Thursday, December 14, 2006

Copper is the new gold

USA Today reports: New rules outlaw melting pennies, nickels for profit.

People used to believe in Gresham's Law, which says “When there is a legal tender currency, bad money drives good money out of circulation”. That 'law' no longer applies — no one has the time to hoard cents and nickels. USA Today reports that a zinc cent contains 1.12 worth of metal, a 5¢ nickel is worth seven cents. The mint doesn't pay the full value for the cent — they are locked into futures contracts.

The new law makes it a crime for travellers to carry more than $5 of nickels, although $100 (face) can be shipped. Why is it a crime to hand-carry $6 of nickels but legal to ship them?

Suppose a Canadian coin dealer brings 200 nickels to a US coin show. Is it really illegal for him to bring them back in his car if he doesn't sell them? The article says violators face five years in prison. That seems like a long time. Probably violators wouldn't get that for just three nickel rolls.

The US Department of justice reports median sentencing of 4 years for rapists, 3 years for robbers, and 9 months for assault. Carrying too many pennies is more like assault than like raping/robbing, so the five years sentence will probably be unusual and reserved for the really hardened melters.

I grew up in the 70s and remember pamphlets warning me the government might declare gold illegal for US citizens to hold again, as in 1933. The fear mongers were right, just about the wrong metal. Copper is the new gold.

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