Bill Everhart: Spare change?

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It's nothing like the great toilet paper shortage that wiped clean whole grocery store aisles last spring. The nation's coin shortage has largely gone unremarked upon, but if you are suspicious of plastic and cool to technology, attention must be paid.

The coin shortage emerged in July, caused by, according to experts, the gradual reopening of the economy after the COVID-19 lockdowns of spring. Coins had stopped circulating as the economy stalled, and businesses increasingly urged customers to use credit and debit cards, exacerbating the problem.

There are more than enough things to worry about these days, and the great coin shortage of 2020 didn't register with me until recently when I noticed a sign at a Dunkin' Donuts (sorry, just Dunkin' now) drive-thru window apologizing to customers for the shortage and urging exact payment in cash. The sign also suggested using Dunkin' cards, the Dunkin' app or credit cards. More on that later.

Those coins have to be somewhere. In fact, I am looking at quite a few of them, sitting in bulging paper cups atop a desk. If I put the coins in a lockbox (a word you don't hear anymore since Al Gore was robbed of the presidency) and drive them to the nearest mint, will I be congratulated for putting a serious dent in the coin shortage? Or will I be arrested as a domestic terrorist for fueling the shortage for two months? Too risky — I'll spend them at the car wash.

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Some of the nation's legion of conspiracy theorists believe that the so-called "coin shortage" is part of a nefarious attempt to make us a "cashless society." That does sound vaguely socialistic. I'm not much for conspiracies, but while I don't believe that Joe Biden takes his marching orders from antifa or China or both, or that scientists tirelessly fighting the COVID-19 pandemic are guilty of sedition, the coin shortage does have a bit of an odor to it.

The economy runs on consumer debt. Anything that requires interest payments or penalties for late payments benefits corporate lenders and takes money from consumers. Debt is difficult to avoid for mortgages and vehicle purchases, but it should be possible to skip when buying a coffee and a jelly doughnut. A coin shortage, however, could get people in the habit of using plastic or technology for every purchase, no matter how small. That's where we were heading even before the coin shortage emerged.

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When the pandemic struck, people became cautious about handling cash and coins, even though the risk of contracting the coronavirus in this way was not seen as high by those seditious scientists mentioned earlier. Regardless of whatever peril may or may not be presented by coins or cash, however, COVID-19 will not be with us forever, although it already seems that way.

Berkshire County has a vested interest in the preservation of cash now and ideally forever. Crane & Company in Dalton has manufactured paper money for the U.S. government since 1879 and exclusively since 1964. Crane has divided itself into Crane Currency and Crane Stationery, been sold and resold, seen Currency's corporate headquarters moved to Boston and lost Stationery jobs to New York state, but paper money is still produced in Dalton as it has been since not long after the Civil War. Losing that to the onslaught of plastic and technology would be a blow.

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There is something charmingly Rockwellian, to continue the Berkshire analogies, about the concept of buying goods from a proprietor by handing him or her cash and exchanging polite farewells (from behind masks of course) and moving on. A receipt might be provided, but not if all parties trust one another. Interest fees, overdue charges and record-keeping are not a factor. The transaction has been completed in total. Plus, cash is tangible, as opposed to the mysteries of your moody iPhone or smarter-than-thou laptop.

In this Rockwellian spirit, I will decline to get a Dunkin' app. (I'm not sure I know how to get one anyway.) I will retrieve my coins from their cups and return them to circulation where they belong. Ideally, others will as well.

Spend your coins. You have nothing to lose but your loose change.

Bill Everhart is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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