What this country needs is a good 5-cent anything

A couple of times in recent weeks, I’ve had the experience of being at the front of a queue to pay a machine, with the exact money ready, only to discover that the machine doesn’t accept 5-cent pieces. I have a few observations on this.

First, this is really annoying, and I will do my best to avoid patronising the operators of these machines in future. I don’t mind them being slow in modifying machines to accept new coins, but what possible justification is there for modifying machines (or changing the design for new ones) to reject existing coins.

Second, since consumer sovereignty is invariably impotent in situations of this kind, I guess it’s time to exercise voice in support of the abolition of the (now-useless) 5-cent piece.

Third, this presumably implies that 5-dollar coins can’t be far away.

Finally, in all this process, would it be totally impossible to introduce a 50-cent piece with a sensible size and shape?

21 thoughts on “What this country needs is a good 5-cent anything

  1. 50 c coins were originally round, but this led them to be confused with the 20 c coin, which was about the same size. Hence the 12 sided 50 c coin.

  2. So what about the two dollar coin, which is so easy to mistake for a five cents? or is it a ten.. or a…. lets face it, they want us all on plastic.

  3. Worse, the size of the 50-cent coin was dictated by the fact that it originally was a genuine silver coin – someone felt that this was important for some bizarre reason. Within a short time the price of silver went up and the genuine 50-cent coins were all melted down, and we were stuck with two very similar coins. But now that we have a convention that gold (coloured) coins are of higher value, why not replaced the existing clunker with a small gold coin. In fact, why not make it similar in size and weight to the 5-cent coin once that has been in scrapped.

  4. Did you know that 5c only gets you one cobber these days? I remember when you could make yourself sick on 20c worth of mixed lollies…

    (just to be completely tangential)

  5. Hey, at least you’ve gotten rid of 1 cent coins, and your 10 is bigger than your 5, and you actually use your $1 coins. For all the griping, Aussie money is way ahead of American.

  6. no but america has dollar bills…

    so much better…although you should get rid of pennies…

    im all for junking the 5cent…i just end up with pockets full of the bloody useless things…

    also, when is the cashcard coming in. why do i have to carry around various pieces of plastic and metal, and exchange them with goods and get some other plastic and metal back…its so primitive…its almost bartering…

    what we need is a fast (no connection, no signing, no pin), cheap (no transaction fees, that is the government should bring it in) and anonymous (you can throw it out and get a totally new one without signing up, or recharge it if you want) cash card…say in values up to $100.

    and if you lose it, well you can lose a $100 note as well, but you could just carry $20 on your cash card if you were paranoid.

    i propose to start using bus and train tickets. the government should open the format to supermarkets and small shops it would be so easy because you’ve got the ball rolling already, and many people already have bus tickets. then make the few remaining pay phones the same standard. then you should also be able to walk around with your etag in your pocket and buy groceries without ever putting your hands in there to frig around with change.

  7. This is the same argument as with the 1 and 2 cent coins. The catch is, any system like this tends to have the lowest denomination coins suffer in this way, like a rope fraying at the end. Any “reform” is merely buying time, only to waste it unless the underlying drift is stopped (i.e. something useful is done with the time bought).

    To my mind we need to stabilise things with silver sixpences as the main unit, with smaller value token metal coins, pennies, with holes in them so they can be carried on strings from our necks. If it was good enough as a way of introducing sound currency to African colonies in the old days we can do it again, eh what?

  8. A cursory glance around any shop or the numerous advertising brochures clogging letterboxes shows that clearly the most useful coin would be a 95 cent coin with some support still there for a 99 cent coin.

    On a more serious note, I like the idea of the cashcard and endorse c8to’s insistence that this be public infrastructure operated by government, just like notes and coins.

    In recent years, too much of our money supply has been privatised by the banks through the credit card system. Banks have proven repeatedly that they cannot be trusted to operate a secure system and refuse to take responsibility for the security of the credit card system, preferring instead to shift the risk onto merchants.

    Just as government took over the issue of bank notes, it should be responsible for the forms of currency of the 21st century.

  9. But governments can’t be trusted with credit cards either. It’s just using one wrong/mistake as precedent for another, seeking to justify giving that to them on the grounds of their having taken over bank notes. Certainly, it’s true that private enterprise rips us off that way, but how does that amount to a justification for letting governments do it instead?

  10. c8to, you are wrong in two respects:-

    – it isn’t “will be worse”, governments have a track record; and

    – it’s not a two way choice, a false dichotomy to trick you into taking one of the cards on offer; in general a further search will reveal other options, and in particular in this example, it isn’t a question of who is best suited to run credit cards but whether we need that approach anyway (we could keep using cash at the level under discussion).

    There is a further issue whenever it comes to “let the government run it”. Regardless of whether that is or is not in some sense better, usually when the decision is made it is mere expropriation with no or inadequate compensation – inadequate in nature as well as amount (cash is not the answer to everything). Again, this is their track record speaking.

  11. i dont want governments to become credit card providers.

    i do think they are uniquely positioned to bring in electronic cash though. there is already a large public network of ticketing machines (bus and trains) and the government is already in the currency business.

    all they need do is open the ticketing standard (with security considerations) to companies to use as e cash. the rest writes itself.

    government failure is NOT always worse than market failure. markets fail, governments fail: big deal. why would anyone think one is always better than the other…the world is complicated and requires more than one solution.

  12. Yeah… get rid of 5c coins. Then get rid of the trailing zeros and call them dimes. If that’s too American (I’ve heard people complain :), we could just as easily use ‘tithes’, ‘tenths’ or ‘deces’ (decimetre, centimetre). And while we’re at it, introduce 9 dime coins…

  13. Of course governments “are uniquely positioned to bring in electronic cash” (or whatever, if we generalise the underlying question). The point I was making was that you are asking whether A or B should deal the blow, not whether it can be avoided completely. To show a really vivid example, chosen to be deliberately extreme to bring out the point, imagine a Nazi reasoning that the government was better qualified to run death camps and that therefore Jews should be wiped out.

  14. implying the government is better to run e-cash, therefore we should have it? ahhh…no

    im saying we should have e-cash (for independant, self evident reasons) and that the government is the best people to do it, therefore they should do it, because we need it, and they are qualified to do it…

    its called modus ponens…

  15. The suggestion “implying the government is better to run e-cash, therefore we should have it? ahhh…no” is nonsense.

    I never implied that. c8to, you keep putting in suggestions of things that “should” be done, then asking the question who should do it. What I have been consistently suggesting are the prior questions, firstly whether it should be done at all and secondly whether there are other options over and above those on offer (so as to avoid false dichotomies).

  16. of course you never implied that: that was your characterisation of what I was saying…

    to be explicit:

    “Nazi reasoning that the government was better qualified to run death camps and that therefore Jews should be wiped out.”

    metaphor for:

    c8to reasoning that the government was better qualified to run ecash and that therefore we should have ecash cards

    i explained above that this is a poor characterisation of my argument.

    what im doing is saying both what should be done and who should do it. im not asking any questions.

    thus, do you dispute

    a) that we should have ecash (are you crazy?)


    b) that the government should run it?

    its all well and good to talk vaguely about prior questions and false dichotomies but what exactly is your argument?

  17. woohoo!*

    i was waiting for john to step in a moderate after my last rather blunt comment…(to assure the innocent, i really like PML’s work on taxation…)

    *i win

  18. I was careful to present my use of the vivid example in a context, in which I explicitly acknowledged that I was needing something vivid.

    Feel free to substitute some other vivid illustration, but note that it did get the message across – c8to finally realised the possibility that ecash might not be a good thing.

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