09/15/98

Part Two of a Five-Part Series
Once in a Millennium: The Year 2000 Problem

Part 2 -- Consider the Source
by Yi-Hsin Chang (TMF Puck)


This Feature

Part 1
A Problem, Not Armageddon

Part 2
The Source of Y2K Doomsaying

Part 3
What the Y2K Problem Actually Is

Part 4
How Companies Are Working to Fix It

Part 5
The Problem is Y2K Hype, Not Software

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Read what other Fools are saying about the Y2K problem and post your comments on our board.

Not surprisingly, the very people who would have us believe that chaos will break loose on January 1, 2000, actually stand to benefit from raising the false alarm. They're selling everything from Y2K services to books, and even Y2K survival kits -- some legitimate and some hype. There are large systems integrators that are hired to manage and assess the Year 2000 problem, software companies developing toolsets for detecting the problem, and contract programmers who actually fix the codes at the root of the problem. Y2K has become an industry unto itself but nevertheless remains a bubble business -- here today, gone tomorrow.

A telling article on who stands to gain from Y2K is titled "Year 2000 - The 'Millennium Bug': A Bonanza or Time Bomb for the Accountant." The author, Michael E. Tindall, writes, "Unlike most of the businesses it represents, an accounting firm has the opportunity to recoup its costs and expense of Y2K compliance, and, generate profits from these costs." Similarly, lawyers are eagerly waiting in the wings to launch a flurry of Y2K lawsuits. One lawyer recently estimated that Y2K-related lawsuits in the U.S. could total $1 trillion.

Of course, let's not forget the Y2K consultants, the "experts" on the subject, who serve as advisers, prognosticators, town criers, and now authors. Take Michael Hyatt, author of The Millennium Bug: How to Survive the Coming Chaos, who asserts that "The illusion of social stability is about to be shattered... and nothing can stop it." The blurb on the book regarding his credentials says he has worked in the book publishing industry for almost 20 years and "worked with PCs since 1982." C'mon, most educated adults age 35 and up have "worked with PCs" since 1982. It doesn't take much for someone to become a Y2K "consultant" or "expert." One of the most blatantly opportunistic books is one called Everyone's Guide to Making a Million Dollars on the Year 2000 Crash -- which incidentally retails at a whopping $44.95, which makes me doubt that enough people will buy the book to make the author a million dollars.

Even though the shelf life of books on the Year 2000 problem is short, the list of titles is surprisingly long. There's Managing 00: Surviving the Year 2000 Computing Crisis and in the "for Dummies" series, a Year 2000 Solutions for Dummies, just to name a few. It's understandably important to hype the problem in order to sell books. After all, it'd be difficult to convince a publisher to buy a book titled Y2K Is NOT the End of the World or Don't Sweat the Y2K Stuff. The same goes for the media, who are also eager to hawk newspapers and magazines with special sections devoted to the Year 2000 problem.

What's even more disturbing are the doomsaying entrepreneurs who are profiting not just from peddling publications but from selling potentially useless or overpriced large-ticket items such as plots of land in remote areas, "survival domes," emergency food packs, and precious metals. On the Internet alone, you can find Y2K survival domes for $7,000 each, shares in a 40-acre compound in Indiana for $20,000 a pop, and a "survival home" two hours west of Washington, D.C., for $599,000. Meanwhile, half of the business at dried and preserved foods supplier Walton Feed is from Y2K, while Emergency Essentials Inc. has seen sales of its emergency supplies rise 40% this year.

Some churches, too, see the Year 2000 problem as an opportunity for evangelism, as people have historically turned to the church in times of crisis. Southern Baptists, for instance, view Y2K as a recruiting tool to increase its fold of some 16 million members. Likewise, Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network says: "If some banks fail, if the grocery shelves are bare and there's no heat in the winter many people will turn to the church for help -- both practically and spiritually. We can give a helping hand -- and the Good News.... Indeed, the church can redeem 'Y2K' for Jesus Christ."

As the saying goes, there's a silver lining in every cloud. In this case, the lining appears more to be more green than silver. So as you ponder the apocalyptic nature of the Year 2000 problem, consider who's warning of fire and brimstone -- and who's raking in the dough.

Y2K Message Board

Next: Part 3 -- What's the Problem?
What exactly is the Year 2000 problem? Yi-Hsin explains in part 3.

Other articles by Yi-Hsin Chang (TMF Puck):
-- The Color of Money
-- A Closer Look: Gap Inc.
-- Market of Stocks