Obama Could Abolish the Penny With an Executive Order

More reasons to get rid of the penny.

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By Michael Barone, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Reader and blogger Al Lewis agrees with my call for abolition of the penny, and has gone more than one step better, with a specific proposal.

So here is the first proposal: Retailers should simply round down the total checkout tally for cash purchasers and not handle pennies at all. There will be no need for pennies in change and anyone who wants to use pennies to pay can put them in a charity jar instead. The first retailer to do this will reap a PR bonanza and others will quickly follow. Within a couple of years, retailers who don't round down will be as rare as those who don't accept credit cards. Not getting pennies in change, like being able to pay with credit cards, will be considered a birthright.

Lewis's blogpost attracted attention in his home town, Concord, Mass., and several merchants have announced they will stop collecting pennies on Feb. 12, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, whose likeness appears on the penny. Another Concord rebellion!

In an E-mail to me, Lewis calls on the Obama administration to take action:

Finally and most importantly, the key insight which we have had that no economist has had is, this whole thing can be done with an Executive Order, rather than an Act of Congress, because it is within the Treasury Department's jurisdiction. They have already given some exceptions to the penny-as-legal tender, such as tolls. The Executive Order would say "Establishments which agree to round down cash transactions to the nearest nickel may refuse to handle pennies."

Who would oppose that other than zinc miners? But by the time their challenge reaches the courts, rounding down will be the custom of the land.

I am glad to be able to play a small part in stimulating such creative thinking.