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Government Should Tell the Truth By Solveig Singleton April 1, 1999
An article this week by Rich Miller and Beth Belton of USA Today reports that 50 top U.S. economists predict a "bumpy ride" because of Y2K, but not enough problems to create a recession.
Most of the economists worried that the gravest problems will come from "the actions of consumers and firms preparing for the worst. If they start hoading everything from toilet paper to titanium because they're afraid the bug will lead to widespread breakdowns, that would send the economy into overdrive in the fourth quarter of 1999. The fear that would set the stage for a crash in the new year as Americans stopped buying and lived off their hoard."
Y2K, one economist said, is a "problem of fear and human emotion."
Y2K Czar John Koskinen seems to agree. Many of the Y2K Council's closed-door meetings have concerned how to convince the media not to trigger a Y2K panic, or whether federal agencies should warn their employees to prepare, as the CIA has. The worry: Such advice could trigger a panic when the public learned of the warnings.
Whether this is the right approach or not depends on one's view of Y2K. If it won't affect many systems, downplaying the date change seems like sound policy. The USA Today report, for example, states that "most businesses have already acted to correct" their Y2K bugs.
The problem is, this cheery assertion is far from the truth, particularly when one considers the state of readiness of small businesses, local and state governments, and foreign governments and foreign banks. One wonders whether the 50 economists surveyed know anything about Y2K.
Are we in danger of allow the tail of avoiding Y2K panic to wag the dog of prudent planning? A better policy would be for government to share information with the public more frankly -- as soon as possible. This will spread the impact of public reaction out over time. And it will prevent the public from becoming surprised and angry at government's failure to share these data.
We also wonder how bad could any panic would be. If people prepare and nothing happens, we'll go back to business-as-usual quickly enough.
If the Y2K Council does not trust the American people not to panic at nothing, they'll have a serious problem on their hands if something should actually happen. Thus far, alarming Y2K announcments from Senators Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) produced no panic. This suggests that we are not nearly as fragile as the Y2K Council believes. If anything, we're too blindly trusting.
-- Roland (email@example.com), April 01, 1999
Thanks Roland, it was good. Sincerely, Apple
-- Apple (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 01, 1999.
Why, thanks, folks! Glad you liked our last two articles.
-- Declan McCullagh (email@example.com), April 02, 1999.
Try to get more "investigative" Declan, and you'll do a better job reporting ... I hope.
BTW, if it REALLY is substantiated "good news" that's fine. But DIG!
... The fear that would set the stage for a crash in the new year as Americans stopped buying and lived off their hoard." ...
Ah! The only important thing is the economy and the bottom-line. Not the people.
Just the kind of short-sightedness that got us into this whole mess.
-- Diane J. Squire (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 02, 1999.