For its last segment of the year, Last Week Tonight wanted to end on a problem that "not just tiny, but also totally fixable": the penny. The US mint makes about 8 billion pennies each year, and in a surprising twist, it costs almost twice as much to make them as they are worth. The penny costs 1.7 cents to be produced, making them the most expensive currency to produce versus their relative worth in the market. They're now made of the cheapest material possible, zinc, and there is no way to make them for anything less. Oliver pointed out that without resorting to using DVDs of The Cosby Show, there is literally nothing else in existence as worthless.
In addition, it seems that Americans don't even want them. One camera crew from ABC dumped 150 pennies on the sidewalk, and after 25 minutes not one person picked one up, despite there being tons of foot traffic. A number of years later, a similar experiment was conducted by a camera crew in San Francisco, yielding the exact same results. Oliver pointed to one study, which demonstrated that two-thirds of pennies never even circulate, and another study showing that 2 percent of Americans go so far as to throw pennies in the garbage.
Oliver highlighted some little known legislation, which permits private businesses to refuse pennies as legal tender, and noted that some businesses have started to to take advantage of this fact. One particular bike shop refuses the penny, and instead rounds down to the nearest nickel (which works out to the customer's favour). Most of the customers have reacted by not really caring. One customer simply said "whatever's easier" in response to how he feels about the change.
Given the indifferent attitude toward the penny, and it's high cost to make, why does the United States still use pennies as currency? Oliver pointed out that there still is a "penny lobby", with some pretty unconvincing, but somehow accepted, arguments. One argument is that people won't give to charity if they can't donate something as small as a penny, and another argument comes from Lincoln enthusiasts, who seem to have forgotten his presence on the five dollar bill. Oliver highlighted some of the many countries who have done away with the penny in recent years, including Canada, Ireland, and Australia, without a detrimental effect on their respective economies. He also pointed out that in 1855, the US removed the half-penny from circulation, because increased production costs made it's "buying power obsolete".
You can watch the hilarious segment below.https://youtu.be/_tyszHg96KI
The entire show is worth a watch, if only for the last 5 minutes, in which Oliver thanks many people responsible for their success of the second season (Jeff the Diseased Lung and Janice from Accounting among them). They ended with a live performance by Valley Lodge, whose song "Go" is used as the Last Week Tonight theme song.