>It's not like I have never seen this sort of argument before; I've made
>such arguments myself. It's just that, after all of my own research, I
>still do not conclude immediately, as you do, that the fact that Medicare
>is really far behind in its Y2K work, that it will thus necessarily fail --
>that not only will the computer systems that run it not work, but also that
>all the contingency plans that may be in place will also fail.
Thank you for making this post. I like to stop and adjust my hubcap every so
often. How can I be soooo sure that this is going to be soooo bad? Paul and
Gary North do frequently over-reach my position. I am always willing to
concede that this company or that organization may not fail. I am -- and
always have been -- a big picture kind of guy.
The fact that Medicare is far behind and they are out of time, and they will
not be doing proper tests does not make me optimistic about the organization
but it does not mean their systems will certainly fail. (I am much less
optimistic that they will be able to do anything with a contingency plan
however. That is a non-starter with me. Large bureaucracies do little more
than process information on computers. Subtract the computers...)
While I am always willing to concede the specific case -- like Medicare -- I
am not prepared to concede the general. Some companies and departments like
Medicare are going to manage to squeeze across the finish line and operate
after a fashion. Will Medicare be one of those companies? I don't know. I
doubt it, but a few companies who are in desperate straits right now *will*
manage the trick.
But will most? Will the critical mass? Even the idea that someone can make
good decisions around which are the mission critical systems in a department
with hundreds or thousands of systems is ridiculous. The definition of
"compliant" has been softened from "it handles dates properly" to "it will
function, sort of." There is no leadership, no standards, no accountability.
We need to keep a certain (unknown) number of companies and departments and
industries functioning to avoid economic collapse. I have arbitrarily
decided that is about 70%.
This means that about 30% of organizations are "allowed" to miss the mark,
either because their remediation fails or because the remediation effort of
a critical supplier fails. Obviously some companies and organizations are
more critical to the effort than others. A failure by GM is far more
important than a failure in an obscure government department.
We are dealing with very large numbers of companies. We are dealing with
very large numbers of companies and departments who are very far behind even
though no one is trying to fix everything any more. Some of the companies
and departments who are ahead will fail because being ahead of the game is
no guarantee either. A mistake in assessing a system as non-mission critical
could easily be crucial.
When I look at any big picture, I get very distressed. I can make no flat
guarantees about the Fortune 500, but those are the flagship companies and
about 20% seem to be on a reasonable schedule. About 70% of them look like
Medicare to one degree or another. Will most of these companies make it?
Will *most* organizations that look like Medicare make it?
"Will Medicare make it?" is not the correct question. "Is this bank now
compliant?" is not the correct question. The correct question is "Will 70%
of the banks and Medicares make it?" and "Even if 70% make it, will 70% be
able to stay in business? I think there are too many possible points of
The problem with repair is volume, and volume is also the reason we will
very probably see cascading failures throughout the economy. There are too
many points of failure. There are too many Medicares.
There are not enough Bethlehem Steels. (And I would be very worried even if
every company looked like Bethlehem Steel, speaking as a big picture kind of
While I grant that 70% is an arbitrary number, I think it is very low. I say
we need 70% (it is probably closer to 90%) of organizations to successfully
remediate (there is no real definition of compliant) all of their mission
critical (no real definition of mission critical) systems to avoid complete
economic collapse (when the economy is already staggering). There are too
many points of failure. There are too many Medicares. There are not enough
Bethlehem Steels. I'm a big picture kind of guy.
Furthermore, we have to get this level of success while Joe Public keeps the
faith. I don't think there is enough trust to keep Joe in line. If he bails
because he sees too many points of failure, too we have economic collapse.
Which road does not lead to ruin? Even if 90% of the companies fix 90% of
everything we face an international catastrophe.
I am as pessimistic as Milne about the impact of Y2K. I think the economy
will break and everybody is out of business. I believe Y2K will kill people,
probably a lot of people. At the point of disaster, he and I diverge sharply
in our views. I see order emerging quickly out of chaos at the community
level. A startover.
Prepare, survive, rebirth, recover and rebuild something different from the
bottom up. That is my worst case scenario, and my most likely scenario. My
best case scenario is an international catastrophe worth all of our
individual and collective attention now. You do not have to believe in
complete economic collapse to believe in prepare, survive, and recover.
We are going to spend the next 13 months on a tightrope. The need for urgent
individual and collective action versus the urge to quell panic with a lack
of trust that runs both ways. Our leadership does not trust us, and we do
not trust our leadership. Our leadership has already failed us because it is
too late to fix the problem and because it is too late for everyone to
prepare. They now worry about shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre even
though they can see the catastrophe that looms.
All I can do is quietly walk up to people and say "Pssst. The theatre is on
fire. This is not a drill. Walk calmly to the nearest exit. Prepare,
survive, and recover. Pass it on."
It is a tragedy.