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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 do need 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 products 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.

But somehow — in ways we can never foresee — it always delivers the

goods.

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