A billion dollars that nobody wants

If you’re looking for examples of Congressional idiocy, it’s hard to beat the story of $1 Billion That Nobody Wants. In short, there are about 1.5 billion one-dollar coins piled in bags in Federal Reserve vaults. Why? Because nobody wants them. Why is the U.S. Mint still making them? Because Congress said so.

Congress has been trying to shove dollar coins down our throats since the introduction of the Susan B. Anthony dollar in 1979. That turned out to be one of the most unpopular coins in U.S. history, and production stopped after 1981. An increase in dollar coin usage (primarily from vending machines) resulted in another 50 million or so coins being minted in 1999.

In 2000, Congress mandated the Sacagawea dollar. About 1.3 billion of them were minted in that year. Not surprisingly, the coin was highly unpopular with most people, and the number of coins minted per year dropped off sharply.

Still undeterred, Congress passed the Presidential $1 Coin Program in late 2005. This program, modeled after the State Quarter program, began in 2007 and will continue until 2016. It directs the U.S. Mint to produce dollar coins with engravings of the presidents on one side. This despite warnings from the Congressional Budget Office that there would be low demand, and the Government Accountability Office warning that unused coin stockpiles and storage costs would increase.

Shockingly, demand for the coins is almost non-existent. Collectors want them. Nobody else cares.

It gets even sillier. Proponents of the Sacagawea dollar were reluncant to sign on to the Presidential coin program until some genius added a provision saying that the Sacagawea dollar must account for at one of every three dollar coins minted in any year.

A couple of quotes from the NPR article struck me as especially funny.

Members of Congress reasoned that a coin series that changed frequently and had educational appeal would make dollar coins more popular. The idea came from the successful program that put each of the 50 states on the backs of quarters.

This is a perfect example of Congressional reasoning. They failed to grasp the most important point. The State Quarter program didn’t magically make people like quarters. People already used quarters. A lot. On the other hand, 30 years of experience show us that people in general just don’t like the dollar coin. One has to think that, after a few major redesigns and a few minor redesigns, the design isn’t the problem. The American public doesn’t want a dollar coin! Stop wasting time and money trying to force one on us.

Here’s the other quote that I found especially amusing. Or frightening, I suppose.

Leslie Paige, who represents watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, says the government should withdraw the dollar bill from the market and force Americans to use the coins.

“I think Americans will definitely embrace the dollar coin if they’re just given the opportunity,” she says.

There is a difference, Ms. Paige, between giving me an opportunity and forcing me to use the coin. Please consult your dictionary. And by the way, the most optimistic projections of cost savings by switching from the dollar bill to the dollar coin are about $5 billion over 30 years. That works out to $166 million per year, or less than 5% of what it costs to run Congress for a single year. Just cut the staff of every Senator and Representative by one person, and we’d make up the difference.

But has Congress passed a bill to stop the insanity? Of course not. That would make too much sense. Instead, the Obama Administration has announced that minting of the coins for circulation will be suspended. They’ll still make some for collectors, but that’s about it.

I’ll grant that the amount of money we’re talking about is small. But the reasoning behind the dollar coin idiocy is exactly the same as the reasoning behind everything Congress does. They invent problems and then invent solutions that wouldn’t solve the problems, even if the problems really existed. And yet we continue to choose to pay these people and give them power over us.

We really need to wake up.