It turns out that the humble penny is a pricey coin. Specifically, each new penny coined by the government costs 2.4 cents. One good idea in President Obama’s budget is to change the way we make those expensive pennies and nickels (which cost 11.2 cents each), using cheaper metals to do the job. If we switch up the raw materials—perhaps to an aluminum alloy, like other advanced economies, or else industrial porcelain — the Treasury Department estimates we could save about $100 million a year. It’s an issue that seems like a no-brainer to resolve; the fact that it is not, writes Tim Fernholz, says a lot about our country’s people and policiticians. “The penny paradox,” he concludes, “is a dilemma at the heart of democratic government—a engaged, concentrated group of people who benefit from spending can keep it going, even if it’s not in the broad public interest.” 

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