In August of 2015, Sen. John McCain, R.-Arizona and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming reintroduced a proposal to eliminate the $1 bill and replace it with a $1 coin. What has now been labeled the Unified Savings and Accountability (USA) Act has been presented as a modern approach to tackle what is ironically an expensive problem – manufacturing and circulating U.S. paper currency. Estimates suggest that the proposal, if enacted, will save $4.4 billion over the course of 30 years (see the AZ Capitol Times).
While reports state that it costs about 18 cents to produce a coin, compared to roughly 5 cents for a dollar bill, proponents reiterate that coins remain in circulation for nearly 35 years, whereas paper currency only lasts between 2-4 years. The Dollar Coin Alliance, focused on educating taxpayers and policy-makers about the benefits of increasing dollar coin circulation, urges reform by keeping a running tally of the cost savings lost by maintaining the status quo of paper circulation.
It would be to know what effect a switch, if any, would have on the ability of criminals to easily launder illicit proceeds and/or evade the detection by law enforcement of their ill-gotten gains. In the case of moving dirtied money from point A to point B, it often boils down to basic principles of math, science, and physics. As an example, the Federal Reserve Bank Services website places the weight of a “Cash Pak” (16,000 notes) at roughly 35 pounds. Believing that there are roughly 460 (or so) notes in a pound, then the accumulation of $1 million in $1 bills would weigh roughly 2,100 pounds, more or less.Clearly this is a significant sum to be hauling across interstate lines.
Consider, nevertheless, how much more difficult it would be to transport an equivalent amount of coins. The U.S. Mint, for example, places the current weight of a Presidential $1 coin at 8.1 grams. It follows, then, that hauling around $1 million worth would require the ability to covertly transport approximately 17,857.4 pounds – 8 times the weight of paper currency!
Of course, this example carries with it many assumptions, but in the end, and regardless of the cost savings associated with the switch, would it be a wise move merely from the vantage point of protecting legitimate commerce? Should we make it even more difficult to transport bulk currency outside the realm of what is considered the normal modus operandi? Should such a thing even factor into our analysis at all?
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