In last month’s federal budget, Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that the production of the lowly penny would be discontinued to save everyone the hassle of having to deal with something of negligible value.

Now, the Canadian Mint is proposing to develop a new form of digital currency called MintChip that would enable users, through a mobile device like a smart phone, USB stick or computer, to make small purchases both in person and on-line.

Here’s a link to a short news item in Maclean’s that also includes a link to a video the Mint’s produced on the subject. When you consider the cost of producing physical currency (which is itself an abstract expression of value), moving it around, protecting it from robbers and muggers, counting and recounting it at millions of tills across the country every day, etc., there’s a huge inherent cost to a cash economy. Switching to strictly digital transactions would reduce that cost significantly.

As Jesse Brown notes in his Maclean’s article, MintChip would open the door for a more viable form of e-commerce involving micro-payments each time a user accessed information on a website — be it a news article, a music video, a movie trailer, whatever. The payments might be measured in pennies, but with a potential global market numbering in the billions, it could add up.

Why, at three cents a pop, noted climate change skeptic Tom Harris alone would have kicked 24 cents into the prairie dog kitty in the last day based on the eight comments he made on one measly blog post.

It won’t happen overnight, but it seems inevitable that MintChip will happen.