Michael Kinsley's column on the movement to create a new dollar coin {op-ed, July 12} asserts that the government is "traumatized by the failure of the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin in 1979" and says that American currency and coinage are "ridiculous" because of this fear of change.

He goes on to recite the usual statistics about the declining value of the dollar and points to the many other nations that have successfully introduced dollar coins or the equivalent in recent years.

While he is properly skeptical of the claims of both supporters and opponents of the new dollar coin, Kinsley misses the main lesson of the Susan B. Anthony experience, a lesson that every other nation has learned in introducing a high-denomination coin: people prefer paper currency to coins when offered the choice.

Kinsley questions the "anti-democratic fortitude" of eliminating the dollar bill to force people to use a dollar coin, but conveniently fails to mention that in all of the nations he praises for coming to grips with inflation and "redignifying" their money, the public was, in fact, forced to use the dollar coin by the only method that works: eliminating the corresponding paper note.

In researching the experience of other nations, the U.S. Mint found that every one cited elimination of the competing paper currency as the most important factor in ensuring the public use of the new coin. A recent GAO report, also cited by Kinsley, came to exactly the same conclusion.

It is interesting that Kinsley would raise the issue of democracy in his article, when the GAO report concludes that the American public simply does not want a dollar coin. The focus groups assembled by the GAO confirmed an April 1990 Gallup survey, which found that only 18 percent of Americans favored creating a new dollar coin and only 15 percent favored creating the coin and abolishing the note.

While it may be true that a dollar coin would be more convenient for public transportation and other coin-operated devices, it would only be convenient if people were actually carrying the coins around on a regular basis. Likewise, the millions of dollars in cost savings, cited by proponents as the primary reason for a dollar coin, come from replacing dollar bills with a coin, not simply adding a dollar coin to our money system. If people choose to carry paper dollars, there is no added convenience and little or no cost savings. Even the Coin Coalition agrees that people must be forced to use a dollar coin, because while machines like coins, people like bills.

I agree completely with Kinsley's statement that a great nation makes national policy decisions based on the interests of society as a whole, not in response to the wishes of various interest groups. In this debate, it is the Treasury Department that has insisted that the wishes of the general public be included in the discussion. It is the Treasury Department that has consistently reminded the interest groups and Congress that the American public wants to keep its penny and its dollar bill and does not want a new dollar coin.

As long as the public likes our system of currency and coinage -- and all the polls say they do -- there is no reason to change it. After all, a great nation doesn't change its money just because other countries are doing it.

-- Donna Pope The writer is director of the U.S. Mint.