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Coin Toss

HERE'S a question that hits us all in the pocketbook, literally: Should the dollar bill, the venerable George Washington greenback, be replaced by a coin?

It depends.

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Are you a video-arcade operator who would like to raise prices? A municipal executive with visions of parking meters pumped full of dollars, not just quarters? A member of Congress in whose district copper is mined? If so, you probably favor the coin.

On the other hand, do you work for the company that makes banknote paper? Do you work for an ink manufacturer? Do you represent in Congress a district in which a lot of employees of the US Bureau of Printing and Engraving live? Then you probably want to save the greenback.

Coin advocates want to avoid the fiasco of the ''Susie,'' the Susan B. Anthony dollar introduced in 1979 as an alternative to, though not a replacement for, the dollar bill. The problem, of course, was that the coin was too hard to distinguish from the quarter; the proposed new dollar would be copper coin with a smooth edge, easily distinguishable by sight and touch from the quarter.

Coins are more expensive to produce, but they last much longer than bills. At this time of general budgetary zeal, the dollar coin, which could save the government $100 million to $395 million a year (estimates vary) is up for consideration again. Congressional hearings were held last week.

Anyone who has ever had the humiliating experience of having every last limp dollar bill in his or her wallet rejected with a buzz and a whirr by a changemaker ought to be receptive to the logic of the dollar coin.

It's tempting to observe that time is on the side of the dollar coin advocates. Today's dollar is the quarter of the 1960s, they point out. But credit and debit cards, machine-readable transit passes, and other new technologies make cash less necessary all the time, even for low-cost transactions.

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