I've bitched about the US coinage system on this blog before, but in case I wasn't clear, it's completely bonkers. Michael Zielinski at Coin Update sums up, in a gently-worded article about the "unusual" state of our circulating coinage:
The cent and nickel each cost more than their face value to produce and distribute. The quarter dollar is in the midst of a lengthy circulating commemorative program, although unfortunately the coins are nowhere to be found within circulation. The half dollar continues to be minted [for collectors] but is not issued for circulation. The $1 coins are issued in five different designs, while at the same time paper $1 bills are issued for the same denomination. After recent developments at least four of the $1 coin designs will no longer be issued for circulation.
Most of the problem coins, of course, don't even need to be struck, due primarily to the fact that we as a people have more resistance to changing our coinage than to letting our government inflate away the value of our currency.* Pennies and nickels are struck in huge numbers** at great cost, transported all over the country at great cost, used by merchants to make change, and lost, discarded, or saved up by consumers to eventually be redeemed for a small amount of paper money. All to facilitate splitting transactions down to absurdly fine fractions, so that nobody feels like he's been cheated out of three cents by a rounding system.
The system is absurd. Kill the penny. Kill the nickel. Kill the dollar bill and the five, and strike a five-buck coin (which would have about the same buying power as a mid-20th century 50 cent piece, so no bitching about how hard it is to "lug around" a few coins). Such a system will hold its usefulness in the face of inflation at least long enough to make the whole argument academic when physical money goes out of fashion entirely.
And as long as I'm dreaming, let's get the dead Presidents off our coins, too. Our traditional Liberty motifs would be best, but even a wholesale switch to silly looking cartoon Indians would be preferable to the current crop of Emperors. All this apotheosis of Presidents is unseemly in a constitutional republic.***
[* - This may not be entirely fair. More specifically, the public-opposition/government-incentive ratios are way off. Even if Americans were twice as opposed to inflation, it's less visible and there's an enormous incentive for government to keep doing it. Keeping the coinage system in its current broken form represents a very small cost for government.]
[** - The Mint has already passed four and a half billion 2011 pennies, and the machines are still running.]
[*** - It's also, incidentally, another source of resistance to fixing the system. Worshipers at the Church of Lincoln are for some reason incensed at the idea of their culture-hero losing his place of honor on the world's lowest-value coin.]