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BBHQ Boomer Essays:

The Y2K Bug - the Denouement

Our Boomer-In-Charge here at BBHQ, Hershel Chicowitz, writes frequently about current events... from a boomer perspective. He is sometimes funny, sometimes provocative, sometimes a little of each. We hope you get a kick out of our Boomer Essays.

This is the third, and I promise the last time I will write about the Y2K bug. The shocking headlines in the papers today are that, much like Haley's comet, the long anticipated Y2K bug turned out to be nothing more than a pesky gnat. Was there too much hype? Did the experts mislead us? Did we overprepare?

Well, of course, the answers are yes, no, and yes.

The experts quietly did their work; the media created the unnecessary hype; and some of us did overprepare. A lady in Shore Acres, Florida lit candles Friday evening in expectation of a power outage. While she was outside ringing in the new year, her house caught fire.
Disposable gloves? What on earth for??

Now, I should admit that, as I write this on Sunday evening, the London and Tokyo stock markets are just opening; the whole roof could come crashing down on us when the financial markets collapse under the weight of that gnat. But I don't think so.

While the media, the U.S. Congress, and every talk show in the country were going the opposite direction, I took a stand last May when I wrote, "In the big techno-mosaic of life, most of us will hardly notice a thing. Trust me on this one."

Oh, the fear mongers were everywhere. Some nut wrote a book called "The Millennium Bug" in which he predicted that all sorts of things could... and would... go wrong. I don't know how many people bought the book, but he did convince the publisher to print and distribute it. One of the author's claims was that although Windows 95 and Windows 97 are Y2K compliant, DOS (the earlier, non-graphical operating system) was not. The problem with that is that there IS no such thing as Windows 97, and DOS is! writes, "This account outlines an ominous view of how computer systems will be able to deal with the year 2000 problem. Power grids go dark, 911 call centers descend into chaos, Visa cards die, and the industrialized world is reduced to hunting and gathering in Hyatt's millennium nightmare... "

"The author presents a range of possible developments, from mere annoyance with consumer services to widespread starvation as a result of infrastructure breakdown. Hyatt also foresees a plague of lawsuits filed by shareholders, the families of deceased patients, and swarms of other people harmed by Y2K failures.

Hyatt's advice: move to a small town with a volunteer fire department, stockpile food, secure access to a reliable source of fresh water, and buy a gun and ammunition for fending off looters. The winter of 1999-2000 will be a hard one, Hyatt predicts, and the crisis may last a long time indeed--have reading material on hand."

So the media and their allies took advantage of our ignorance and tried to scare us into taking unnecessary action.

Even my high school friend, Skip Gray, an author and screenwriter, added his two cents' worth:

"The government may restrict access to your cash early in '99. If you don't have one, open a savings account immediately. Place enough in the account to carry you for a year, at least $20,000. Allow time for it to clear, then withdraw that amount in cash before the end of '98 in small bills, tens and twenties, preferably old money, not new."

"Order a year's worth of dried food for four (about $4,000 worth) from Millennium Gourmet Foods. It has a shelf life of many years. Think about storing water. Your water supply may be inoperable or contaminated."

"Electricity may be out indefinitely. Those who live in the cold climates may want to explore an extended winter vacation, Dec. '99 to May 2000, in Florida. Arrange for this now. Later will be too late."

"Figure out how to secure your personal safety. Guns, mace, etc., may be unavailable soon. Buy lots of toilet paper, paper plates, etc., and perhaps batteries, oil lamps, oil, and stuff to barter: food seeds, 22 ammo, etc. A short wave radio could come in handy if communications are cut off."

I sent Skippy an e-mail message Saturday asking him what I was supposed to do with $4,000 worth of junk from Millennuim Gourmet Foods and all those guns, mace, and oil lamps. He has yet to respond. Maybe his Windows 97 operating system is not Y2K compliant.

Did you have enough Tuna, Spam and Vienna sausage?
Of course, another high school classmate and former friend, Denny, suggested that it was because all those people made such a stink that business took the necessary precautions and prevented a disaster from occurring.

No, Denny, business took the necessary precautions because they knew that not doing so would cost them money. It was simple economics. As I wrote back in May:

"Suppose, under the worst scenario I can imagine, your ATM does not work at the dawn of 2000. You might actually have to go without money for two days. Can you handle that? And on Monday you might actually have to walk into a bank and fill out a withdrawal slip or write a check, and heaven forbid, talk to a bank teller in person! But do you actually think for a half a second that the bank will turn you away because they cannot get their vault open? Are you nuts? And if they can't, don't you think that half a dozen other banks will be eager to loan you $200 on the spot - no questions asked - just to get you to switch to their 'Y2K-compliant' bank?

Once again, the free market system prevailed. As Private Gomer Pyle would say, "Sha-zaaam!!"

As a consultant in the field, I can tell you it was no big deal.

So why did the networks, the Congress, and the fear mongers try to do that to us? The answer is simple: because they would benefit from doing so, and there is no downside for being so terribly wrong.

We generally do not hold them accountable for their actions. The networks and the press gain an audience every time they sling "the sky is falling" headline across the masthead. Senator Christopher Dodd and his colleagues looked like they were magnificently leading their poor sheep when they advised us to stock up on water, paper plates, and canned foods. And my classmate Skippy.... he just wanted a pat on the back and a simple "thanks, you saved me from disaster" from his friends. Besides, a year later, who the heck would remember if they were all wrong?

Who indeed?

So they were wrong this time. Big deal; they played it safe. And the officials played it safe here in the Tampa Bay area when they issued a hurricane evacuation order last fall even though the hurricane was heading the other direction. So what if it costs a half a million dollars per mile of shoreline to evacuate? It not our money... it's somebody else's money.

Anyway, I bring this up now not to gloat, although gloat I should... long and hard. Nope, I'm done talking about the Y2K bug that wasn't. I bring it up because this is an election year. And what does an election year have to do with... you know what? Well, the fear mongers will be out again, in full force. This time, their nemesis will be their evil opponents who are trying to take food out of the mouths of babies, who are trying to throw old folks out on the street, who are trying to destroy Medicare and let it "wither on the vine." Oh, yes, the homeless are coming back, and so are those without health insurance. They have been hiding for the last 7 years. But they'll be back. Remember the health care debate of 1993: "It's too important to debate or wait any longer; there are children dying; we simply can't wait for the free market to respond. We have to nationalize 17% of the U.S. economy."

The Y2K issue was nothing. The big fear campaign starts this month in New Hampshire, and continues on through the first Tuesday in November.

I just thought you should know. Are you going to buy the hype this time?


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