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editorial

Pennies: MIT physicist takes on the zinc lobby

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Jeff Gore, a physicist at MIT, is making a valiant effort to persuade Americans to dump the penny. As a Globe story noted this week, Gore has run the numbers on how much time and energy are wasted because consumers and cashiers have to fumble around for a coin that, on its own, no longer buys anything. And of course he’s right on the merits: The penny is costly to make — the one-cent coin costs 2.41 cents to make, and represents a $60 million loss for the US Mint each year. Yet it’s so manifestly lacking in value that people rarely bend over to pick one up off the sidewalk. And while older Americans may fondly remember buying penny candy, kids today are more apt to lug a heavy jarful of pennies to the coin-counting machine and walk away deeply disappointed.

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Unfortunately, Gore’s quirky personal crusade against the penny runs up against a much better organized effort called “Americans for Common Cents.” The pun in the name is clever, suggesting that organizers have a corny, down-home sense of humor. But beneath the surface, it’s an old Washington story: A slick campaign by a special interest — some of the money comes from makers of the zinc blanks that become pennies — masquerades as a citizens’ advocacy group and throws around meaningless poll results (“Two-thirds of Americans want to keep the penny”).

Gore deserves credit for trying to influence the decision by rational argument. But at this point, what we all need more is the emotional maturity to reject sentimental appeals from zinc lobbyists.

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