemesis, Sen. John McCain, a man most, regardless of political affiliation, would admit stood for justice, reason and common sense.

So why does the penny live on long past its prime? If you guessed sentimental reasons harking back to the days when children were told to save their pennies and one day they would be rich or a prospective lover looking you directly in the eyes and whispering ‘A penny for your thoughts,’ you would be wrong. The penny survives despite its impracticality largely because of lobbying by the zinc industry. And the zinc industry has succeeded in its lobbying efforts to date despite the fact that zinc oxide is poisonous and that accidentally ingesting a single penny can kill a small dog.

Change comes hard to the stubborn but The Bahamas has benefited from bold steps before. We led the way banning shark slaughter in 2011. We do not have to wait until the country we modelled our currency on wakes up and puts the penny to rest. We can prepare for an end to the penny with a month of collecting for a cause and go out in style, then look someone we care about in the eye and ask, ‘A nickel for your thoughts.’

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Robert F Kennedy toured the Over-The-Hill community last weekend. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

Protection which we really need

This is not a column about politics, nor are the following comments political in intent. But Hallelujah, the country is finally likely to have a comprehensive environmental protection act within our lifetime.

The US passed such an act in 1970, creating an Environmental Protection Agency, powering it with enforcement muscle. Even then, nearly 50 years ago was 30 years later than it should have been, according to immediate past chairman of Waterkeeper Alliance and Professor Emeritus of Environment Law at PACE University Robert F Kennedy, Jr. who recently visited The Bahamas.

What does that make us? Eighty years behind schedule in protecting the most notable resource of The Bahamas, our extraordinary, unmatched environment - the waters, land, wildlife, flora and fauna that make this land the most treasured and beautiful in the hemisphere.

Sen. Carl Bethel said publicly this week that Minister of Environment and Housing Romauld ‘Romi’ Ferreira has been pressuring him for the EPA and he is aiming to fulfil that request by end of year. We trust there will be sufficient public consultation as the process unfolds. Meanwhile, kudos to both Ferreira and Bethel and encouragement to all who pleaded, including Fred Smith, QC, Joe Darville, Sam Duncombe, Pericles Maillis, Eric Carey and dozens of others. The environment is finally coming into its own.

Why onions are a no-no for your dog

If you think onions are tough on your eyes…wait ‘til you hear what they can do to Fido

According to information posted by the Pet Food Institute, onions are among the eight most no-go harmful food types. They rank second highest among chocolate, grapes, raisins, Macademia nuts, alcohol, nutmeg and avocados. But what can be equally dangerous are cooked bones that can cause broken teeth, constipation, internal bleeding and intestinal blockage.

As for why onions make you cry, it’s a chemical called syn-propanethial-S-oxide that stimulates glands that release tears. Next time you want a raw onion sliced, find a friend with contact lenses.

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