The curse of the five-cent coin

Dear Mr Swan

That was a very nice budget. Thank you. Your $33-a-week increase in pensions for old people will go down very nicely. In return I thought I’d do something for you.

I have a plan for increasing consumer spending and improving the lifestyle of the whole country with one simple stroke. At the same time it would shake the mining industry out of its recent slump and save me buying a new pair of trousers every month.

Like all good ideas it’s very simple. Innovation at its best. Nation building, I think you called it.

What you do is: you dump the five-cent coin.

That’s it. Simple. I’m surprised you haven’t thought of it before. That’s probably because you forgot they existed. I can’t imagine you ever need one. I bet whenever you use an ATM you take the money in $50 notes, minimum.

Not that you can take it in five-cent pieces, I’m glad to say. I already have 2634 of them. Unlike ballpoint pens and policemen, which are never around when you want them, five-cent coins accumulate like dust under the bed.

Yes, I know; I could take them to a bank and change them for notes, but it’s not that easy. Not that they weight much; less than a kilogram for the lot. But I’d need pockets like the udder of a cow to contain them all.

The thing is: they’re no use. You can only receive five-cent coins, you can’t actually spend them. There’s nothing that costs five cents and it’s embarrassing when you buy something for $4.95 and you have to hang about waiting while they give you change for five dollars.

I suppose you could just walk away, and leave it as a tip. But who wants a five-cent tip?

If I were treasurer I’d stop this daftness. I’d make everyone round prices up to the whole dollar. Is there anyone out there who really thinks: “Wow, this is a bargain because it’s only $4.95. I’m really glad it’s not five dollars.”?

We’re halfway to banning them anyway. You can’t use them in public telephones, or the little kiddy rides in all the shopping malls. Those drive-through toll roads, where you toss the money into a bin, won’t take them either; which means endless tailbacks while some miscreant who didn’t know the rules searches frantically through his small change compartment for something larger.

Naturally, they won’t find it. Five-cent coins are taking over the world.

Not only could we focus on making bigger denomination coins (thus increasing mineral mining output), but we could improve the quality of life countrywide.

Cars would weigh less once the weight of lost five-cent coins was out of them, so you’d get more kilometers to the litre. Fewer parents would spend anxious evenings probing through their toddler’s poo for evidence the damn coin had been expelled. Washing machines throughout the country would stop clattering because someone – probably me! – had failed to find all the five-cent coins lurking in their pockets.

And my trousers would last longer.

Five-cent coins may not weigh much (less than three grams each) but the combined jingling of a dozen of them lurking in the sewn edges of your pockets can wear through in the time it takes to walk from the  newsagent to the pub.

Naturally, when that happens, all your larger coins Ñ $1, $2, 50c, 20c etc Ñ drop down your trouser leg and roll down a drain. By some perverse natural law the only coins that stay put are the five cent coins. It’s a mystery.

I don’t envy you your task: trying to balance your books in the middle of the world’s worst economic recession (I know they’re not admitting to that yet, but they will be soon); but you’d know better than anyone that when you’re doing your sums in billions of dollars, the last thing you want is to be mucking around with a leftover five cents at the end.