Paul Jacob

I guess that's where Americans for Common Cents comes in. This lobbying group — which has, you have to admit, one of the better possible names for a lobbying group — defends the maligned penny against Kolbe's onslaughts. Mark Weller, Executive Director for the group, states that Kolbe is simply "wrong on this issue." He notes that when Kolbe advanced the penny demonetization idea in 2001, "he received no support. Not one co-sponsor. I think we'll see a similar response this time."

I have no idea. I don't even know if getting rid of the penny's a good idea or not. I can think of halfway sensible reasons on both sides. Still, the little copper-colored zinc disks do clog up the pockets, rattling around too much, falling out behind the seats in restaurants or behind the pews at church, tempting skinflints to skimp on tipping and tithing. ("Uh, check my seat; I left you a little something.")

But I do know something about politics, and it comes as no shock to learn that zinc manufacturers are to some degree backing Americans for Common Cents, and that Arizona, Kolbe's state, is a major copper producer.

Why should Arizona's metal industry matter? Well, it just so happens that copper is what our now-misnamed "nickel" is mainly made up these days. Stop making one-cent pieces and guess the result: The nickel would naturally be conscripted to do much of the work now reserved for the penny. And more Arizona copper winds up being bought, some of the profits perhaps finding their way even into the campaign coffers of You Know Who.

Are you shocked that self-interest might have a great deal to do with the obsessions of Congressmen?

Don't be. I'm not. And, for all I know, Kolbe's partially selfish, special-interest motivations might dovetail with good policy. Getting rid of the penny might be wisest.

Still, perhaps we should shed a tear or two as we watch our only on-the-horizon chance of establishing a hard currency go away with the penny. Keeping the zinc disks in the monetary system, and making the Mint crank 'em out regardless of cost, would put us on a metal standard again, wouldn't it?

And that'd be fitting, no? I know when I think American economic policy I no longer think gold. Zinc'll do. It would match the "genius" of our current jury-rigged fiscal and monetary policies.

We could do worse. We have done worse. We are doing worse. Perhaps we should think zinc.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.