Thursday, July 7, 2011

Paper or Coin

Recently I heard a story on NPR about approximately one billions dollars of dollar coins that are in storage at the U.S. Mint.  There have been several attempts to convert Americans from using dollar bills, which have a relatively short lifespan, to dollar coins, which can remain in circulation for decades.  In 1979 the Susan B. Anthony coin (left) was produced.  The Sacagawea coin (center) has been minted since 2000 and the presidential coins (right) were created in 2005.
 
In 2005 Congress passed a bill that authorized a presidential line of dollars.  Beginning with George Washington, eventually all presidents will end up on coins.  An amendment to the legislation required that for every four presidential coins, one Sacagawea coin would be minted.  Each coin costs about thirty cents to produce.

The story was presented from the perspective of legislation gone wrong and how that has now resulted in an unnecessary cache of coins no one wants, but are still produced.  However, I think it is more interesting to think about this from the perspective of human factors design.  How can we get people to start using coins and stop using dollars?

When I visited Canada earlier in the month I discovered that the smallest denomination of paper money Canada uses is a five dollar bill.  Images of the "tooney" ($2) and "looney" ($1) coins are below.
Most men carry a wallet, an accessory designed perfectly, regardless of style or size, for transporting and storing credit cards and paper money.  Paper money is convenient.  One of my friends, while traveling, attended a professional baseball game.  When Chris purchased fare for the subway system, he used a $20 bill.  He received about $15 of change in dollar coins.  For the remainder of the evening Chris had to carry around a pocket full of heavy coins!

In my view, if the U.S. government truly wants Americans to stop using paper one dollar bills, it has to remove them from circulation.  As long as we have the choice between paper and coins, I believe that paper will win - at least that's what I prefer!

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