Almost alone among nations, the United States has as its principal currency denomination a piece of paper, the dollar bill. Everyone else has a coin.
The Mint has tried. The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin failed. Then seven years ago it introduced the gold-colored Sacagawea; it too never caught on and is now mainly produced for collectors.
However, the coin boosters are a determined lot. This year, the Mint began producing presidential coins, with a new one to be issued every three months. We’re now into the second president, John Adams, and with 41 more to go, that gives Americans more than 10 years to get used to the idea of a coin.
Maybe this time the coin will work, although the more hard-nosed advocates say a coin will never catch on until the Treasury begins withdrawing dollar bills from circulation.
Either way the Treasury makes out. Coins are cheaper in the long run than paper money because they don’t wear out. And if the public throws its Sacagaweas, Washingtons and Adamses into a jar, those unspent coins basically constitute an interest-free loan to the government.
Americans have traditionally been paranoid about their money, suspecting the government and other forces of dark plots, but the public weathered the redesign of its paper money in good order, even tolerating the introduction of a little color — very little color — into their bills.
In hopes that this time the public is ready, the House recently approved a redesign of the Sacagawea, which honors the heroic young Shoshone woman who did everything Lewis and Clark did and did it carrying a baby.
Whether the public will be more willing to spend money if it’s better-looking seems doubtful, but we have to admit it’s an interesting proposition.