Y2K: Profits From Doom

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Y2K: Profits From Doom

By E. J. Dionne Jr.

Friday, January 7, 2000; Page A23

Please indulge me. It's unseemly, I know, for a writer to quote himself. But having watched all the Y2K Cassandras, doomsters and charlatans go down in flames on Jan. 1, I can't resist.

On Jan. 5, 1999, this is what I wrote: "As for the Y2K problem, most of us assume someone else will solve it. Many of us suspect it's an invention of computer analysts who know we'll spend a lot of money to fix a problem, especially if we don't really understand it. It's hard to believe those smart guys didn't plan for the date odometer clicking over to 000. So maybe this is the high-tech version of planned obsolescence--a cyber scam. This will be the big scandal of Y1.999K."

It will be fun in the coming months to watch those who made profits from doom try to justify what they said and did. Already, we're hearing three arguments from the Y2K self-justifiers.

First, we avoided catastrophe because we took the steps they told us to take and spent those billions.

Second, they never really said the problem would be all that bad. "Y2K has always been a question mark," Peter de Jager, a Y2K consultant, wrote on this page on Monday. "Of course some projections were inaccurate, falling on both the low and high sides of reality."

Third, even if we did too much, there will be technological "spin-offs," because we learned so much about how our computer systems work. This argument is irrefutable but irrelevant--you always learn something when you spend a lot of money.

The first argument may be valid, but it needs to be proved. It's either true or it's not true that we had to do what we did. The government and the private companies that spent so much cash should figure out whether the spending was worth it. One couldn't help noticing that technologically advanced countries that spent far less than we did on Y2K--Italy comes to mind--also did fine on Jan. 1.

You had to love the headline in the Italian daily La Repubblica: "The Bug Was a Dud; the Great Fear Is Over; But Some Accuse: It Was a Bluff to Make Money."

As for the claim that no one really said Y2K would be all that terrible, it's simply not true. Yes, there were computer analysts who made modest and reasoned arguments that Y2K was a practical problem that could be solved. But catastrophe-mongering was too often the order of the day, especially, it seems, among those who made the most money on speeches, consulting fees, books and the like.

The writer Gary North predicted "a disaster greater than anything the world has experienced since the bubonic plague of the mid-14th century." North, who fled to a mountain hideaway to escape the catastrophe, conceded that perhaps he had made a mistake in urging others to do likewise and asked for "mercy."

Back in October 1998, Kathy Mulady, a writer for the Spokane Spokesman-Review, reported on a talk by Y2K guru Jim Lord. "Around next summer, there could be complete disaster and the effects could last a long time," he said.

Mulady then summarized Lord's specific predictions: "Expect blackouts and energy rationing, food shortages, bank and airport closures, unusable medical equipment, disruptions in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments and the demise of the Internal Revenue Service."

Well, never mind.

To her credit, Mulady noted in her story that Lord "has turned the millennium bug into a tidy business venture." Indeed.

The trouble is that even sensible and intelligent public officials such as Commerce Secretary William Daley--who at least said the problem could be fixed--let the doom crowd affect their public talk. In October 1998, Daley spoke of Y2K as a "disaster waiting to happen" and said Y2K could cost more than California's Northridge earthquake. (When it came to the cost of the fix, it turned out he was right.)

Okay, nobody begrudges Y2K caution where nuclear weapons, hospitals and water systems are concerned. But might we learn some lessons here?

Few of us fully understand the inner workings of the technology we're so proud of, and some are prepared to exploit that fact by trying to scare us. The same human reason that went into creating these ingenious machines might usefully be applied to the task of tempering our fears. A high-tech society that claims to be so rational may be peculiarly vulnerable to wild fits of irrationality. We're not as far from the Middle Ages as we like to think.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 09, 2001


Yikes! I've been trolled :-

I've read a lot of articles lately that claim
that there were no problems at roll-over. This
article attempts to create the same type of
misinformation by focusing on straw man arguments.

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), January 09, 2001.

I almost passed this one up. This is just a rehash of many stories we have all seen before. Then I thought this would be a great way to bring the spider out of his web and it worked.:)

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 09, 2001.

This response to spider and Martin. Can we reach a middle ground here? First to Spider, your verbage (mp?) sounds very much like another passenger I met about two + years ago, on the Internet. Shakey, was his name. I read him/her for a long time. I believed in the postings. Thought him/her at the ground level, who could hear the hoof beats while everyone sat with their heads in the clouds. I know many people who have never lived any hardship, in their lives, other than having to work at the local Drug Store or whatever. Some said, the sink hole would be the slow economic fall-out to follow. True, I am seeing more lined up at the employment line, more vehicles lined up along side of the road with "for sale", and a home phone number. Propane/natural/vehicle gasoline prices going through the roof. I have seen this before, over a span of years. World has lived through this before, and survived. My question to the computer experts is: "How did the underdeveloped come through, without a snafu". After all your dire warnings? Paul Revere had nothing on you, did he? I have literally pounds of printed "warnings". If it was not true, WHY would any human convey a possible hazard? Was it, they did not truly understand? So much, the division of labor. Tomorrow, call up your counter-part, ask them how/why their system works, and MAKE THEM ACCOUNTABLE,until you can understand it enough to explain it to your spouse, and your neighbors. Good thing car repair and food instructions weren't built on the same principle ( oh well, forget car repair in most places). If there was a "witch", a "fear monger", such a simple request to invoke they look into the eyes, of those who heard their words. Their choice.

-- Church Fan (hand@waver.com), January 10, 2001.

Church Fan, I will try to answer your queries.

Shakey, was his name. I read him/her for a long time.

I remember Shakey in his bunker also, but I am not Shakey.

Some said, the sink hole would be the slow economic fall-out to follow.

I have not given any prognostications online.
I only report as to the events that have
actually happened.

My question to the computer experts is: "How did the underdeveloped come through, without a snafu". After all your dire warnings?

Again, I have never given any dire warnings.
On the other hand the underdeveloped nations
did not come through the Y2K threshold without
any snafu. Just because one is not aware of any
problems, doesn't mean that there were not any.
The press seems reluctant to talk about these
problems. A good example is the pressure to keep
under wraps the crash of computers and ATMs at
Nordbanken in Sweden on the roll-over to 2001.
Where in the press is this story? Rather than
chastising the Paul Revere's you should be asking
your media why they don't report the news when it
concerns the Y2K bug.

If it was not true, WHY would any human convey a possible hazard? Was it, they did not truly understand?

A question better posed to those who conveyed
possible hazards.

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), January 10, 2001.

Hey Spider

I hope you don't think that I was making light of you and your postings. That was not the case at all. I was just trying to make a little humor. I respect your thinking and postings very much and believe that it is an asset to this forum. If I hurt your feelings I sincerely apoligize.

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 10, 2001.

I know you better than that Martin.
I was all smiles :-

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), January 11, 2001.

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