Commentary

Why You Will Survive Y2K

Harry Browne


There is good news and bad news regarding the Y2K computer problem. The good news: Civilization isn't going to collapse in the year 2000.

The bad news: I don't know where you can unload all the coins and food storage you've acquired.

Some companies and some government agencies will have problems on January 1, 2000 --- when some of their computers think it's January 1, 1900. But most companies will have no major problems, and life will go on largely undisturbed. For most of us, the problems of January 2000 will be smaller than the inconveniences we already endure --- such as the power failures from government-sheltered electric companies when we need air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter.

The Y2K problem has been exaggerated by people who don't understand computers, and by computer experts who don't understand how the free market works.

Many large companies have had to upgrade old computer systems and databases (although your personal computer probably will have no problems). Upgrading a computer system is a formidable task. But so is moving into a new factory, changing a product line, or dealing with new regulations. Companies deal with such problems as they arise, and one way or another they usually solve them.

The Y2K problem seemed uniquely dangerous because millions of companies have to deal with it at the same time. Hundreds of thousands of COBOL programmers would have to be found --- to examine old computer programs, change every date reference and test the corrections. But, in truth, a widespread problem is easier to handle, because it offers bigger profits to people who can devise solutions.

So now there are products like Revolve, Restore 2000, Milligration, and dozens more computer programs that go through old programs, fix the date problems, and test the results. These automated solutions eliminate the need for thousands of programmers.

The Internet flourished in a similar, unpredictable way. If in 1994 someone had said there would be millions of World Wide Web sites in 1999, you might have assumed he didn't understand computers. Websites are written in a complicated computer language called HTML. Where are the hundreds of thousands of HTML writers necessary to build millions of sites?

But software companies came forward with computer programs that enable people to build websites without understanding HTML. Other programs help specialists to produce the more sophisticated, animated, interactive sites. The result is that we do have millions of websites after all.

Websites abound and Y2K is being handled because the computer industry is the freest in America, providing computers thousands of times faster than those of 1985, while selling at a fraction of 1985 prices.

Of course, if the Justice Department defeats Microsoft we may soon have a Federal Computer Agency that delays new programs for years --- until it satisfies itself that the products are safe, effective and non-monopolistic. Then computers and software will become continually more expensive --- just like a hospital stay or health insurance.

On the other hand, suppose the medical industry were as free and innovative as the libertarian world of computers and Internet websites - released from government mandates and red tape. Imagine hospital stays costing, say, $300 a day, wonder drugs for 50 cents a pill, family health insurance for maybe $500 a year.

Does that sound too good to be true? Freedom always does.

Harry Browne was the 1996 Libertarian presidential candidate. His e-mail is HarryBrowne@HarryBrowne2000.org.

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 1999;4(5):183-184. Copyright©1999 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).