Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
December 1999 #1

When government says don't worry, maybe we should
By Barbara Anderson

December 6, 1999

I wasn't worried about Y2K until the federal government went out of its way to assure us that it has everything under control. Now I'm buying cans of tuna on sale so I don't starve come January.

And just in case Janet Reno sends some federal agency to maintain order, I'm stocking up on fire extinguishers.

The Y2K problem is caused by some computer chips reading the year 2000 as 1900 because they only recognize the last two digits, and therefore malfunctioning at midnight on December 31st. It is also caused by the refusal of government and business leaders to take the warnings of programmers seriously until it was almost too late. Finally someone pointed out that Congress won't be paid if the computers don't work, and then Washington politicians held hearings and told business to fix the problem or else!

By all accounts, the problem is being fixed. Unfortunately, many of those accounts are brought to us by people who have also been told by government officials to make sure that the population doesn't panic. Pay close attention and you will notice the qualifiers: "We are ready as long as our suppliers do their job ... the phones work ... the electricity is on ... the weakest link doesn't snap."

Ah, the weakest link excuse. Somewhere in America there's a little local bank, utility and transportation company run by a guy named Joe who is being set up to take the blame for whatever goes wrong. If the power grid shuts down, it will be Joe's fault. Well, who did you think was going to be responsible, Bill Clinton?

When I first focused on Y2K last year, I started asking questions of businesses that might be affected. I hoped to hear that they had solved the problem: but over and over, I heard that they are "working on it." To me, this meant I better get started working on survival.

Then all at once, late last spring, everyone was saying the same thing: "We are ready as long as they ..." and telling the public not to panic. So I obediently didn't panic, until Congress started debating laws to protect everyone from computer-failure lawsuits, and municipalities started looking at liability insurance. Common sense tells me what this all means: major institutions are in CYA mode. All I need to hear now is that politicians are giving themselves a year's supply of paychecks this December, and I'll be heading for a remote cabin with a year's supply of freeze-dried lentils.

In the meantime, it doesn't hurt to prepare for at least a minor disruption in the techno-world routine. I won't spend a fortune on a generator or a windmill, but it can't hurt to have extra flashlights, a battery radio, an oil lamp and a down sleeping bag. A stash of non-perishables can always be consumed eventually, and why not make sure your medicine/first-aid cabinet is stocked and some containers filled with water for flushing, before the New Year arrives?

Alan Greenspan told the Senate Banking Committee that "There's almost no conceivable way ... that computers will break down and records of people's savings accounts would disappear," so you "almost" don't have to worry about the banking system; better have some cash on hand.

And when you are huddling in your sleeping bag, eating raisins and nuts, you won't even miss television if you have a candle for reading Mark Joseph's delightful novel, "Deadline Y2K," available at your local bookstore unless Janet Reno got there first.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.  Her syndicated columns appear in the Salem Evening News, the Lowell Sun, the Tinytown Gazette and MediaNews Group newspapers around the state.

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