Re: Y2K once more

Hal Finney (
Wed, 8 Apr 1998 15:07:42 -0700

Arjen Kamphuis, <>, writes:
> On this site some basics for those unfamiliar with the problem:
> this is a wake-up call:

As I wrote before, Gary North is a religious fundamentalist who
is well known among Christian millennialists (believers in the
near-term apocalyptic events foretold in the Book of Revelations).
He has written dozens of books on religious topics, focusing on
issues related to the coming apocalypse, long before he heard
of Y2K. Here is an excerpt from a review of one of his books, at:

: Here is the main question: Will Jesus' Great Commission be fulfilled in
: history? Will nations be discipled by the Church? Will God bring judgment
: against His enemies in history? Most important, do we have enough time
: for the healing power of the gospel to do its work? Two millennial views
: say no, there isn't enough time: premillennialism and amillennialism
: ("pessimillennialism"). A third view says yes, there is enough time:
: post-millennialism. The revival of interest in this third view has
: taken both rival camps by surprise. By tying a vision of victory in
: history to the doctrine that the Bible offers specific answers to social
: problems, a new movement has begun to capture the minds of a generation
: of Christian activists. The movement is called Christian Reconstruction.
: In Millennialism and Social Theory, Dr. Gary North, co-founder of this
: movement, examines why both pre-millennialism and amillennialism have
: never developed independent social theories, and why the spokesmen of
: both positions appeal to the prevailing ethics of contemporary humanism
: as the only possible way to run society.

I believe North sees Y2K in religious terms, as an element of the "end
times" which have long been foretold. His Y2K site is largely secular,
until you read the bulletin boards where some of his long time followers
retain their religious views.

The point is, North is filtering the data he presents through his
religious ideas. It is a biased presentation designed to lead to the
desired apocalyptic conclusion.

> It seems pretty fatalistic and I'm not at all sure if it has to be this
> bad, on the other hand: most nuclearpowerplants, aiports, utility
> companies, armies are not yet year-2000 certified. Fireworks ;-). The same
> goes for many logistical systems that supply supermarkets and such. No-one
> can tell for sure what the extent of the damage wil be. Maybe your company
> has been y2K-certified, but have all it's supliers? And if the bankng
> system goes bust how wil anyone buy your product?

The operative sentence here is "No-one can tell for sure what the extent
of the damage will be." That is really the only thing you can say with
any certainty about Y2K.

> Or, strictly economically speaking (Gary North):
> What happens to T-bills and T-bonds if the
> IRS computer breaks down and a tax revolt spreads
> because taxpayers know the IRS will never find
> them, and that if they pay their taxes, they
> won't get their refunds?

If the IRS doesn't pay out refunds, they'll have a real problem.
Presumably this is one of the mission critical areas they are fixing
first. As for not paying your taxes and hoping the IRS won't catch
you because it will crash, who would take that risk? After all, even
if there are glitches around Y2K, as long as the IRS survives they will
eventually get things fixed, and then they'll come after you. So you
are basically betting on the collapse of the government if you take this
strategy. North and his fellow fanatics may do this, but the average
person, whose taxes are automatically withheld every paycheck, won't
be willing to take the chance.

> What happens to money market funds and bond
> funds that invest heavily in government debt when
> investors realize that if the IRS can't collect
> taxes, the government will default on its debt?

This is based on the assumption that the IRS will fail and people will
stop paying taxes, but as I said that seems unrealistic. Even if it
has some slowdowns, the IRS should be able to get through the backlog
and keep revenues coming.

> What happens to the banks when depositors
> figure out that the FDIC is bankrupt and that
> nobody insures their accounts any more?

This has been bandied about for at least 15 years. There were record bank
failures in the late 1980s and survivalists gleefully predicted disaster.
But we got through it.

The Fed has already pledged to "make liquidity available" as needed during
any Y2K problems. I read this as basically meaning that they won't allow
banks to fail due to the bug. If some bank can't repay a loan to another,
the Fed will guarantee the loan, so the house of cards remains standing.

> What happens to your job when the banks
> close because of bank runs, and no business can
> borrow money or even write a check to its
> employees?

This is piling uncertainty upon unlikelihood. From here on out North's
scenarios become ever more farfetched.

> Let's not discuss how great it would be if the IRS died (we can agree to
> disagree or now, I think), but which research institutions could be
> damaged. How long can Alcor last without power? How can they rescue
> patients if the phones are out? If only a fraction of what Gary North
> predicts is true some transhuman goals could very well go down the drain or
> quite some time.

Alcor relies on manually pouring LN2 into the dewars every few days.
They are not electrically powered. Obviously a collapse of civilization
means the LN2 is going to stop being available eventually. But a more
likely scenario with scattered, localized disruptions should mean no
more than a few days of power outages.

Let me turn the question around. Suppose power and phones stay up.
It should be clear that most of the problems can be dealt with by human
ingenuity. People are not slaves to their machines. If some computers
don't work, they may have to do things a little slower, but after a few
days they will adjust.

Power companies cope with failures in the grid all the time. The system
is designed to stay up in the face of localized failures. Generally it
has been quite robust. The same is true of the phone system. There
have been a few incidents in which localized errors managed to bring down
larger regions, but these are extremely rare.

> Mr. North also describes the psychology-of-denial that is being practiced
> by many managers and governement officials "don't worry, we've got it under
> control". The idea that everything could come to a grinding halt is so
> fanatastic that it is dismissed "they will find a solution". If you did not
> hear about the Y2K-problem untill now you might have the same reaction (I
> still have it - a little ;-).

When I first began learning about Y2K, I became quite alarmed. I read
Ed Yourdon's book (Time Bomb 2000) and studied Gary North's web site. I
started checking companies that offer a year's supply of food, and how
much space I would need in the garage for it. I looked into solar
electricity generation vs buying a generator and storing gas.

Then, I learned more about the people involved. I discovered North's
background, and I saw that Yourdon is hawking his Y2K consultancy on
his web page. I read criticisms by a power engineer of Yourdon's
fearmongering about electricity disruption. The bulletin board
discussions were dominated by the same kinds of people who have been
predicting disaster since the 1970's.

My current belief is that there is going to be a significant economic
impact due to the bug, to the expense of fixing it, and to people's
reactions and worries about it. We've had a long peacetime expansion
and it's about time for a recession, anyway. I believe worry about Y2K
will be the trigger. There will be disruptions and failures, but they
will be localized. Some businesses which have Y2K failures while the
competition is compliant will go under, throwing people out of work.
Unemployment will increase, the economy will contract, stock prices
will fall. It could be a severe recession.

It all adds up to a bad situation. But it's not the end of the world
that people like North are predicting.

> Not totally unrelated: What if the general populace does not trust
> computers anymore after a big crash? What would the impact be on future
> adavancement in AI-research? This could have serious impact on things like
> a singularity and technical advances in general (quite difficult to design
> or run a spaceship without computers).

I can't see this. Computers aren't like they were in the 1960's, vague,
threatening behemoths off in a sterile computer room somewhere. They're
in our wristwatches, our pagers, our toaster ovens. What, am I supposed
to "not trust" my microwave because there was a Y2K crash?

More likely than this is North's scenario of people turning on computer
programmers as the villains whose lazy programming caused the Y2K problem.
Some people suggest that computer programmers will walk away from their
jobs in 1999 when they see that the Y2K problem is going to hit hard,
and they don't want to be around when the mobs come drooling for blood.
This will then make the Y2K fixes that much farther behind schedule,
according to this scenario. Dramatic, but pretty far fetched if you ask